Few lives can have been buffeted by the winds of fortune as much as that lived by Cynthia Lennon who died yesterday from cancer at her home in Spain, the latest in a long line of deaths of those closely associated with The Beatles. I met her once, quite briefly, at the opening of her restaurant – Lennon’s – in St Martin’s Lane in the late eighties, and it always seemed to me that no matter how much she tried she could never escape the shadow of the man she married in August 1962 and whose son Julian was born to her the following April. Sometime in the eighties she stopped trying, changing her surname back to Lennon by deed poll.
Cynthia was, it seems, a nice girl, well brought up, well-mannered and well spoken, but ill-suited for marriage to a man like John. I can’t help but think she’d have been happier married to a dependable bloke of conservative outlook, perhaps a clerk in the wages department at Liverpool Council or the assistant manager of a local branch of Barclays on the Wirral.
In the event she chose John, or John chose her, and life became a roller-coaster. To have been married to a Beatle in the sixties would have placed her in the eye of a cyclone from which there was never any hope of escape, simultaneously euphoric and horrifying, and for her the ordeal was probably far more intense than for the other Beatle WAGS; hidden away, virtually a single mother, married to the most extreme Beatle, the most curious, the least conventional, the leader of the gang, and too often uncertain of his whereabouts, let alone what was going on inside his mind.
There is a curious symmetry about how the four Beatles chose as their partners English girls of solid backgrounds – John with Cynthia, Paul with Jane, Ringo with Maureen, George with Pattie – but gradually exchanged them for American women – John with Yoko (Japanese by birth, Yoko became a US citizen through her 1963 marriage to Tony Cox), Paul with Linda, George with Olivia and, finally, Ringo with Barbara.
The newspaper coverage of Cynthia’s passing has granted the right wing, middle-brow media yet another opportunity to condemn John, a man whose philosophy was and will always be at odds with their political leanings and puritanical social agenda. It is regrettable that Beatles biographer Hunter Davis has been quoted as saying: “John treated her appallingly. He slept with Yoko in their marital home and, as we discovered later, he also physically attacked her, but she was loyal to him.” As far as I can establish there is only one confirmed incident of John abusing Cynthia physically, at an art school dance very early on in their relationship when he accused her of flirting with another man. I’m not trying to excuse John here, but let’s not blow this out of proportion by suggesting it was a recurrent theme of their relationship. Amusingly, the Daily Mail captioned one of their photographs: “The couple… at home with Julian in Surrey in 1965 before drugs began to have a destructive effect on the musician.” I always thought drugs had a creatively liberating effect on John, altogether positive, and - heroin aside - quite the opposite of ‘destructive’ in every way.
Anyway, I’m sorry about Cynthia. It can’t have been easy. She was, by all accounts, a wonderful mother to Julian. She was certainly John’s muse during the first phase of The Beatles’ career and I was gladdened to read on the internet a warm tribute from Yoko. She suffered for someone else’s art.