Hunter Davies donates his research material to the British Library

Hunter Davies and an early edition of his biography about the Beatles.

The British Library has acquired author, broadcaster and journalist Hunter Davies’ archive of notebooks, drafts, photographs and ephemera related to the writing of The Beatles: The Authorised Biography (1968).

To date, it is still the only official biography of The Beatles, charting a unique first-hand account of the band’s rise to fame.

Paul McCartney’s drawings of George and John. © The British Library

While writing the book, Davies spent eighteen months with the band and had unprecedented access to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as to those within the orbit of one of the most influential music groups in history. He was present at pivotal moments in The Beatles legacy, including at their historic performance of All You Need Is Love as part of Britain’s contribution to the Our World satellite broadcast in June 1967 – the first ever live global television link.

The archive offers previously unseen insights into Davies’ relationship with The Beatles; it also offers a glimpse into the care, collaboration and consideration that goes into writing a book like The Beatles: The Authorised Biography (1968). Highlights include:

  • Davies’ notebook containing previously unseen sketches of George Harrison and John Lennon, hand drawn by Paul McCartney
  • Davies’ typed draft of The Beatles: The Authorised Biography with handwritten comments by John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi
  • Super 8 video footage of Davies’ family on holiday in Portugal with Paul and Linda McCartney
  • Davies’ notes on the celebrated Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover
  • The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s typed notes from 1962 on how the band should present themselves, including what they should wear, while making public appearances

Notes from an interview with John Lennon about the Beatles’ clothes. © The British Library

Hunter Davies says, “The further we get from The Beatles, the bigger they become. I never thought all these years later my scruffy notebooks would be of such interest – and I’m pleased that they’ll be made available to a wider audience of Beatles fans and researchers through the British Library.”

Greg Buzwell, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives at the British Library, says “We are delighted to have acquired Hunter Davies’ archive on his biography. His collection of notebooks, ephemera and photographs offers us a fascinating glimpse into the career of the Beatles at their peak.”

“The archive also provides a unique record of how Hunter went about writing what remains the only authorised biography of the group. Given unparalleled access to John, Paul, George and Ringo, along with other influential figures in their lives, Hunter’s research notes for his book are an important addition to the Library’s collections, and offer a raw, first-hand perspective into how the Beatles became icons of 1960s counterculture and changed the face of popular music forever.”

To celebrate the acquisition, Davies will offer a behind the scenes look at the writing of the biography, sharing exclusive insights into his archive, at an event in person at the British Library, and online on 11 November 2022. (LINK)

This acquisition builds significantly on the collection of The Beatles lyrics and papers that the Library already holds, some of which was donated by Davies in 2013, and can be seen in the free, permanent Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.

So, should be interesting to see what Mimi wanted to have erased?

6 Responses

  1. David McKnight says:

    As a Curator of Manuscripts, Archivist and Rare Book Librarian, the news that
    Hunter Davies has donated his research materials to the British Library is to
    put it simply fantastic. Hopefully the BL will process the collection in a timely
    manner. Barry Miles Papers are at Columbia (or a good portion); we now
    await the fate of Mark Lewisohn’s papers. Come on Mark finish the remaining
    two volumes of Tune In and donate your research archive to the BL. Thank you
    BL and Hunter Davies for making your generous gift.

    David McKnight,

  2. Rick says:

    He could’ve given it to me. I would’ve gladly taken it.

  3. John Auld says:

    I read a long while ago that Hunter was going to do this as a way of avoiding paying outstanding Tax debt.

    • Shad Radna says:

      As I understand it, he donated Lennon letters and handwritten song lyrics under The Cultural Gifts Scheme in 2013. Presumably this donation has been made under the same scheme. The scheme encourages people to leave such material to the nation in return for a deduction in their tax bill, in that case spread over five years. The deduction will always be considerably less than the market value of the gift, so if he had a significant outstanding tax debt then he’d probably have done better to sell the material on the open market.

  4. James W Percival says:

    A great decision, especially when one considers that he could easily have sold these for a lot of money. But Hunter has never been interested in exploiting his collection.
    I listened to several ML interviews on YouTube during lockdown, and this question came up. Mark is certainly intending to donate his huge archive, so let’s hope it is to the British Library.

  5. Kevin says:

    I suppose you could say that The Beatles Anthology book is also an “authorized” biography, since the former Fabs created it and approved it.

    Also, I can barely make out a word here and there of these notes, so I hope these papers get transcribed in typeset form!

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