When you mention the name John Lennon, any work project suddenly becomes that little bit more daunting. When you’re offered the chance to work with his children, well, the word ‘daunting’ suddenly seems rather meek. Having said that, when I was asked to produce John Lennon At 80 for Radio 2, I didn’t hesitate.
Growing up in the North West of England I had a deep fascination with The Beatles. This was probably stoked by the fact that my best friend’s mum had seen them play live in 1962 in my small Lancashire town, at the Co-Op of all places. She’d met them, even received handwritten letters from each of them. Almost unbelievable to me by the late 1980’s, when John had made it onto my bedroom wall.
In 1990, I went to a gig in Liverpool to mark John’s 50th birthday. His widow, Yoko Ono and his then 15 year old son, Sean, compered the show. During my career I’ve made plenty of documentaries about rock legends – Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton. They all have an element of tragedy, but this one was different. When I began work on this programme, I was acutely aware that yes, we were concentrating on John Lennon at 80, but with Sean involved, the story suddenly included a boy who had lost his Dad in the most awful circumstances.
I don’t mind saying I was more than a little apprehensive about working with John’s family. Fortunately I had absolutely no reason to be. Sean couldn’t have been more insightful, intelligent and, fortunately, equipped with a sharp sense of humour. Due to Covid restrictions, when we began work on this project, flying to meet him in New York was out of the question. We spent a lot of time on Zoom, chatting through ideas and working out the best way to approach what seemed like an impossible task. Soon it was suggested that Paul McCartney might get involved and then, could his big brother Julian be involved too?