Beatles' Associate Poet Roynston Ellis Dies at 82

Via The New York Times:

Royston Ellis, a British Beat poet who rose to fame with spoken-word performances to a rock ’n’ roll accompaniment, including gigs with the Beatles and Jimmy Page before they were famous, died on Feb. 27 in Induruwa, Sri Lanka. He was 82.

In May 1960, Mr. Ellis headed north for a reading at the University of Liverpool. Once in town, he dropped into the Jacaranda, a coffee bar popular with local youth, and “got talking to a boy, George, in a striped matelot T-shirt and black leather jacket who told me his friends played music,” he later recalled in an interview with the website Classic Bands.

George (last name Harrison) suggested that they head to 3 Gambier Terrace, the home of John Lennon, the leader of the band that had been calling itself the Silver Beetles. During his stay in Liverpool, Mr. Ellis befriended the rest of the band, which ended up backing him in a reading in the Jacaranda basement.

The future moptops were fascinated by this louche literary star in their midst, soaking up his views on poetry, music and sex, as recounted in “Tune In” (2013), a history of the Beatles’ early years by Mark Lewisohn. The working-class Liverpudlians found the homoerotic themes in Mr. Ellis’s work to be eye-opening, to say the least.

Mr. Ellis, who was bisexual by his account, recalled that he gave them “a lecture about the Soho scene and said they shouldn’t worry, because one in four men were queer, although they mightn’t know it.” In response, Paul McCartney said, “We looked at each other and wondered which one it was.”

Mr. Ellis later made other grand claims, including that he had persuaded the band to change “Beetles” to “Beatles,” a nod to Beat poetry. “I don’t know whether John had already considered that spelling,” he said in a 2013 interview with International Business Times, “but it was my encouragement that made him choose it permanently.” (This version of events is but one of many conflicting theories on the origin of the band’s name.)

Mr. Ellis did introduce the Beatles to drugs, according to the Lewisohn book, by showing them how to chew the Benzedrine-treated strip of a nasal inhaler to achieve an amphetamine high.