Saturday, May 30, 2015

Beat poet Royston Ellis remembers

Royston Ellis is a travel writer, novelist and the UK's answer to beat poets like Allen Ginsberg. He's also the man who suggested, or at least encouraged, the Beatles to spell the group's name with an A rather an E, recited poetry to the backing of the Shadows, calling it 'rocketry' - a cross between rock and roll and poetry - and was the inspiration for two Beatles songs - Paperback Writer and Polythene Pam. Now resident in Sri Lanka, where he has lived for 35 years, he was in London yesterday for a special Tales From the Woods interview conducted by Jet Harris's former manager Peter Stockton, and a poetry reading in the West End. 
Royston's links with the early days of UK pop music go back to the late fifties when he met up with Cliff Richard and the Drifters, as they then were. He describes Cliff as an enigma, still with an Indian accent, Tony Meehan as the most intelligent member of the group and Jet Harris as his special friend, and the meeting led to the band backing him on his poetry readings, as did Jimmy Page on several occasions. His beat poetry preceded the American beat poets, he said, but he was influenced by Christopher Logue, who took part in poetry readings backed by jazz music. Royston was a regular at Soho's clubs and coffee bars, including the 2Is. He recalls listening to A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation on the juke box, while singer Terry Dene kept  putting money in the machine.
In 1960 he went to Liverpool - one of a number of cities he hitch hiked to for his poetry readings - and met
George Harrison, 'wearing a matelot striped T shirt', in a cafe. From there he met John, Paul and Stuart Sutcliffe and stayed with the Beetles, as they called themselves, in Gambier Terrace. 'John was the most 'riveting' personality, but 'innocent about London.' Royston introduced them to drugs - a strip from a Benzedrine inhaler and suggested to John that they spell the group name Beatles, rather than Beetles. 'John liked the VW Beetle car and Buddy Holly's Crickets. I said I'm a beat poet, you're a beat group, why don't you spell it with an A.' Their meeting resulted in a poetry reading at the Jacaranda bar in Liverpool, where the Beatles made their first appearance.
Paperback Writer was written with Royston in mind, and his friendship also inspired Polythene Pam from the Abbey Road album. According to Royston he met up with the boys when they visited Guernsey, where he was then living, where he introduced a girl friend to John. John 'said to her he would love to have sex between black leather sheets and ride a motor cycle through your thighs. No leather, so polythene would have to do.'
Royston was a spokesman for teenagers in the late fifties and early sixties and frequently appeared on TV, sometimes causing controversy, but 'retired' when he reached 20 in 1961. He moved to Guernsey and then to Las Palmas, where he met up with Cliff Richard again in 1963 when he was filming A Wonderful Life. At Cliff's suggestion, he tried to sort out a drink problem experienced by actor Dennis Price by taking him to a bar for a talk. It didn't work: Dennis mistook a cockroach on the floor for a Pekinese dog! From there he moved to Dominica, where he became president of the island's cricket club, and then to Sri Lanka, where he continues to write novels and travel books. He is something of a celebrity there and was invited by Sri Lanka Airlines to taste 50 wines that they were considering for their flights. He expected a small gift for his efforts but actually received two Business Class tickets to anywhere he liked, hence his visit to London, his first for three years.
Royston wrote about his early experiences of pop music in his 1961 book The Big Beat Scene and also wrote Driftin' with Cliff Richard, about his association with the band. Poetry anthologies include Jiving To Gyp and Gone Man Squared. His latest book, just launched in the US, is Big Time, and his travel books cover Mauritius, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among others. He also wrote the successful Bondmaster novels under the name of Richard Tresillian.
**** After the interview Royston went on to a reading at the Poetry Cafe, where he was joined by Jimmy Page. Here's a photo of the two of them together which Royston kindly supplied. Photo by Neel Jayantha.


At 4:24 am , Blogger Christy Ellis said...

Just seen your post about my brief visit to London, when I was accompanied by my "roadie" Neel Jayantha from Sri Lanka. I'm amazed that you wrote and uploaded the piece so quickly - and it's accurate too. Thank you very much. I had a fantastic time meeting new (but like old) friends at Keith's well-organised Tales of the Woods session, and reading some of the poems from my collection GONE MAN SQUARED published by Kicks Books/Norton Records of the USA - and available through all amazons and dedicated booksellers - at the Poetry Cafe in London. Should any of your readers want to keep up with my news, I publish Royston Reports by email every Sunday; free subscription available through my website:

Thanks again for your report.

Beat regards,
Royston Ellis


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