Peter Was the Best of the Beatles at Their Birth, but Now He's the One Still Left in Liverpool
That offer is not bloody likely, but in the 17 years since Ringo Starr replaced him in the group that revolutionized pop music, Best's closest contact with Beatles fame and fortune comes this week. He was the authority consulted for ABC's two-hour movie Birth of the Beatles, which traces the group in the pre-hysterical years before 1964. "I knew about the instruments, the clothes, the way they moved onstage, the crowd reaction," says Best, who now earns $15,000 annually as deputy manager of a Liverpool unemployment office. "It's not 'The Pete Best Story,' " he adds. "It doesn't take anyone's side." Indeed, the $140 million suit that the Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd. has filed against the film argues the matter of rights and royalties—not accuracy.
The eldest of three sons of a boxing promoter, Best met the Beatles—then called the Quarrymen—at a coffee club that his mother, Mona, ran in the basement of their Liverpool home. When Harrison, Lennon and McCartney needed a drummer in 1960, Best auditioned and won. He went on the famous Hamburg tour, handled the group's finances, and even suggested the fateful shortening of their interim name, Silver Beatles. But in August 1962, new manager Epstein landed the Beatles' first record contract, and Best was booted out. Starr may have been a better musician. But it's also possible that the group was disturbed by Pete's popularity with women fans and his reluctance to adopt the trademark Beatle mop hairdo. In any case, fans booed Ringo's first appearance.
After the firing Best was "completely dispirited. It took me four or five weeks to pull myself together. I was bitter at the time," he says, "but the years have mellowed my feelings." Not, however, his mother's: "I think we should have gotten a lot more recognition," declares Mona. "They weren't even good guitarists." His attempt to continue in showbiz with Pete Best and the All-Stars went nowhere, and the combo disbanded in 1968. Best took a job as a $43-a-week bakery slicer, then joined the unemployment office as a trainee. His one attempt to exploit his Beatles years was a 1965 album cunningly titled Best of the Beatles. As for the book friends urge him to write, Pete says, "There really isn't any need."
If nothing else, Best and his wife, Katherine, 37, a department store display arranger, have enjoyed a more tranquil domestic life than any of the Beatles. They now live quietly in a three-bedroom Victorian house around the corner from Pete's mother. Their daughters, Beba, 15, and Bonita, 11, attend local schools, and Pete plays rugby for a hometown club. He rarely touches the drums, except to help kid brother Roag, 17, himself a drummer looking for a break. "You don't think about what you could have been," sums up Pete. "I've got to lead my own life, and that's all there is to it."