Another sad passing was marked the other day in the ever diminishing ranks of The Beatles camp; Welsh actor, director, poet and comedian Victor Spinetti died following a short illness with prostate cancer.
Spinetti was internationally immortalized and will be forever remembered by Beatles fans for his roles in three of the five movies the group were connected with. After working with The Beatles during the making of A Hard Day’s Night, Spinetti became close friends of the group and worked with them collectively and independently.
Born in the Welsh town of Cwm in 1933, Spinetti’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant to Wales, a fact which was evident in his full name: Victorio Giorgio Andrea Spinetti. Educated in Cardiff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Spinetti began a lifelong career in theatre, but was catapulted to international fame for his role as the slightly eccentric and humourless TV director in Alun Owen and Dick Lesters’ hugely successful and ground breaking rockumentary; A Hard Days Night (1964).
The movie that perfectly captured Beatlemania and the dawn of a global youth revolution was always going to feature the heroes of the piece, The Beatles versus the establishment. Spinetti, who was 31 in 1964 represents the older, established order who view The Beatles and their success as a crazy flash-in-the-pan which will soon die out and return the hordes of screaming girls to normality. The Beatles naturally represent the awakening youth of Britain (and the globe). Anti-establishment in their outlook, the four young men clash repeatedly with establishment figures throughout the film – including police, managers, agents, businessmen, groundskeepers and even bartenders – but it is Spinetti’s fantastically morose, bored and marginalised TV director who provides most of the humour.
Paul: “There he goes [Spinetti]. Look at him. Bet his wife doesn’t know about her [his secretary].”
John: “If he’s got one. Look at his sweater.”
Paul: “You never know. She might have knitted it.”
John: “She knitted him.”
After attempting to promote his profile in the U.S. with the international release of the movie, George Harrison apparently informed Spinetti that he would have to star in all their movies: “You’ve got to be in all our films. If you’re not in them me mum won’t come and see them – because she fancies you” (NME). In 1965, Spinetti did indeed return, this time as a mad scientist trying to rule the world in the Beatles’ second movie, the rather farcical and pointless Help!, before he appeared a final time with the Fab Four in 1967 in their less than fabulous made-for-TV offering, Magical Mystery Tour. The film was savaged by critics and adjudged to be The Beatles’ first commercial and artistic flop.
Spinetti remained close friends with the group however, and in 1968 he directed a theatrical performance of John Lennon’s In His Own Write.
From the late ’60s on, Spinetti enjoyed a successful career as an actor and director in many and various roles for TV, Film and theatre. However, for Beatles fans, he will always be remembered as the frustrated TV director or the bungling scientist who is constantly goaded and thwarted by the four mop-tops.
Interestingly, Spinetti’s younger brother Henry, is a session drummer who has recorded with both George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
Victor Spinetti was 82 when he died on June 18, McCartney’s 70th birthday.