Four In Hand by John Lennon

Michael Gerber
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Oh! Calcutta!

This musical was brought to you by Purell.

With all this talk of certain male sexual practices, I couldn’t help but remember Four In Hand by John Lennon, the sketch he wrote for Kenneth Tynan’s erotic revue “Oh! Calcutta!”

First mounted (so to speak) in 1969, “Oh! Calcutta!” was a massive success — long runs on both sides of the Atlantic, an even longer run as a revival — but you don’t hear about it a lot today. Tragically, a lot of the hijinks of the late 60s and early 70s went down the Memory Hole as soon as Reagan was elected, for reasons too lengthy to get into here. So much to say that a Broadway musical featuring full frontal nudity from both sexes was very much an idea of its time, and very much not of any time since. Which is why I’ve always thought it was a grand idea — because I am also a product of 1969.

(Looking over a précis, the jokes aren’t very funny. You know, I oughta get some comedy folks together, and do a better version of this. I promise none of us would appear naked.)

Here’s the sketch, which I’ve copied from this post.

FOUR IN HAND by John Lennon

(Four chairs, backs to the audience. Facing them, a large projection screen divided into four sections, one for each chair. Three men impatiently waiting. A doorbell rings.)

1: There he is now. I told you he’d make it. (He opens the door.)

(George enters: he wears a fedora.)

1: If you’re going to join the group, George, you have to remember we always start on time.

George: Sorry I’m late, fellas.

2: We don’t like people breakin’ the rules, George.

George: I already said I’m sorry.

3: Look–We gonna talk, or we gonna jerk off?

1: Ok, let’s get started. This is your seat, George. Now this (pointing to screen) is a new kind of machine–a telepathic thought transmitter. Whatever you think about flashes on the screen. Now the rules of the game are this: all of us think of things to jerk off to–until somebody comes–and the first guy who comes has to stop everybody else from coming. Got it?

George: Got it.

1: All right. Let’s give it a try. Whatever comes to mind, George.

(1 goes to his seat. George sits between 2 and 3. Rhythmic music starts. Images start to flash rhythmically on the screens. The men’s arms start to move rhythmically in front of them. The screens facing 1, 2 and 3 show Hollywood and Playboy-type pinups. George’s screen remains blank. The rhythm builds up while screens 1, 2 and 3 are all pulsating with glamorous women. Suddenly, we hear the strains of the William Tell Overture, and during a crash of cymbals, a picture of the Lone Ranger flashes on George’s screen. All screens go blank and all four men stop masturbating.)

3: What the fuck was that?

1: What are ya tryin’ to do, George?

2 (rises, adjusting his pants): I told you not to invite outsiders.

George: I’m sorry, fellas, it’s just the first thing that came into my mind.

2: We haven’t had a vacancy in six months, George! Harvey only left because he got a divorce.

3: How’d you like a silver bullet up your ass?

1 (walking to George): You sure you’re all right, George?

George: I’m fine, thanks.

1: All right, let’s try it again.

(They all sit down again.)

1: And cut the horseshit, George.

(The music starts again and the images start to flash. They are slightly more nude than before–close shots of breasts and bottoms. By trial and error, the four screens begin to form a composite picture. George is dutifully collaborating. Finally, at the height of the rhythm, screen facing 1 shows a nude model’s head, screen facing 2 shows her breasts, screen facing 3, her legs. Pause. The recumbent image of the model is almost complete. Suddenly the strains of the William Tell Overture are heard again with another image of the Lone Ranger on George’s screen.)

George (exultantly): Aha! A-a-a-a-ah!

(He rises. His screen continues to flash the Lone Ranger. With one jabbing sweep of his arm, he flashes Lone Ranger pictures on the other screens as the music builds. As each image flashes, 1, 2 and 3 lose their concentration completely and give up the contest.)

George (turns as he goes to exit): See you next week, fellas.

1: Get the fuck outta here!!!

(Sound of four “whistling” gunshots as each remaining screen blacks out.)

