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Lennon Naked: Getting under the skin of John Lennon

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Robert Jones Robert Jones | 11:32 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I stick to a routine when it comes to writing. I can't write in a café or a park. I get to my desk around nine and set myself a target for the number of pages to get done in a day.

At the place where I work they take the mickey out of me for always making coffee at exactly 11 o'clock. It's like a promise to myself - get those pages down and There Will Be Caffeine.

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Writing Lennon Naked took a long time. I worked very closely with the director, Ed Coulthard, for a good two years before filming started.

We'd wanted to work on something together for quite a while and were both interested in John Lennon, particularly the period around the time of his famous interview with Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone magazine in 1970.

It seemed to us that the song Imagine had come to define the mercurial Lennon in a way he would have found confining. This film shows a different side to the man.

In terms of capturing how John spoke, I watched the Beatles films and listened to dozens of hours of interviews on YouTube - and I read everything I could both by and about him.

After a while, I felt I had a grasp of how he turned a phrase. Of course, he was famously witty, so it's a challenge.

John Lennon, played by Christopher Eccleston, set ballons free in a white hall

My favourite line got edited out when we changed the structure of the opening. I'd had the American psychotherapist Art Janov saying, "Do you feel a lot of pain, John?" John replied, "I felt a lot of pain when I realised what it was going to cost me to fly you over from California."

I can still hear Christopher Eccleston saying it. He captured brilliantly the way Lennon loved to undercut pomposity. In fact, he captured Lennon full stop.

His performance is immense - he's in every scene. When I heard he'd read the script and was keen to do it, I knew we were moving into another league.

The key characters featured in the film were contacted by the production company, Blast, but I didn't interview them before writing.

From everything I'd read, I got the strong sense that those who knew John best had very different and often contradictory ideas about what he was like and what made him tick.

John Lennon, played by Christopher Eccleston, and Yoko Ono, played by Naoko Mori, face the press with peace signs in the background

Rather than adopt any individual's take on him, I just absorbed everything I could and then made up my own mind. I stuck to the facts of his life but obviously what you see is an interpretation - mine, the director's and Christopher Eccleston's.

The film was shot on a low budget in a short time. I'm amazed by the amount of work that everyone involved in it was prepared to contribute, both cast and crew. They made every penny and every minute count.

I hope they're as proud of this film as I am. It'd be great to hear what you think of it too.

Robert Jones is the writer of Lennon Naked.

Lennon Naked will be shown on BBC Four at 9.30pm on Wednesday, 23 June.


  • Comment number 1.

    Where was Lennons wit?
    Why are these BBC bios so joyless and bleak?
    Sellers, Kenneth Williams, John Winstone Lennon all monsters?
    Give us a break, these characters were shining beacons in a sea of mediochrity.
    Ecclestone did a great job and was truely immersed in the difficult role.
    It should have stayed monochrome, that would have defined it better with the stock footage, and more real film press conferences should have been used, for their real wit and tone.
    Budget as ever minimal, the magic was never made for me by the smoke and mirrors.
    It didn't get it right.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I totally agree with Roger's comments. This was by far the worst programme ever made on him. Where was Lennon's wit, compassion and warmth? This was a one-dimensional Lennon who appeared to be cruel and belittling without reason, who disliked his wife for no reason and who fell for Yoko Ono for no reason. There were factual errors throughout that were too awful to leave to the writer's creative freedom (John joking openly about Brian Epstein's homosexuality in 1964? I doubt it somehow. John loved Brian and would never have put him in danger, since homosexuality was illegal then. I would loved to have attended that press conference in 1968, if it had taken place! The Beatles never held a press conference when they returned from India, because they did not return together from India. Ringo left first, followed by Paul. Pete Shotton was not at John's house when Yoko came over to make 'Two Virgins' - who were your sources?!?).
    I am sure that Lennon didn't spend ALL of his time being miserable and moping around, and whilst he admitted he was not the best of fathers to Julian, his son from his first marriage, it is probable that he did not constantly ignore him or be openly distant with him.
    There is a need for a balanced portrait, of course, but there was no balance here, and no insight. The BBC has missed a great opportunity to explore how Lennon's own childhood traumas had affected his relationships with his own father and his own son.
    This programme was worthy of the worst output of the worst cable channel; I expect more from the BBC.

