Maureen Cleave, pop journalist and Beatles confidante, dies at 87

Maureen Cleave, a British journalist who was one of the first musical composers to introduce the Beatles to readers and who recorded Joh...


Maureen Cleave, a British journalist who was one of the first musical composers to introduce the Beatles to readers and who recorded John Lennon’s famous observation that the group was “more popular than Jesus”, died on November 6 in his home in Aldeburgh, England. She was 87 years old.

His daughter Dora Nichols has confirmed his death. She did not give a cause, but said Ms Cleave suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

When Mrs. Cleave started writing the “Date of the record” column for The London Evening Standard by 1961 serious writing about pop music was in its infancy. She helped raise her profile, in columns that featured conversations with luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the Rolling Stones. It has become a brand signature; in 1976, The Standard called him “the writer who gets people to talk about themselves in a way no other writer can match.”

But she was best known for her regular reporting on The Beatles, with whom she had a warm relationship, and which she described affectionately in the pages of the diary. His article titled “The Year of the Beatles,” published in The Standard in 1963, was one of the first major newspaper articles on the group.

“Their behavior ranges from the absurd, ridiculous and impossible to the nice, thoughtful and polite,” Ms. Cleave wrote. “You are outraged, turned away and charmed. You are never, ever bored.

Her biggest moment came from an interview with Lennon published in March 1966, in which she delved into her thoughts on organized religion. “Christianity will go,” he said. “It will disappear and shrink. I don’t need to argue about it; I know I am right and I will be right. We are more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.

Readers, and the rest of the British press, paid little attention to it. But in July, a month before the Beatles began touring the United States, the American Datebook magazine reprinted the interview and caused a frenzy.

Lennon’s remark, which has become widely known as a claim that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” sparked protests and angered many American Christians. Lennon has been charged with blasphemy – as has, by extension, Mrs. Cleave.

A Baptist pastor in Cleveland threat of excommunication for members of his ward who attended a Beatles concert. The Ku Klux Klan protested Lennon’s remarks. The Vatican issued a statement condemning the comparison.

Lennon apologized – albeit reluctantly – at a press conference during the US tour, under pressure from the band manager, Brian Epstein.

Paul McCartney said in the multimedia release “The Beatles Anthology” that Ms. Cleave was one of the band’s top journalists. “Maureen was interesting and easy to talk to,” he said. Lennon, he added, “made the unfortunate mistake of speaking very freely because Maureen was someone we knew very well, who we were just talking to over the shoulder.”

Lennon’s line has been incorporated into The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

The 1966 US tour, filled with protests and lingering fear of violence, was the Beatles’ last.

Maureen Diana Cleave was born on October 20, 1934 in India, then part of the British Empire.

His father, Major John Cleave, was a British officer stationed in India. His mother, Isabella Mary Fraser Browne, was a housewife. She had two sisters.

Ms Cleave attended secondary school in her mother’s native Ireland after the family returned there.

After graduating from Sainte-Anne College in Oxford in 1957, Mrs. Cleave found a job at The Evening Standard as a secretary.

Passionate about pop music, she wrote a column on the subject for the newspaper. This idea became “Date of the disc”. She traveled to Liverpool in 1963 to see The Beatles in person.

She married Francis Nichols, a classmate from Oxford, in 1966, and they then moved to her ancestral home in Lawford Hall in Essex. He passed away in 2015. His survivors include their daughters, Dora and Sadie Nichols; their son, Bertie Nichols; and three grandchildren.

After the Beatles split in 1970, Ms. Cleave continued to cover the music scene for The Evening Standard. In a series of articles in the 1970s under the heading “Maureen Cleave’s Guide to the Young,” she explained the hippie movement to Standard readers and explored the Hells Angels, among other topics.

Ms Cleave was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, after collapsing on a London Underground platform in 1992. She documented her experience with the disease in The Standard the next year. “The medical profession has fallen behind in raising awareness of ME,” she wrote; “because there is no test, so it does not exist.”

“Other than having it, I didn’t know much about it myself,” she added. She has seen homeopathic doctors as well as traditional practitioners in an attempt to manage her condition.

Other topics she explored was women’s fitness. She has also written profiles of painters, writers and philanthropists.

But she also continued to post thoughts on her time with the Beatles. In 2005, she wrote a room for the Daily Telegraph linked to what would have been John Lennon’s 65th birthday.

“Charisma seldom survives the aging process,” she writes, “but, slain in his prime, Lennon remains a very powerful absence.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Maureen Cleave, pop journalist and Beatles confidante, dies at 87
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