Today's Express reports that a 1948 Rupert Bear annual that was once owned by Sir Paul McCartney will be placed on auction in New York city next week. Sir Paul admits that as a child he cherished the Rupert cartoons created by Mary Tourtel. He told the Express last year:
"I never had a teddy bear but, as a boy, I always turned to the Rupert column in my parents' Daily Express."
At the age of six, young Paul wrote inside the annual in dark blue ink "Paul and Michael McCartney 72 Western Aveneu (sic)." He also doodled a few drawings in the margins of the book - stick-figure parachutists jumping out of airplanes, a crayon drawing of Jesus on the cross with ties around his hands and wrists.. When the family moved from the council estate seven year's later, the book was left behind in the attic in a box of comics the McCartney brothers had outgrown. The books were discovered by the new residents of the home. Shelagh Carney Johnston recalls: "It didn't mean anything special then, but we kept it with our own books, and would look at it from time to time."
Shelagh's mother Helen Carney, and Sir Paul's mother, Mary McCartney, were both midwives. Mrs. Johnston remembers:
"My mother was so fond of Mary McCartney. The midwives were a closeknit group but she and Mary were particularly close because they had a very similar background. They were both Irish girls who had trained in Liverpool, and they both loved their nursing. It was their vocation - getting up in the middle of the night to deliver babies, many of whom were named after them."
In 1961, Shelagh was a 13-year-old Beatles fan:
"The nuns didn't approve but it was all we talked about during school break over our Kit-Kat. Then one night, my mother said, 'That's Mary McCartney's boy - Mary, who lived here before us. That's her son.' The moment I realized that one of those Beatles had lived in my house, even the window frames looked magical. My friends never heard the end of it."
It was then she remembered the old Rupert annual:
"It became one of my greatest joys, stealing looks at this wonderful thing, seeing Paul's name inside the cover, and realizing that this was when our childhood paths had crossed, that we'd both shared the same address because of our mothers and their careers."
Late in 1961, a letter from the Royal College of Midwives arrived at the house in Western Avenue, addressed to the late Mary McCartney:
"My mother had no sooner finished asking me to hand-deliver it to the McCartney house than I was on the bus heading for Allerton."
Shelagh delivered the letter to Sir Paul's father, Jim, who had once worked as a cotton merchant with her father. Over a cup of tea, Mr. McCartney told Shelagh how he was becoming overwhelmed with his son's fan mail:
"He was answering letters and said to me: 'We get such a lot but I think it's important to write back, don't you?'
Shelagh offered to help him, so they agreed that Shelagh would visit Mr. McCartney every Tuesday to drop off a few dozen replies and pick up another bunch. The following week, Shelagh returned the Rupert album to Sir Paul's father:
"I thought he might like to give it back to Paul. He smiled and said: 'I think Paul has moved beyond Rupert now, ' so I took the book home, thinking it would be nice to keep."
Shelagh continued to help answer Sir Paul's fan mail for the next two years. From time to time she even caught a glimpse of the Beatle as he ran upstairs:
"I was disappointed that he didn't come down but I wouldn't have dreamed of asking to meet him. I was privileged to go there, I didn't want to be pushy.
"In 1962, Jim told me that Brian Epstein (the music shop manager and promoter who had discovered the Beatles) had decided to start their official fan club and employed a full-time secretary at his music shop. But he asked if I would still help answer any mail received at home."
During one visit to the McCartneys' home in February 1964, Mr. McCartney invited Shelagh into the living room:
"The wallpaper was Chinese patterned. The family's sit-up-and-beg piano was covered in instruments. There was a three-piece suite and a little TV set in the corner. We watched the Beatles arriving for the first time in New York. After the winter of mourning for Kennedy the arrival of the Beatles was hugely hyped - they were like snowdrops coming up through frozen ground. Jim, who'd had his own musical aspirations, was delighted; he lived for their success."
Later that year, Sir Paul moved to London and bought his father a house in Cheshire and Shelagh's job came to an end.
Twenty years later, while working as an official Beatles guide in Liverpool, Shelagh received a phone call from Sir Paul:
"Jim must have told him about the Rupert album because he rang asking if he might use it for research for his forthcoming animated film, Rupert And The Frog Song."
The following year, Sir Paul invited her to the premiere of the film. Shelagh took the book with her:
"It had been wrapped up for years but it had a lovely day out. Paul thumbed through it and we both laughed at how old it made us feel: it looks absolutely ancient! I asked if he'd like to keep it but he said I should. It was the second time I'd tried to give it back."
Now Shelagh is ready to part with it:
"The Rupert Bear connection to Paul and the fact that it contains his earliest known signature is so exceptional. I'm ready to wave it off into another life. I don't hanker over the past and you can't keep everything for ever. I just hope someone else can have the same fun and pleasure from it that I've had."
To bid for the album, the website www.gottahaveit.com. The item is valued at between $6,000 - $8,000). A donation from the sale will be made to the charity, Birthright. The auction will run from January 15-22.
(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)
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