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Charlie Lennon

Beatle's uncle who worked as a Liverpool chef

Tuesday, 28 May 2002

FOR MANY years, Charlie Lennon was John Lennon's only surviving relation in Liverpool; he was known to residents and Beatles fans alike as "Uncle Charlie".

Charles Lennon, chef: born Liverpool 21 November 1918; died Liverpool 26 May 2002.

For many years, Charlie Lennon was John Lennon's only surviving relation in Liverpool; he was known to residents and Beatles fans alike as "Uncle Charlie".

He would attend Beatles conventions and never tired of signing autographs. His visits to the shops around Sefton Park would coincide with the timetable for the Magical Mystery Tour bus so that the guide could say, "Oh look, there's John's uncle." The bus would stop and Charlie would pose for photographs and maybe sing a snatch of his own song "Ships of the Mersey". He was full of pride in his nephew and would say, "He changed the world, didn't he? A Lennon changed the world."

Charles Lennon's father, also John Lennon, was born in Dublin and raised in Liverpool. He worked in the United States as a founding member of the Kentucky Minstrels before becoming a Liverpool docker. He and his wife, Polly, had six children, including Alfred, known as Freddie, who was born in 1912 and the youngest, Charles, in 1918.

When John Lennon died in 1921, the family had little money. It was standard practice for children without a father to be raised at an orphanage – in this case the Bluecoat Orphanage in Liverpool – and to have short holidays at home. "I didn't go myself because I was so young, but Alfred did. He could tap-dance and sing, but the headmaster wouldn't let him join one of the touring shows," Charlie said.

Alfred left the orphanage aged 15 and was working as an office boy when he met Julia Stanley, a schoolgirl from a middle-class family. He became a steward for the White Star Line and, against her family's wishes, married Julia in 1938. Their son, John, was born on 9 October 1940 while Freddie was at sea. "Julia had ginger hair and I used to call them Fred and Ginger," said Charlie.

Charlie had fond memories of the young John Lennon:

I remember going out with Julia, Alfred and myself, both in uniform, during the war. Alfred and Julia went into a fish-and-chip shop in Smithdown Road. I was outside with John and we looked in a window of a toyshop. I said, "Look at that lovely bus", and while I am buying him the bus, he is walking out with a Donald Duck under his arm. I felt embarrassed but I paid for it, although he broke it on the way home. Years later, when I went to see him at his home in Surrey, he said, "I've still got that bus, Charlie, it's in the music room."

The tensions between the Lennons and the Stanleys came to a head when Alfred received a letter telling him that Julia was having an affair with a Gunner Williams. Alfred jumped ship to return home and Julia claimed her pregnancy was a result of being raped. Charlie was dispatched to see the soldier and discovered that he and Julia had been having an affair, condoned by Julia's father. "They called it quits," said Charlie, "but Alfred had no intention of divorcing her. He worshipped her and he even offered to bring up the child as his own." Instead the child was adopted and it is only in recent years that her identity has been made public. John was brought up by Julia's sister, Mimi, and Julia was killed in a road accident in 1958.

After seven years in the Royal Artillery, in 1946 Charlie returned to civilian life. His mother died in 1948 and he moved to Warwickshire and qualified as a chef. He lost touch with John Lennon until 1963:

People would say to me, "There is someone who looks like you in the Beatles." I said, "There can't be anyone who looks like me", but sure enough it was John.

He contacted Alfred and, unknown to John Lennon, they went to one of the Beatles' Christmas shows at Finsbury Park Empire in London.

Alfred wanted to contact his son but John slammed the door in his face. "He had been painted as the black sheep of the family," said Charlie:

Mimi, whom I call the Wicked Witch of Woolton, had poisoned him about the Lennons. I wrote John a stinking letter telling him that he shouldn't believe all he had been told. There was another side to the story. He was reconciled with his father and he invited me round to the house. He said, "Charlie, you're just like me, you've got two left feet in your mouth."

Charlie Lennon continued to work in restaurants:

People used to say to me, "You're John Lennon's uncle, what are you working here for?" I used to say, "Look, I was working before John was born and I will keep on working. He is the working-class hero but I am the working-class Lennon."

John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 and, when Charlie returned to Liverpool in 1982 on his retirement, he was astonished by all the interest in his nephew. He loved the Beatles conventions but was disappointed by books about them. He said,

It was as if Mimi was behind them all. I decided to help Ray Coleman and his is the first book to get it right. But what good did it do? The next year we had that filthy, disgusting book by Albert Goldman.

Charlie kept posters of John and of John's son Julian, who also became a musician, in his flat in Liverpool. When people asked him if he would like a little bit of the Lennon millions, he would say, "I'm OK. I'm happy in my own little way."

Spencer Leigh

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