Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Rugby Club Band
by Wes Clark
A couple of years ago I watched a Beatles special on TV which featured the video that was made for the 1967 release of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. Nearly everyone is familiar with the cover of that particular LP: cardboard cut-outs of famous and not-so-famous celebrities made by British artist Peter Blake (now Sir Peter, having been knighted). It has since been widely imitated and parodied, and serves as a sort of cultural icon. The idea was that John, Paul, George and Ringo were asked whom they would like to have on the album cover, and Blake's staff arranged the necessary photo releases and made the cut-outs. Then the Beatles posed with the cut-outs to make the famous cover. What were the selection criteria for the cover? According to Paul McCartney, "These were all just cult heroes. George chose a few of his schoolmates he liked; and the rest of us said names we liked the sound of: like Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Johnny Weissmuller..." According to Blake, "I asked them to make lists of people they'd most like to have in the audience at this imaginary concert. John's was interesting because it included Jesus and Gandhi and, more cynically, Hitler. But this was just a few months after the US furor about his 'Jesus' statement, so they were left out. George's list was all gurus. Ringo said, 'Whatever the others say is fine by me,' because he didn't really want to be bothered."
In the video (probably known as a "promotional film" back then), a sequence occurs when the cutouts all sway side to side in time to the beat of the title song - it was quite interesting and a little bizarre. I watched this for the first time, thought, "Well, that's odd," and hours later, went to bed. Then, as I was falling asleep I saw those cut-outs swaying from side to side in my mind's eye, and distinctly heard a little voice in my head say, "One of them played rugby." I then awoke as a result of this curious, subconscious assertion, and went downstairs to do a few hours of Internet research on who could have played rugby among the Sergeant Pepper cut-out celebrities.
It's interesting to note that 24 of the celebrities were British subjects and 24 were Americans. This reduces the likelihood of more Sgt. Pepper celebrities being rugby players since the game wasn't very popular in the U.S., when these mid-Sixties celebrities were younger. (It also reflects the Beatles' awareness of American pop culture.)
What follows is what I found. The numbers preceding the names are according to a key of who appears on the album cover. I have skipped Shirley Temple, the pin-up girls, wax dummies and inanimate objects like hookah pipes and garden gnomes, so all of the key numbers will not be included. (Although I do know of a Scottish scrum-half who reminds me of a garden gnome.) However, there is one significant inanimate object that will be discussed with mention of Paul McCartney!
So, who on the Sergeant Pepper album cover played rugby? As far as I can tell, it appears that the little voice in my head was wrong. There were three for whom I could find documentation.
1. Sri Yukteswar Giri (Indian guru) - Probably not. While I'm sure rugby was and is played in the former British colony of India, cricket seems to have been more popular. So I shall pass this one by for more likely possibilities.
2. Aleister Crowley (British dabbler in sex, drugs and magic) - While the "sex and drugs" part seems to suggest rugby, I have found no evidence that he ever played. (And this is a good time to mention that unless the celebrity was especially interested in rugby, most Internet biographies pass over details about sports.) However, in 1896 he experienced his first mystical experience on a visit to Stockholm. He wrote, "I was awakened to the knowledge that I possessed a magical means of becoming conscious of and satisfying a part of my nature which had up to that moment concealed itself from me. It was an experience of horror and pain, combined with a certain ghostly terror, yet at the same time it was the key to the purest and holiest spiritual ecstasy that exists." Horror and pain leading to spiritual ecstasy… those who play rugby will find this familiar! And a famous quote of his might well describe some matches I have played: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." He probably would have made an unsatisfactory referee.
3. Mae West (American actress) - Not likely! While I'm sure some women somewhere played rugby in the 20's and 30's it seems that Mae's game was the Art of Love and collecting diamonds. Her quote "Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere else!" could be seen as having application to rugby bars, however.
4. Lenny Bruce (American comic) - Once again, not likely. The main thing he would have in common with rugby players was that he, too, was harassed by authorities.
5. Karlheinz Stockhausen (German composer) - I don't think so. He was born and raised in a country without a major rugby culture - Germany - and seemed to have an exclusive interest in music. However, there is a faint rugby connection: He studied with Darius Milhaud, who composed a piece entitled "Rugby," which was once played before an Olympic rugby match. (I've heard it. It doesn't suggest either the game or a roaring crowd to me.) One Stockhausen biography notes: "From 1955, he was the co-editor of the theoretical journal, "Die Riehe" (The Row)." But not front row or second row…
6. W.C. (William Claude) Fields (American comic) - A notorious drunk ("After breakfast he downed a solid glass of bourbon with one-half inch of water in it. He said he didn't want to discolor the bourbon."), but apparently never a rugby player, according to Internet sources.
