On January 21, 1959 the Rutles story began at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool, where Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly first bumped into each other. Ron invited Dirk to help him stand up. Dirk, merely an ameteur drinker, agreed and on that spot a legend was created, a legend that will last a lunchtime. They were soon to be joined by Stig O’Hara, a guitarist of no fixed hairstyle, but it would be another two years before they found their regular drummer, Barrington Womble, hiding in the van. When they did, they persuaded him to change his name to save time and his haircut to save Brylcreem. He became simply Barry Wom.
|Nasty, Barry, Stig, Dirk and Leppo in Hamburg
They gained their first manager, Arthur Scouse, as part of a bet (which they lost). So impressed was he with their music that he sent them immediately to Hamburg. Thinking that Hamburg was just outside Liverpool they accepted. It turned out to be not only in Germany, but in the very worst part of Germany. The Reeperbahn Hamburg is one of the naughtiest streets in the world. This is where they ended up, far from home, and far from talented.
In those days there was a fifth Rutle, Leppo, who mainly stood at the back. He couldn’t play the guitar, but he knew how to have a good time, and in Hamburg that was more difficult. For five hungry working class lads there are worse places than prison, and The Rat Keller Hamburg is one. For fifteen months, night after night, they played the Rat Keller before they finally escaped and returned to Liverpool. In the rush they lost Leppo. He had crawled into a trunk with a small German Fraulien and was never seen again. (This inspired Nasty to write the song “Goose-Step Mama”.) His influence on the Rutles was so immeasurable that no one has ever bothered to measure it.
|The Rutles at the Cavern Club
The Rutles returned hungry to Liverpool full of experience and pills. They persuaded the manager of the Cavern to let them play there by holding his head under water until he agreed. Very soon their music began to create no small interest. In fact, no interest at all.
In October 1961 Leggy Mountbatten, a retail chemist from Bolton, entered their lives. Leggy had lost a leg in the closing overs of World War Two and had been hopping around Liverpool ever since. One day he accidentally stumbled down the steps of a dingy disco, what he saw there was to change his life: a sailor who told him about the Rutles. It was a dank, sweaty, basement cellar, torrid and pulsating with sound. Leggy hated it. He hated their music, he hated their hair, he hated their noise: but he loved their trousers. In his autobiography, A Cellarful Of Goys, Leggy tells of timorously approaching Ron Nasty and asking him what it would cost to sign the Rutles. “A couple of jam butties and a beer” was Nasty’s reply. Next day Leggy sent them a crate of beer, two jam butties and a fifteen page contract. The Rutles, instinctively trusting this softly spoken, quietly limping man, signed immediately.
|Mrs. Iris Mountbatten, Leggy’s mother
|Mrs. Iris Mountbatten
Leggy’s effect on the Rutles was immediately apparent. He put them into suits, he made them turn up on time, and he took their photgraphs and tapes to London.
Archie Macaw was the first A&R man to take an interest in the Rutles. He offered to record the Rutles and recommended Leggy to Dick Jaws, an unemployed music publisher of no fixed ability, who signed them to a publishing contract for the rest of their lives.
Elated, Leggy put the Rutles into the studio. Their first album, Please Rut Me, was made in twenty minutes. Their second took even longer. Success was only a drum-beat away.
In 1963 Rutlemania hit England. It seemed that the Rutles could do no wrong. A string of hits – Rut Me Do, Twist and Rut, Please Rut Me – brought unprecedented scenes of mass adulation.
By December they had nineteen hits in the top 20. Even the queen was impressed when they played before her at the Royal Command Performance.
|The Rutles talk about meeting the Queen
In 1964 the Rutles made their all-important breakthough in America, when Hold My Hand, the Rutles’ first single on Capatol Records, became a big hit. When they travelled to America for the first time, 10,000 screaming fans were at Kennedy Airport to greet them. Unfortunately the Rutles arrived at La Guardia.
Nevertheless the next day 73 million people watched them perform live on the Ed Sullivan Show. To all intents and purposes the Rutles had captured the world.
On their second visit to the States in early 1965 they played the world’s first outdoor rock and roll concert at Che Stadium (named after the Cuban Guerilla leader Che Stadium). As a security precaution the Rutles arrived by helicopter a day early. This enabled them to be safely out of the place before the audience came in. It was a brilliant public relations coup. The kids were screaming so hard that thousands never noticed the difference. Promoter Syd Bottle described it as the most exciting twenty minutes of his life.
Inevitably the Rutles turned to films and conquered that medium too with the help of zany Rutland director Dick Leicestershire.
In 1966 the Rutles faced the biggest threat to their careers. Nasty in a widely quoted interview had apparently claimed that the Rutles were bigger than God, and was reported to have gone on to say that God had never had a hit record.
The story spread like wildfire in America. Many fans burnt their albums, many more burnt their fingers attempting to burn their albums. Album sales sky-rocketed. People were buying them just to burn them.
But in fact it was all a ghastly mistake. Nasty, talking to a slightly deaf journalist, had claimed only that the Rutles were bigger than Rod. Rod Stewart would not be big for another eight years, and certainly at this stage hadn’t had a hit. At a press conference, Nasty apologized to God, Rod and the press, and the tour went ahead as planned. It would be the Rutles’ last.