I actually think Lennon’s conceit is much less funny than the reality that it was based upon, which is a natural “blackout”-type sketch.

According to Paul McCartney, “We used to have wanking sessions when we were young at Nigel Whalley’s house in Woolton. We’d stay overnight and we’d all sit in armchairs and we’d put all the lights out and being teenage pubescent boys, we’d all wank. What we used to do, someone would say, ‘Brigitte Bardot.’ ‘Oooh!’ That would keep everyone on par, then somebody, probably John, would say, ‘Winston Churchill.’ ‘Oh, no!’ and it would completely ruin everyone’s concentration.”

Good clean fun. But on the whole, folks, I prefer Beatlemania.

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  1. Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

    I find it amusing that “George” is the character’s name. Is he referring to Harrison or Martin, I wonder?


    The other comment I would make is that it’s kind of well-written. Gives you a sense of what John was capable of, had he not become a Beatle.

    @Michael wrote: “I actually think Lennon’s conceit is much less funny than the reality that it was based upon, which is a natural “blackout”-type sketch.”

    I didn’t get your meaning here. Are you saying truth is funnier than fiction?

  2. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    Oh My God…. Just. What the…? No, just NO.

    There is a wonderful tumblr called Pizza and Fairytales that has several quotes from John and Paul tagged “projecting issues onto george.” I couldn’t stop laughing while reading this, thinking it needs the biggest PIOG tag of all time!

    And I’m sorry, but as comedy, this is terrible. It is one note, and the note is “Look! Gay!” Very 1969, though. And I don’t hold it against John because of the era and because he’s not a comedian and because he’s working out his issues in the safest way possible here.

    • In John’s defense, the précis said that the rough draft was John’s. When I read him describing it in an interview, it was basically what Paul described above.

      @Karen, a blackout is a super short sketch that ends suddenly on a big punchline. For example:

      Lights up on a GROUP OF BOYS in a circle. As we look we see that they are all MASTURBATING.

      Boy #1:
      Brigitte Bardot!

      Sounds of approval, vocal and otherwise. So this is the game.

      The next boy tries to top that.

      Boy 2:
      Marilyn Monroe!

      Oh wow. Everybody really likes that one. It’s going in order, so everybody looks at the next boy. Distracted, he freezes a bit — he’s feeling the pressure.

      Boy 3:

      WANKING SOUNDS stop. All look expectantly. This has suddenly become not just a past time, but a competition. And a referendum on your personal sexual taste.

      Boy 3:
      Elizabeth Taylor!

      Acceptable; so the group resumes. Now it’s the fourth boy’s turn, and he’s nervous. The easy ones have been taken. He gets more nervous as the rest of the group seems to be reaching a crescendo.

      Boy 4:

      Boy 1:

      Boy 3:
      Yeah, Roy!

      Struggling as his mates get closer and closer, boy 4 frantically searches his brain. Just as they go over the falls, he blurts out:

      Boy 4:
      Winston Churchill!


      Under, after laugh:

      Boy 1:
      Actually, that worked.

    • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

      I think it’s kind of funny, actually. But then again I have kind of a warped sense of humour. 🙂

  3. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    Face it, Michael: You’re much better at this than John was!
    Also, it’s hilarious how Paul likes to say “probably John” when he means “definitely John.”
    “I wrote 200 Lennon-McCartney songs with someone…. Probably John.”

  4. Avatar gmonet wrote:

    I think the Playbill bio, at least, is very telling of John’s state of mind at the time: “JOHN LENNON — one of the Beatles wrote his own biography as follows: ‘Born 1940. Lived. Met Yoko 1966!'”

  5. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    One thing you gotta give John Lennon — he always stayed on message
    John: “My name is Elmer J. Fudd. I own a mansion and a yacht.”
    Yoko: “Again”
    John: “My name is Elmer J. Fudd. I own a mansion and a yacht.”
    Yoko: “Again.”

  6. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Imagine if Chuck Jones, or 1930s-era Fleischer brothers had done Yellow Submarine or the TV Beatle cartoons? We’d need a whole other blog for the discussions!

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