My song today is, ‘Hey Jude’. This song was recorded by the Beatles and was released as a non-album single in August 1968. It was written by Paul McCartney and credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. The single was the Beatles' first release on their ‘Apple ‘record label and one of the ‘First Four’ singles by Apple's roster of artists, marking the label's public launch. ‘Hey Jude’ was a Number 1 hit in many countries around the world and became the year's top-selling single in the UK, the US, Australia, and Canada. Its nine-week run at Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart tied the all-time record in 1968 for the longest run at the top of the US charts. It has sold approximately eight million copies and is frequently included on music critics' lists of the greatest songs of all time.
The writing and recording of ‘Hey Jude’ coincided with a period of upheaval in the Beatles. The ballad evolved from ‘Hey Jules’, a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian after Lennon had left his wife for the Japanese artist Yoko Ono. The lyrics espouse a positive outlook on a sad situation, while also encouraging ‘Jude’ to pursue his opportunities to find love. After the fourth verse, the song shifts to a coda featuring a "Na-na-na na" refrain that lasts for over four minutes.
At over seven minutes in length, ‘Hey Jude’ was the longest single to top the British charts up to that time. Its arrangement and extended coda encouraged many imitative works through to the early 1970s. In 2013, Billboard magazine named it the 10th ‘biggest. song of all time in terms of chart success. McCartney has continued to perform ‘Hey Jude’ in concert since Lennon’s death in 1980, leading audiences in singing the coda. Julian Lennon and McCartney have each bid successfully at auction for items of memorabilia related to the song's creation.
This song was first released one month after I was first married. At the time, I was ready for settling down into a life of marital bliss. I had travelled to Canada at the age of 21 years and had lived there a few years, besides seeing some of the United States during my travels. Having sown my wild oats since my late teens, the time seemed to have arrived when domesticity and family life beckoned me.
I was at the crossroads in my life where several big decisions were made which were to significantly alter my future. Since my return from Canada, I had returned to work in textiles as a ‘working foreman’ before becoming a textile foreman in a finishing mill in Cleckheaton. Very quickly, I was promoted in this post, and by the age of 25 years, I was appointed Mill Manager on the night shift.
Everything seemed to be a rosy as it gets. Most men of working-class status, and without educational qualifications, would have considered themselves lucky to have attained the position of ‘working foreman’ before they retired at pensionable age, and here was I at the young age of 25, earning two and a half times the average working man’s wage!
It is the strangest of things, but when things appear to be going along swimmingly for a person like myself who is forever seeking a new challenge, it seems inevitable that I cannot remain content without rocking the boat. I had effectively run away from my education at the age of 15 years to get a mill job and to start earning a bit of money for myself. At the time, I needed to get some decent clothes on my back and sound footwear on my feet more than I needed GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations. So, between the ages of 15 and 25 years, I took a ten-year gap year from academic learning, and instead, I enjoyed myself between travelling and living abroad, followed by my rapid progression in the field of textiles upon my return to England.
Being the firstborn of seven children to working-class parents, I had experienced a childhood in which an excess of love had been given to me by my mother, along with the self-confidence and will to succeed. My father instilled in me the work ethic, and a degree of self-discipline and pride. He urged me to always give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and he forever stressed that whatever job I undertook, I should do it to the very best of my ability, even if it only involved sweeping a factory floor. He also stressed the importance of always keeping one’s word (once given), whatever the cost.
However, along with all these obvious positive assets, as a growing child who lived in a household where this week’s family bills were always paid out of my father’s next weekly wage, I had to get used to second-hand clothes and cobbled shoes that were worn way past their natural life span. ‘Wear and tear’ take on a new meaning when one goes off to school on a wing and a prayer that the arse in one’s trousers doesn’t rip open as soon as one bends down. There were many times when I went to school during winter days in shoes that had been reinforced with steel in the heels and toe caps, and holes in the soles which had been discreetly covered by a strip of hard cardboard.
After my childhood accident at the age of 11 years, when I was in the hospital sideward in a semi-conscious state, critically ill with multiple intensive injuries, I heard the doctor tell my parents that I would probably die overnight. My instant reaction was one of defiant anger as I told myself “No, I won’t!” At that moment, I made God a promise that if He spared my life that I would devote the rest of it performing good works. God kept His promise but it would be another 15 years before I started to keep my part of the bargain.
For a decade after I first started work at the age of 15 years, my prime aim in life was to improve my lot. I even returned from Canada with £2000 remaining of compensation money I’d been awarded from my childhood accident. This money, along with some £2000 my wife received from the industrial death of her father, enabled us both to start married life in a newly built three-bedroomed house with only a few hundred pounds of mortgage to pay off. That financial start, along with my mill manager’s wage, and the wage of my wife as a teacher, gave us a start to married life that any married couple would find enviable.