7. Carl Gustav Jung (Swiss psychologist) - His only rugby-like experience is that, like a typical club president, he also dealt with psychotics.
8. Edgar Allen Poe (American writer) - Born in 1809; too early.
9. Fred Astaire (American actor) - Described as debonair, poised, elegant and captivating. Nahhh. Besides, he started show business at age 5 - so he had other things on his mind.
10. Richard Merkin (artist) - Not enough information to prove or disprove a rugby connection. But the fact that he's a Brooklynite argues against.
12. Leo Gorcey (actor - painted out of the album cover because he requested a fee) - One of the "Dead End Kids" (later known as the "Bowery Boys.") See below.
13. Huntz Hall (actor, with Leo Gorcey one of the Bowery Boys) - Raised during the Depression in New York City, rugby is unlikely, but if you've ever seen the hilarious basketball sequence with James Cagney in "Angels With Dirty Faces," you'd see they had a knack for contact. (The kind that merits red cards from referees.)
14. Simon Rodia (creator of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles) - Italian immigrant. Not likely.
15. Bob Dylan (musician) - Robert Allen Zimmerman, growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota, wrote poetry as a child. Nahhh.
16. Aubrey Beardsley (Art nouveau illustrator) - Born in 1872 in Brighton, England, and attending school there, I suppose it's possible that he played rugby. However, poor health would seem to argue against it: "The artist's health was always fragile. At the age of nine, he had his first reported attack of tuberculosis, the disease which was to reduce him to an invalid several times and finally cause his death."
17. Sir Robert Peel (British politician) - Too early, as he was born in 1788.
18. Aldous Huxley (British writer) - Born in 1894 from "…a family that included some of the most distinguished members of that part of the English ruling class made up of the intellectual elite." That kind of argues against rugby playing, doesn't it? He attended Eton - which might or might not mean anything. There is a rugby connection, however, in that his mother was the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, the real-life headmaster of Rugby School who became a character in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays. Also, in "The Case for Constructive Peace," Huxley writes: "Like even the mildest animals - and it is probable that our pre-human ancestors were gentle creatures something like the tarsias of today - men have always done a good deal of 'scrapping'. In some places and at some epochs of history this 'scrapping' was a violent and savage affair; at others, relatively harmless: it has been entirely a matter of convention. Thus, in Europe 300 years ago, 'the best people' were expected to fight a duel on the slightest provocation; now they are not expected to do so. Within the lifetime of men still with us, games of rugby football ended, and were meant to end, in broken legs. On the modern football field broken legs are no longer in fashion. The rules for casual individual 'scrapping' and for those organised group-contests which we call sport, have been changed, on the whole for the better."
Doesn't sound like a avid rugger, does he?
19. Dylan Thomas (Welsh poet) - A hard-drinking Welshman, which sounds promising for rugby, but no. According to a Dylan enthusiast with whom I exchanged e-mail, "Dylan did not play any physical sport. He did a bit of running for his school and was involved in many fights, which he lost."
20. Terry Southern (American writer) - No evidence of any rugby playing.
21. Dion (di Mucci) (American singer) - Italian doo-wop singer from Brooklyn; baseball would have been far more likely to have been his sport.
22. Tony Curtis (American actor) - Nope. Born Bernard Schwartz and growing up in the Bronx in the 1930's, baseball would probably have been his main sports interest.
23. Wallace Berman (American artist) - Not enough information to prove or disprove a rugby connection.
24. Tommy Handley (Liverpudlian comic) - Seems to have been an actor/entertainer/ventriloquist from an early age. No rugby playing that I could find.
25. Marilyn Monroe (American actress) - Yeah, right. But she did have an affair with a man who reputedly played rugby for Harvard: John F. Kennedy. I reckon that makes her the world's most glamorous rugger-hugger.
26. William S. Burroughs (American writer) - No rugby experience that I can find. Burroughs was a homosexual heroin addict who accidentally shot and murdered his wife and who later experimented with drugs. Frankly, I find him pathetic. I bet he played soccer.