  • Comment number 4.

    Please do stop whining roger long. As the writer has said, it is his take on Lennon. I think your problem is that you have Lennon on a pedestal; he wasn't a cuddly bloke, he could be vicious, hurt those around him and did not suffer fools gladly. So in all likelihood, regardless of his undoubted genius, there were many 'joyless' moments.
    Oh, and it's Winston...

  • Comment number 5.

    I loved it Robert - well done

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm sorry to hear some people didn't enjoy the film - and very glad others did. Lennon was a contradictory and controversial figure and the film reflects this. One thing that became very clear to me while researching and writing is that a huge number of people feel a uniquely strong sense of connection with the man. Probably we've all got a different version of Lennon, and I think he'd have liked that fact.

  • Comment number 7.

    I can´t receive BBC4 where I live. I would have loved to see this programme. Please can you tell me if it will be on BBC1 or 2?

  • Comment number 8.

    Dear Stourblue
    Its not a whine, its a statement
    The BBC is incapable of making a biography film without supressing the pure talent and appeal of the victim.
    Its the journalist mantra,set em up,knock em down.
    This show in the BBC4 'Fatherhood Season' was not about a talented witty musical genius but a crppled/child/ parent/ victim.
    Another sad BBC comissioning editor choice.
    It should have been called 'What about your Son'
    As for factual ,it was a travesty,not worthy of a once mighty corporation.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hello Pinkcanary #7 - thanks for your comment. Lennon Naked was only broadcast on BBC Four and BBC HD but you can watch it in iPlayer - or download it - until 5 July.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    I really liked it.

    I'm not a Beatles fan at all, really - like some of their stuff; but don't know much about them as people. So this was all fascinating for me.

    And thankyou sooooo much for casting Andrew Scott as Paul McCartney - always great seeing him on TV.

  • Comment number 12.

    There were some great set-pieces here. The showdown scenes with Lennon's useless/feckless dad were electric. The final pre-divorce showdown between Lennon and his wife Cynthia also rang true. That said, the rest of it was a bit variable to say the least. Yes Ecclestone convincingly captured Lennon's cruel macho bluster, but..."Paul Mcartney" was a complete cipher (almost a cartoon character). Was that to make the contrast with Lennon? If so, a bit of a lazy shortcut by the writer and director there.

  • Comment number 13.

    Possible ideas for a follow-up:
    - A biopic on the character of Sir Paul. You could always engage Jane Asher and Heather Mills as editorial consultants. Of course, you might need to get legal clearance first, but don't let that stop you!
    - Or, how about a long retrospective, narrated by Alan Yentob, on the aristic genius of Yoko?

  • Comment number 14.

    The scene where John first met Yoko at the Indica Gallery wasn't mentioned, but it was the catalyst for what followed.

  • Comment number 15.

    Great admirer of Christopher Eccleston's work, but as has been said elsewhere (Radio Times correspondence pages for example) he was totally unbelievable as Lennon. too old, too big, too one dimensional. Too painful to continue watching after 20 minutes.

  • Comment number 16.

    no wit, no charisma, no intelligence, cod psychology, the other three beatles reduced to cyphers worse than those in the US cartoon series. how much more could we write? far from setting the world alight, this sour, humourless, whining lennon would have had trouble getting ten bob busking at oxford circus tube. eccleston looked way too old, was wooden and looked like he had something joe orton might have written into a subversive script for the beatles stuck somewhere unpleasant. didn't capture the accent, the look, the man. and he had to work with sub eastenders direction and a hapless script that included fundamental errors. everyone knows lennon was no saint but he surely deserved something better than this.

    apart from that, it was fab.

  • Comment number 17.

    Yes it was a little bleak, it concentrated on the weaknesses of the man, but like many "Shining Beacons on a sea of mediocrity" I think Lennon was a tortured soul haunted by the demons of his own past. IMHO that's why he was so good at what he did, because we all are.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think your version of Alf "Freddie" Lennon was very tabloid and ill-researched. No doubt it made for a better "show", but better research and attention to detail would make your visual account seem quite shallow and incorrect. I suppose the "show" and not the "truth" comes higher in your list of priorities. I expect BBC, or BBC commissioned shows to demonstrate more integrity than a common tabloid. Obviously this is no longer the case. What a shame!


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