During my 25th year of life, while working the night shift as a mill manager, I would read quite a bit during the early morning hours. It was during the hours on one of my shifts when I suddenly found my mind troubled. For reasons I knew not, during the shift in question, I was thinking about my intended marriage, after my fiancée had completed her teacher-training course in Bradford. My thoughts initially afforded me much satisfaction at the favourable financial start we would have from the outset. Then, any inner rejoicing I felt gradually turned to a growing feeling of uneasiness. I recalled the promise to God that I had made as an 11-year-old boy as I lay dying on my hospital bed in a Batley sideward, fourteen years earlier; a promise which I had yet to keep!
I had always been a person who rarely did anything for one reason alone when I could kill two birds with one stone. So, I decided to keep my promise to God as well as honouring the undertaking of my father’s moral code that I had learned mas a child; to always do my best in whatever I applied myself to, and to always keep my word. I had run away from completing my education at the age of 15 years, so I decided to return to night school and to get sufficient qualifications to enter a university course as a graduate. After securing a degree in History I planned to become a history teacher in a deprived area and honour my word to God.
In order to attend evening school classes three times weekly, I needed to give up my mill manager’s job on nights and its high level of remuneration and to take an ordinary mill operative’s job with no additional responsibility. Such a job would free me to attend evening courses to obtain my GCE qualifications. For the following three years I became an ordinary mill hand in a Brighouse textile factory, leaving work at 5:30 pm and going straight to night school classes in Cleckheaton until 10:00 pm, three nights weekly.
By the time I secured the requisite GCE results which obtained me acceptance on an honour’s degree course at Bath University, I had also been accepted on a course in Newcastle-on-Tyne to train as a Probation Officer. Presented with the choice of being a history teacher or a probation officer, I opted for the probation officer educational and training course as my vocation. Having been a constant thief in my earlier life, I believed that I would be better placed to work with modern-day thieves and lawbreakers than the usual probation officer. I considered that I would have a better idea of what made criminals tick. It has often been said that the best gamekeepers were once excellent poachers and that it takes a thief to catch a thief. In 1970,
Probation Officers usually had a degree behind them in 1970 (now a compulsory requirement for entrance) and came from a background and life off middle-class privilege. I was certainly different from the usual new recruit the service, and I ran less chance of being patronising in my approach and language because I was helping my kind of people who’d been born at the same side of the tracks as me.
I joined the Probation Service in Huddersfield in 1970/71, and ever since I have tried to keep my promise that I made to God at the age of 11 years by doing good wherever I could. Even after my early retirement at the age of 53 years on the grounds of ill health, I continued being engaged with charitable work.
After I was diagnosed with a terminal blood cancer three months after I married Sheila in 2012, (involving a dozen hospital admissions, the development of three new cancers, nine operations, two nine-month courses of chemotherapy, three years of monthly blood transfusions, forty sessions of radiotherapy and several bouts of pneumonia and enforced bed rest and house confinement due to the absence of any effective immune system), I have tried to help other cancer patients maintain a positive attitude and display a helpful response to their illness.
As I Probation Officer for 27 years, I tried throughout to help people live a more productive, crime-free, healthier, and happier life. Since I started having different cancers (the nature of my terminal blood cancer creates new body cancers in me), I have also tried on my Facebook page to help people with cancer to maintain positive and encourage them to engage with life and living in the most healthy, happy, hopeful and productive way that they can. By being unafraid to daily face the uncertainty of whether I will wake up again tomorrow morning when I do, I sing out loud my appreciation, and hopefully, by example, I can also help those with a terminal illness die better when the time comes. To some, this may appear to be a strange sort of objective for me to pursue, but I consider it to be the noblest and most beneficial thing which I can still do.
Naturally, being human there have been many occasions when I have fallen short of the mark, but in the main, I feel that I have kept my pledge as a child. One of the most important things I have learned over this period is the immense capacity of individuals to withstand all manner of hardship and the overall goodness which exists within all people. I have also learned that ‘doing good’ is not a labour of love but something much more valuable and altruistic; doing good brings immense pleasure and satisfaction to the doer as well as the receiver.
Perhaps the greatest irony of my life was that I needed to be at death’s door before I made a promise to my Maker to do that which we have all been placed on this earth to do anyway! God is good, and I fervently believe that He intends every person in the world to locate the inherent goodness we each possess, along with whatever individual talent we naturally have. I believe our prime purpose in life is to love our fellow man and to search for the goodness in others and to share our talents with them.
Love and peace Bill xx