27. Sri Mahavatara Babji (Indian guru) - I get the impression that they'd cancel his Eastern Mystic and Spiritual Authority membership card if he played rugby. Besides, he was born in 203 AD - somewhat before William Webb Ellis ran with the ball.
28. Stan Laurel (British/American comic) - Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson; his birthplace was the town of Ulverston in North Lancashire (presently Cumbria), England. This being the case, it could very well be that he played some schoolboy rugby, but I have found no evidence of this. He seems to have been raised on the stage. And, believe it or not, he was a Rhodes Scholar.
29. Richard Lindner (German/American painter) - Born in Hamburg, had an American mother. By the time he was eighteen he was a concert pianist so… no… I don't think so.
30. Oliver Hardy (American comic) - Like Stan Laurel, he appears to have been raised on a stage. 6'2" and hefty, he might look (and act) like a prop, but his game was golf. He frequently won the Hal Roach Studios golf tournaments.
31. Karl Marx (Philosopher/socialist) - Born in 1818 in Germany. Wrong place and time for rugby.
Wells tells us in his Experiment in Autobiography that, while playing football with a group of his students, he was thrown to the ground by one of the more hostile boys. He got up, but felt strangely ill; there was a terrible pain in his side. Walls staggered off the field and managed to get back to his room. He wrote: "In the house I was violently sick. I went to lie down. Then I was moved to urinate and found myself staring at a chamber-pot half full of scarlet blood. That was the most dismaying moment in my life. I did not know what to do. I lay down again and waited for someone to come. Nothing very much was done about me that evening, but in the night I was crawling along the bedroom on all fours, delirious, seeking water to drink. The next day a doctor was brought from Wrexham. He discovered that my left kidney had been touched."
33. Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Indian guru) - Nah, same reasons as for the Indian mystics above. Besides, he found the Self-Realization Fellowship. Does that sound like something a rugger would do?
35. Stuart Sutcliffe (Artist/former Beatle) - He was primarily interested in art, literature, poetry and philosophy. Did the Liverpool Art College have a rugby side in 1959, and did Sutcliffe play on it? I have no clue. In 1961 Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage sustained, it is said, as a result of a kick to the head in a fight. (He might as well have played rugby, given this.)
39. Marlon Brando (American actor) - As dearly as I would love to be able to claim that The Godfather was a rugger, I cannot find any evidence of this. Being an American growing up in Omaha, it's unlikely that Brando was.
40. Tom Mix (American cowboy actor from the 1920's) - I can't find any evidence that he ever played rugby when away from his horses, but he was a bartender at one time. (I know, lame.)
41. Oscar Wilde (Irish writer) - Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, while at Oxford, claimed that his greatest challenge was living up to the blue china which he had installed in his rooms. He was also a leading light of the aesthetic movement. Given this, experience with rugby seems doubtful. He did make an insightful rugby quote, however: "Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city."
42. Tyrone Power (American actor) - Not likely. In addition to having the rugby handicap of being American, where it isn't often played, he was described as being a frail and sickly child who became obsessed with the family business, acting.
43. Larry Bell (American artist) - I can find very little about him at all, let alone any indication of rugby-playing.
44. Dr. David Livingstone (Scottish missionary/explorer) - Born in 1813, he probably didn't play what we'd call rugby as a child, if he played anything. At any rate, he spent long hours working in a factory as a child and exploring Africa as an adult, so rugby seems unlikely.
45. Johnny Weismueller (American swimmer/actor) - His game was swimming. He must have been good at it as he won five Olympic gold medals.
46. Stephen Crane (American writer) - Described as an introverted child who wrote his first story at age 14. However, in school his interests were described as baseball, swearing and poker. But no rugby.
47. Issy Bonn (British comic) - Being a Brit, I suppose there may have been some school boy rugby, but I am unable to find evidence of it.
48. George Bernard Shaw (Irish writer) - Possibly. In 1866 he attended Wesleyan Connexional School, then moved to a private school near Dalkey, and from there to Dublin's Central Model School. Shaw finished his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. Did any of those schools play rugby?
49. H.C. (Horace Clifford) Westermann (sculptor) - Not that I can tell from the little available.
50. Albert Stubbins (British soccer player) - He took part in "the gentlemen's game played by hooligans" rather than "the hooligan's game played by gentlemen."
51. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (Indian guru) - Doubtful.
