Meet the Cripples

The Age, “Saturday Extra,” 9 Sep. 2000, p. 2; an extract from The Beatles Anthology.

Ringo: I remember us standing on the roof of a building in one of the cities in Australia, and all the fans were down there, chanting. We were having fun with them and one guy, who was on crutches, threw his crutches away and went into: “I can walk, I can walk!” What he felt I don’t know, but it was as if he was healed, and then he fell right on his face. He just fell over. Maybe that’s why it stuck in my head.

Crippled people were constantly being brought backstage to be touched by “a Beatle,” and it was very strange. It happened in Britain as well, not only overseas. There were some really bad cases, God help them. There were some poor little children who would be brought in in baskets. And also some really sad Thalidomide kids with little broken bodies and no arms, no legs and little feet.

The problem was, people would bring in these terrible cases and leave them in our dressing room. They’d go off for tea or whatever, and they would leave them behind. If it got very heavy we would shout, “Mal, cripples!” and that became a saying, even when there were no handicapped people present. If there were any people around we didn’t like, we’d should, “Mal, cripples!” and they’d be escorted out.

George: John was allergic to cripples. You could see he had a thing about them; I think it was a fear or something. …

We were only trying to play rock ’n’ roll and they’d be wheeling them in, not just in wheelchairs but sometimes in oxygen tents. What did they think that we would be able to do? I don’t know. I think it was that those people whose job it was to push them around wanted to see the show, and this was a way to get in. It was a case of, “How many have we got tonight, Brian?” We’d come out of the band room to go to the stage and we’d be fighting our way through all these poor unfortunate people. …

John: I don’t think I’d know a spastic from a Polaroid lens. I’m not hung up about them. When I use the term “spastic” in general conversation, I don’t mean to say it literally. I feel terrible sympathy for these people, it seems the end of the world when you see deformed spastics, and we’ve had quite a lot of them in our travels…

You want to be alone and you don’t know what to say, and they’re usually saying, “I’ve got your record,” or they can’t speak and just want to touch you. And it’s always the mother or nurse pushing them on you. They would push these people at you like you were Christ, as if there were some aura about you that would rub off on them.

… When we would open up, every night, instead of seeing kids there, we would see a row full of cripples along the front. When we’d be running through, people would be lying around. It seemed that we were just surrounded by cripples and blind people all the time, and when we would go through corridors they would all be touching us … They’d line them up, and I got the impression The Beatles were being treated as bloody faith healers … I mean, we felt sorry for them, anybody would, but it was awful.