I have been writing on-and-off for the long-running Beatlefan magazine for decades. Here is part of a recent article I wrote for Bill King’s excellent publication. It concerns one of the UK’s most well-known television actresses, although she is probably not known as well outside this country. She was born Susan Wright in Warrington on 7 December 1945 and was reared in Whiston, ten miles outside of Liverpool.
As Sue Johnson she is a well-established and esteemed British television actress, whose work has included soaps (‘Brookside’, ‘Coronation Street’), comedy (‘The Royale Family’) and drama (‘Waking The Dead,’ ‘Downton Abbey.’)
Sue went to work in the Liverpool tax office in Dale Street and began attending lunchtime sessions at the Cavern.
Chris Crummy was another member of the Dale Street tax office, who also attended the Cavern sessions. He was soon to use the name Chris Curtis when he became drummer with the Searchers.
In her second autobiography ‘Things I Wouldn’t Tell My Mother’, Sue recalls, “I used to love going to the Cavern on my own, taking in the sights and sounds of everything that was going on there….you walked downstairs, and it was as the name suggested: an underground Cavern. As you neared the entrance you could smell the club: it was damp and stinking, but it was such an exciting place to be and the smell was part of it.”
As for her clothing: “When I first started going it had just stopped being a jazz club but still had the overhang of that jazz/beatnik fashion, tight black trousers and black polo necks, so my attire had to be black – colour would have been far too gauche! I would wear a big baggy mohair jumper and leggings; I thought I looked the bee’s knees.”
She was also to recall, “To the side of the cellars there was an area where people would stand and do the Cavern stomp, the signature dance of the club. It was less a stomp than a slowed-down jive. The best way to describe it is to imagine a child doing an elephant impression as they stomp their feet from side to side. Then slow it right down. It was hardly the tango but we thought we looked great!”
Sue studied acting with a drama group at Liverpool Institute.
In 1961 her boyfriend was Norman Kuhlke, a car mechanic who was also the drummer with the Swinging Bluejeans and she first saw the Beatles in 1961 when she attended a Bluejeans session in which the Beatles were their guests.
On that first time she saw them perform Sue was mesmerised. She says, “There was something so edgy and vital about their performance that was airbrushed out when they were given their mop tops and their little suits and told to act clean-cut for the teeny-boppers worried parents.”
Perhaps it’s understandable why Brian Epstein cleaned up their image to make them more acceptable to the media and their audience, because Sue’s own mother produced the typical adult attitude to them after watching them on the ‘Scene at 6.30’ programme.
“At that time my mother knew that they were the reason her daughter spent so much time at the Cavern but she had yet to clap eyes on them. They were dressed in leather biker jackets and looked very sexy. My mum was appalled. After that, when Paul came to our place to drop me off, she’d asked in disgust, ‘Has that dirty Beatle been in my house? She gave me the silent treatment for a while after that.”
Of the Beatles, Paul was a particular friend and he wrote to her from Hamburg: “He said that in one of the clubs one night John Lennon ended up with a stunning, exotic-looking woman, only to discover on closer inspection that she was a he, which the other Beatles found hilarious.” The club was probably the Roxy bar where quite glamorous females turned out to be men.
Sue was also given a reel-to-reel tape of the Beatles singing ‘Love Me Do’ recorded at a session in a garage. Paul’s Hamburg letter was stolen when she was working on ‘Brookside’ and she taped a Max Miller show over the ‘Love Me Do’ recording.
It was Paul McCartney who told her that there was a job going at NEMS. Sue applied and became personal assistant to Peter Brown, who ran the Great Charlotte Street branch of NEMS, the store owned by the Epstein family.
She remembers groups coming into the store to listen to American records. She also listened to the latest discs and after hearing the Chan Romero single ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’, took it to Norman and it became the Bluejeans first chart hit. She also gave them a record of ‘You’re No Good’, which they also recorded.
Describing another of her NEMS tasks, she says, “We had rollers with the Beatles signatures on and used to roll them off on their pictures to send to fans. I hope I don’t get sued for this, but it’s the absolute truth. I used to spend hours doing that.”
Apart from Cavern gigs, she used to frequent the Mardi Gras, another Liverpool city centre club, run by the Bluejeans manager, Jim Ireland.
Interestingly enough, she recalled that when a record launch was due at NEMS, the management gave the staff purple hearts.
As Sue was closer to Paul than any of the others she was invited to Paul’s 21st birthday party. Although there were other Mersey artists present, such as the Fourmost and Billy J. Kramer, she was particularly impressed by the Shadows and commented, “All the Shadows wives and girlfriends wore midi dresses, a fashion that hadn’t yet reached the North. Immediately after the party I went out to buy one.”
(Bill’s Note: I’m not sure when midi dresses came in. I thought they were later in the Sixties or even the early Seventies. But if they hadn’t reached the North yet, how could Sue have immediately gone out and bought one?)
Her relationship with Norman ended when she discovered he’d taken a girl fan on holiday, so she dumped him and decided to leave Liverpool, although she was to see the Beatles for a last time when they returned from London to appear at the Cavern.
“I was with Paul, then George met us and Ringo came later.” Paul suggested they go for a drive past the Cavern.
They all piled into Paul’s bottle green Ford Classic and headed for Mathew Street where they saw a huge crowd queuing. As the street was so narrow, they couldn’t turn the car round and had to slowly drive past the crowd, who then noticed the three Beatles. Paul wound the window down and the girls were screaming while the lads were shaking Paul’s hand. In the meantime, Sue had hidden under a pile of coats.
Eventually, Paul wound the window back up and they drove away and went to a party. When Paul was driving her home, the car broke down and they had to catch a taxi. When they arrived, Sue’s mum and dad were away, so the couple chatted until the early hours.
When Sue was a guest on the radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’, among her selection was the Beatles ‘Twist and Shout’ and Gerry & the Pacemakers with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’