Maureen Cleave: Journalist who lit powder keg under The Beatles’ feet


Maureen Cleave, music journalist and confidante to the Fab Four, is remembered for her intensive protection of The Beatles, and for recording John Lennon’s notorious suggestion that the band was “more popular than Jesus”. She has died aged 87.

The eldest of three sisters, Cleave was born on 20 October 1934, in India, to Major John Cleave and Isabella Mary Fraser Browne. At the age of six, Cleave was returning to India together with her mom, after a go to to Isabella’s dwelling nation of Ireland, when the ship – the SS City of Simla – crossed the sight of a German U-boat. Struck by a torpedo, the passenger ship started to sink some 50 miles northwest of Rathlin Island, with Cleave and her mom among the many 347 survivors pressured to await rescue in lifeboats.

After graduating from Oxford with a level in trendy historical past, Cleave started working on the Evening Standard. Initially holding a secretarial function on the newspaper, in 1961 Cleave pitched to Charles Wintour, the newspaper’s editor, the thought of a column devoted to pop music. Titled “Disc Date”, this column established Cleave as one of many preliminary architects of mainstream music journalism, at a time when protection of in style bands and artists was virtually solely left to magazines geared toward youngsters.

This place allowed Cleave to instigate some of the enduring, and completely private, relationships within the historical past of music journalism. In January 1963, The Beatles had been months away from releasing their debut LP, Please Please Me. Cleave travelled to Liverpool to interview the band, who had been taking part in a one-night present on the Grafton Ballroom. “The Beatles made me laugh immoderately,” she would later recount: “the way I used to laugh as a child at the Just William books.” The ensuing article, “The Year of The Beatles”, was revealed by the Standard later that yr, and was one of many first instances a significant newspaper had lined the band.

The Beatles with Cleave, c1964


The Beatles shortly grew to become enamoured with the younger journalist, permitting Cleave an intimate perception into their lives as they exploded into legend. In 1964, Cleave was certainly one of a handful of favoured journalists who accompanied The Beatles on their approach to John F Kennedy worldwide airport, flying top notch with the band as they ready to begin the three-week tour that marked their first foray into the US.

That similar yr, Cleave left her personal thumbprint on the band’s discography. Sharing a cab with Cleave as he made his approach to report “A Hard Day’s Night”, John Lennon shared together with her the lyrics, written on a birthday card to his son Julian. Cleave amended the lyrics, altering Lennon’s authentic “I find my tiredness is through / And I feel all right” to the extra suggestive “I find the things that you do / Will make me feel all right”.

Lennon would later declare that the lyrics of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, a cynical account of a failed liaison involving doable pyromania, had been in reference to an affair he had had with Cleave; Cleave would deny this declare, and Lennon later recanted it.

The Beatles shortly grew to become enamoured with the younger journalist, permitting her an intimate perception into their lives


In March 1966, Cleave revealed a weekly collection entitled “How a Beatle Lives”, through which the journalist sought to color a written portrait of every band member as she stayed with them, observing their existence, within the rich Weybridge-Esher space. On Lennon, with whom she had developed a notably private relationship, she wrote:

“He looks more like Henry VIII than ever now that his face has filled out – he is just as imperious, just as unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted.”


Cleave felt no have to beautify her topics. Nor did the band appear to protect their public picture round her. It was on this ambiance, while discussing his current curiosity in theology, that Lennon would make maybe his most well-known comment:

“Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’roll or Christianity.”

This remark, which gained little consideration of their native nation, would grasp over their 14-city tour of the US in August that yr. A month after their authentic publication within the Standard, The New York Times reproduced Cleave’s interviews as a five-page article, and Lennon’s remark drew outraged responses from the non secular proper, leading to mass burnings of the group’s LPs and firecrackers thrown at them as they carried out.

Having unintentionally lit the spark that discouraged the band from ever touring once more, Cleave would later provide her personal perception into Lennon’s feedback: “John was certainly not comparing The Beatles with Christ. He was simply observing that so weak was the state of Christianity that The Beatles were, to many people, better known. He was deploring, rather than approving, this.”

Whilst The Beatles endured their remaining tour, Cleave married Francis Nichols, her husband till his demise in 2015. Cleave was quickly after recognized with dementia, and died on 6 November 2021 after a brief sickness. She is survived by their three kids: daughters Dora and Sadie Nichols, and their son Bertie Nichols.

Maureen Cleave, journalist, born 20 October 1934, died 6 November 2021

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