The Man on the Flaming Pie: 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.

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.” Until 1968, the film was banned in England by the British Board of Film Censors.

The Man on the Flaming Pie?

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.

Royston Ellis (courtesy of Royston Ellis)

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

‘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.
John Lennon

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, Ellis 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.”

And very soon afterward, they settled on Beatles with an “A”, never to be changed. On 15th August 1960, Allan Williams booked the group to play at the Jacaranda, now with a settled lineup of John, Paul, George, Stuart, and Pete, and John introduced themselves as The Beatles. They will now and forever be known as The Beatles with an “A”.

-David Bedford

Photo via The Quarrymen. Photographer Les Kearney.

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David Bedford grew up in The Dingle, where Ringo was born, and attended the same school as Ringo and now lives Penny Lane. He started to write for the British Beatles Fan Club magazine in 2000. His first book was Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, followed by The Fab one hundred and Four:The Evolution of The Beatles; The Beatles Book, with Hunter Davies; Finding the Fourth Beatle; The Country of Liverpool: Nashville of the North, and in 2021, ACC published The Beatles Fab Four Cities. He was also the Associate Producer and historical consultant for “Looking For Lennon” (2018). Podcast Liddypod: Website: Twitter/X: @liddypooldave Youtube: The Beatles Detective: www/

8 comments on “The Man on the Flaming Pie: From Beetles to Beatles

  1. Eddie Villanova

    Good story. So where and when was the name Silver Beatles used?

  2. Steve Valvano

    Wonderfully written, this is great stuff!

    As late as March (27th) 1960, Stu used the spelling Beatals (yes, with two As) in a letter soliciting gigs. Never be seen again by April of 1960.

    Thanks for the interesting piece.

  3. NJ Riley

    Thanks David! Had never heard about the Royston Ellis connection!

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