Who is the “Man on the Flaming Pie?” How did Beetles become Beatles?

Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney's Flaming Pie
Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie

Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney’s 10th studio album, Flaming Pie, was released in 1997 and one of his best albums, in my opinion. In 2020, it is about to be reissued with a deluxe boxset.

Changing Names – from beetles to beatles

When John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison decided they had had enough of the name “Quarrymen”, it was their latest recruit, Stuart Sutcliffe, who suggested a new name. In tribute to their hero Buddy Holly, whose group was called The Crickets, Stuart suggested “Beetles”. But how would it be spelled? In 1960, the group used many spellings, and variations, of the name Beetles. Interestingly, before calling themselves The Crickets, Holly’s group considered the name “Beetles” too. (Fab one hundred and Four)

the Beetles “Myth”

One often quoted myth can be debunked, which was quoted by George Harrison. The name was not inspired by the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One, which refers to the rival gang led by Lee Marvin as “The Beetles”. The film was banned in England by the British Board of Film Censors until 1968.

The Man on the Flaming Pie?

So what about the “Man on the Flaming Pie”? Although Paul McCartney had an album and a song; “I’m the Man on the Flaming Pie”, he wasn’t. On Page 2 of the first issue of Bill Harry’s Mersey Beat, John Lennon wrote his biography of the origins of the group, which Bill Harry titled “Being a Short Diversion on the Origins of Beatles (Translated from The John Lennon).”

In it, Lennon wrote:

Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.

Meet the real “Man on the Flaming Pie”

For years, many have scoffed at this as a bit of fun. However, there is a true story behind the “man on the flaming pie”, as detailed in The Fab one hundred and Four. His name is Royston Ellis, and he was a Beat Poet who visited Liverpool, and was backed by a group, known as The Beetles, at Liverpool University. I interviewed him for the book, and he told me the story of what happened in Gambier Terrace, looking every bit like a Beatnik paradise. He sat there with John, Paul, George and Stu, and discussed the possibility of them coming back down to London to back him as a beat group.

While there, they had an experience with a drug, of sorts, remembered by John later:

Beat Poet Royston Ellis, whom The Beetles, not Beatles, supported in Liverpool. Ellis was the man on the flaming pie
Royston Ellis

‘By the way, the first dope, from a Benzedrine inhaler, was given to The Beatles (John, George, Paul and Stuart) by an (in retrospect) obviously ‘English cover version of Allen – one Royston Ellis, known as beat-poet (he read poetry whilst we played 12-bar blues at the local in-place!).
So give the saint his due.
Love,
John Lennon

Record Mirror where Royston Ellis refers to the Beatles, but showing the spelling of The Beetles, and how they could come down to London
Record Mirror mentioning The Beetles

Whether it was under the influence of “Vicks” or not, Royston Ellis and John Lennon had a discussion about their group’s name. In a newspaper report, Ellise refers to the group The Beetles, and how he is hoping to bring them down to London as his backing group. “John and George liked the idea, though Paul and Stu were less keen.”

Beetles with an “A”

“I suggested that since they liked the beat scene and they were coming to London to back me, a beat poet, why not spell it with an ‘A’? I had bought a chicken pie and mushrooms for dinner. I might have had the money but I did not know much about cooking, and the result was that I overcooked the mushrooms and burnt the chicken pie. I have always assumed that gave rise to John’s reference to ‘a man on a flaming pie’ suggesting they call themselves Beatles with an A.” (Fab one hundred and Four)

And very soon afterwards, they settled on Beatles with an “A”, never to be changed.

For the full story of the Beatles names in 1960, and the interviews, see The Fab one hundred and Four: The Evolution of The Beatles.

David Bedford

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Author: David Bedford

David Bedford grew up in The Dingle, attended the primary school that Ringo Starr did, before moving to Penny Lane, where his three daughters attended Dovedale Primary School, where John Lennon and George Harrison had previously attended.His first book, "Liddypool" was published in 2009, now in its third edition. His second book, "The Fab one hundred and Four" was published in 2013, and his third book, "Finding the Fourth Beatle" was published in 2018. He was also the Associate Producer and Beatles historian for the documentary feature film, "Looking for Lennon".He is working on several other projects at the moment,

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