A year later the Rutles were caught up in another scandal. In the heady atmosphere of San Francisco of the mid sixties, Bob Dylan had introduced the Rutles to a substance that was to have enormous effects on them: Tea. They enjoyed its pleasant effects, despite warnings that it would lead to stronger things, and it enormously influenced their greatest work, Sgt. Rutter’s Only Darts Club Band.
The release of this album, a millstone in pop music history, contributed greatly to an idyllic summer of bells, flowers and tea drinking. But it was not to last. Under questioning Dirk refused to lie to the British press and admitted to not only taking tea and enjoying tea, but biscuits too. The press, always envious of the Rutles, leapt at this oppurtunity to have it both ways. They grabbed the wrong end of the stick and began beating around the bush with it. In the ensuing confusion many pop stars were arrested for using and possessing tea. Nasty himself was busted by Detective Inspector Brian Plant, who brought his own to be on the safe side. There was an immediate outcry against this police persecution. The Times carried a full page ad calling for the legalisation of tea, and the general feeling was that police should stick to their proper job of collecting bribes from photographers and protecting the Royal Family from their subjects.
|Dirk admits to the press to taking tea
Stig meanwhile had fallen under the influence of Arthur Sultan, the Surrey mystic, and he had introduced Stig to his Ouija Board work. Sultan now invited the Rutles on a get away from it all table-tapping weekend near Bogner. As usual the press followed.
But while the Rutles sat at the feet of the Surrey mystic seeking spiritual enlightenment at his hands fate dealt them an appalling blow. It was at Bogner that they learned the shocking news of the loss of their manager Leggy Mountbatten. Tired and despondant over the weekend and unable to raise any friends, Leggy had gone home and, tragically, accepted a teaching post in Australia. It was a bombshell for the Rutles. They were shocked.
|The Rutles react to the loss of Leggy
The news was not entirely unexpected. Leggy’s recent behavior had been giving grounds for concern. He had been investing heavily in Spanish bullfighters and in California he had been arrested for giving the kiss of life to a rubber raft. But he had for many years held the Rutles together, often forcibly. Now he was gone.
The Rutles first major flop The Tragical History Tour immediately followed the loss of Leggy. It was not the stongest idea for a Rutles film, four Oxford History Professors on a walking tour of English Tea Shops, and it was slammed mercilessly by the critics.
|Nasty and Dirk in New York City
|Nasty and Dirk announce Rutles Corps
The pilfering from Rutle Corps was on a monumental scale, typewriters, TV sets, telephones, cars, even offices disappeared overnight.
During this time, Dirk married Martini, a french actress who spoke no english and precious little french. When they married in London, the service was conducted in Spanish, Italian and Chinese, to be on the safe side.
Nasty, meanwhile, vistied an exhibition of broken art at The Pretentious Gallery in Soho. The art had all been dropped out of tall buildings and put on display. Amongst the little piles of rubble, Nasty found the artist herself, Chastity, a simple little german girl, who’s father had invented World War Two. Chasitity fascinated him with her destructo-art. They talked all though all the night, while she outlined her plans to drop artists out of planes. Nasty adored her. They announced their engagement next day, at a press conference held in his shower.
|Nasty and Charity sit in the shower for peace
Stig, meanwhile, had hidden in the background so much that in 1969 a rumour went around that he was dead. Stig was of course, far from dead. Although not far from London. He had fallen in bed with Gertrude Strange, a large-breasted, biologically accomodating American girl who’s father had invented the limpet mine. When Stig met her it was lust at first site. They retired to his bungalow where he woke up exhausted a year later to find that Gertrude was gone, leaving only some crumbs in the bed and a lot of torn sheets. She left no forwarding address, no farewell notes, but also luckily no children.
Barry meanwhile had also spent a year in bed as a tax dodge. Eric Manchester, the Rutles press agent, thinks that he either had appalling financial advice or he was deperately trying to start a “Barry is also dead” rumour. When he finally got up to answer the telephone, Rutle Corps was in a perilous financial state.
Nasty had flown back in a hurry from his honeymoon to meet Ron Decline, the most feared promoter in the world, in an attempt to settle Rutle Corps’ appalling financial problems.
Unfortunately, Stig was now accepting the financial advice of Billy Kodak, Dirk had hired Arnold Schwarzenweisengreenenbluenbraunenburger to handle his end of the name, and Barry was consulting the I Ching every three and a half minutes.
In the midst of this public and legal wrangling Let It Rot was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit. It showed the Rutles as never before; tired, unhappy, cross, and just like the rest of the world.
In December 1970 Dirk sued Stig and Nasty, Barry sued Dirk, Nasty sued Stig and Barry, and Stig sued himself accidentally. It was the end of a golden era, and the beginning of another one for lawyers everywhere.
Barry became a hairdresser with two fully equipped salons of his own. Stig went to work for Air India as an air hostess. Dirk with his wife Martini went on to form a punk rock group called the Punk Floyd. He sings and she doesn’t.
Nasty turned his back on the world, and sat for many years with his thoughts and his memories. He briefly came out of his self-imposed exile in 1977 for an appearance on Saturday Night Live.