Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Wee Willie Winkie

The main protagonist in Edgar Allan Poe’s tome The Gold-Bug, which so influenced The Beatles in the design of the Sgt. Pepper treasure trail, is a character called William Legrand. If we apply the same word-play approach to this name as I have to some of the Pepperati (a la Dietrich meaning skeleton key in German and D’or meaning gold in French) we arrive at William the Great.

Alternatively, and of far more appeal to my extremely juvenile sense of humour, we could translate this as William the large, or big Willy! Intriguingly, I believe Sgt. Pepper may also have contained a little Willy reference as well.

It has long been a source of annoyance that I have been unable to determine just who this lovable little scamp that appears amongst the Sgt. Pepper luminaries is.


However, dear followers, we can all sleep well at night again as all good things come to those who wait and I am sure I can now rectify this omission. I believe the boy is William Graham who played the Just William character in two 1940’s films.

This would make a certain amount of sense as the Just William book's author, Richmal Crompton, did appear on the original list of names submitted to Peter Blake for inclusion on the cover by The Beatles. This inclusion would of have been at John Lennon’s request.

Little Willy appears to have ultimately joined the ranks of the obscured characters such as; Sophia Loren, Timothy Carey and Bette Davis.

 
Richmal Crompton and her little Willy
One of the recurring themes on the Pepper cover are the many literary references. Whilst conventional Beatle lore likes to depict McCartney’s influence as being the primary driver behind the Sgt. Pepper concept – that of the band replacing themselves with anonymous personas, it is via Lennon’s suggestions that the Pepper cover back-story comes to light.

When presenting the Beatle-approved version of the Pepper history, the media like to focus on Lennon’s contributions as being highly controversial; Hitler, Jesus and Gandhi etc. However, it is through his inclusion of many of the authors that inspired him as a child that we can gain a real insight as to the purpose of the Sgt. Pepper code.

Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Stephen Crane, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde all make an appearance, and are, most likely all Lennon inclusions.


Richmal Crompton, dropped from the original list, makes a ‘ghost’ appearance via this, ultimately discarded, homage. Edgar Rice Burroughs, likewise, makes a ghost appearance via the inclusion of the Johnny Weismuller / Tarzan character and via the portmanteau names Edgar Allan Poe and William Burroughs. The hidden Elizabeth I / Bette Davis character is an allusion – one of many, I believe, like Billy Shears – to Sir Francis Bacon; the proposed author of the works of Shakespeare.

Ultimately, it is in understanding that Pepper contains allusions to unseen and un-credited writers that will allow us to solve the Sgt. Pepper code (not many sleeps now my dear little cherubs to all is revealed).

Maybe Lennon is tipping a hat to these fondly remembered childhood authors and is saying that without them there would be no Sgt. Pepper?