53. T.E. (Thomas Edward) Lawrence (British soldier, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) - It appears that he probably played rugby (assuming by "football" he meant rugby and not soccer) but didn't like it. He once wrote, "You know, I've never, since I was able to think, played any game through to the end. At school they used to stick me into football or cricket teams, and always I would trickle away from the field before the match ended." He was good at gymnastics and cycling, however.
54. Sonny Liston (American boxer) - He preferred his fistfights in a ring rather than on the pitch.
56-60 and 62-65: John, Paul, George and Ringo. Known collectively as The Beatles - Well, here's an interesting question, and one that I can honestly say I have never seen posed anywhere: Did any of the Beatles play rugby?
John Lennon - BINGO! Here's a very colorful (and Lennonesque) account of an early informal match from "The Vanished World of a Woolton Childhood with John Lennon" by David Ashton: "My next meeting was on a day when we were all playing football on the cow field in Reservoir Road on the top of Woolton Hill which was used to feed up pregnant cows before they began their new lactation. To us lads of top end of Much Woolton it was our football field. There was a Little Woolton which had become Gateacre. The boundary stone between the two is still on the Church Road end of Reservoir Road or at least it was the last time I had a walk around memory lane in Reynolds Park.
"Anyway, this day Alan Walpole and I were playing football in the cow field with my new child-size leather football with a blown up pig's bladder inside, French chalked to preserve it, which my dad had bought from Jack Sharp's Sports Shop in Liverpool for, I think, five shillings and sixpence. I had got the football for my birthday in November. We had a various assortment of football kits on - most of them probably pre-First World War stuff as in the Woolton of our childhood no-one had much money.
"We were not poor, or did not think we were anyway, but we certainly never dreamt of having a Liverpool or Everton football kit. We wore hand-me-down kits, if we had any, from fathers, uncles, brothers or cousins.
"He had a posh kit the like of which I had never seen before. From memory the top was yellow with navy blue hoops and he had football shorts that fitted him. I was later to find out that it was a rugby kit. Robert Bancroft was picked for a side and as soon as he got near the ball he picked it up and started running with it and fell down near the goal. I thought at first that he had pinched the ball but John Lennon said that he was playing rugby so just play along with him and when he gets the ball, grab him, pull down his keks (trousers) and rub his balls with cowshit. Perhaps I should explain that in the Liverpool of my childhood, rugby was only played in foreign places with coal mines like St. Helens, where they had red buses instead of green like our corporation buses and our Crossville buses, or in Widnes which was a long way to go on your bike.
"So how John Lennon knew the difference between rugby and football I didn't know. I was to learn later that he was like that - he knew things we others did not know. It was not long before the brave Robert Bancroft grabbed the ball again and began to run with it to the goal. We all piled on to him, got him to the ground, got his keks down and rubbed cowshit into his testes. Honour done, he went home crying and it was not long before my mother appeared at the cow field wall demanding that she be given the ball and I was to go home. Robert's mother had been round to complain and I was banned from going out for a week and banned from playing with John Lennon, Peter Shotton, Ivan Vaughan and Nige Walley."
I can find no evidence on the Internet that George or Ringo played rugby. Given the above account, however, it seems likely that, like Paul and John, they did in an informal, neighborhood sense. (Probably without John's novel use of the organic material found in cow fields.) Perhaps, like Paul, they even got trophies!
However, here's a related surprise: Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, played rugby. From "Many Years From Now" by Barry Miles (a book about Paul McCartney): "...even as a child he (Epstein) apparently managed to walk off the rugby pitch with brilliantly white bootlaces." (He must have been a back.)
61. Albert Einstein (Swiss/American physicist) - It seems unlikely that rugby was commonly played in Switzerland in the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth. Besides, he was too busy proving that time is relative, which is something that every exhausted rugby player knows.
66. Bobby Breen (American singer/child star) - I read that by the time he was seven years old, he was one of Hollywood's leading young stars, which would seem to argue against rugby playing.
67. Marlene Dietrich (German/American actress) - I doubt if girls played rugby in Germany in the opening years of the 20th century!
68. Mohandas Gandhi (Indian leader - painted out at the request of EMI) - Gandhi? Rugby? I suppose it's possible. Mind-blowing, but possible. Nah. Nothing I read supports this.
70. Diana Dors (British actress) - Known as the English Marilyn Monroe. Unless her husband Dickie Dawson of Family Feud and Hogan's Heroes played, however, I cannot assert that she was also a glamorous rugger-hugger.
And there it is. Having thus exorcised my creative mind, perhaps I can sleep more soundly at night!