Oh! Calcutta! artOh! Calcutta!

This notorious stage play by Kenneth Tynan featured full-frontal nudity by both sexes and sexually explicit dialogue. Tynan, who was born in 1927, was one of Britain’s most influential theatre critics and at one time was the literary manager of the National Theatre. His name became associated with controversy in the sixties when he became the first person ever to use the word “fuck” live on British television. Tynan died in 1980.

Oh! Calcutta! proved just as shocking to the public, who considered it another example of the permissive sixties. Tynan asked a number of celebrities, including John Lennon, to contribute a small sketch to the play. John wrote a skit about masturbation, based on a time in his boyhood when he would masturbate in the company of friends, during which they’d call out the name of movie actresses.

Oh! Calcutta! vintage VHSPaul McCartney (and Barry Miles) openly discussed this group masturbation in the book, Many Years From Now:

For boys in their mid-teens, most of their sex education came from their peers: skewed anatomical knowledge, improbable dirty jokes, stories of dubious authenticity about girls they barely knew, and of course, masturbation circles. John’s crowd tended to meet at Nigel Whalley’s house in Vale Road, near Menlove Avenue. Nigel played tea-chest bass with The Quarrymen until he abandoned his instrument in the road one day while trying to escape from two Woolton teddy boys. He took on the role of managing The Quarrymen instead. His father was a chief superintendent, head of Liverpool Police A Division, whose duties meant that his teenage son was often left alone in the house at night.

Says Paul: “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.”

(John later took the experience and used it as the basis for his skit, Four In Hand, in Kenneth Tynan’s Oh! Calcutta! Tynan copped out and substituted the Lone Ranger for John’s original Winston Churchill; nor did he follow John’s suggestion that they should actually masturbate on stage.)

Oh! Calcutta! vintage poster

Pete Shotton also mentions the group masturbation in his book, John Lennon In My Life:

“During our first year at Quarry Bank, John and I got into the habit of tossing off in the bushes on the way home from school. We also enlisted our entire gang in a few mutual masturbation sessions, giving us all the opportunity to compare sizes and shapes. Lest any reader get the wrong impression, our fantasies, at least, were strictly heterosexual. ‘Right, boys,’ someone would venture. ‘Who should we do it to today?’ Whereupon we’d all take turns calling out the names of well-known sex goddesses, each name spurring us on to new heights of ecstasy as we furiously pommeled our hard-ons. John’s choice was almost invariably Brigitte Bardot, except on one memorable occasion when he shouted out ‘Winston Churchill,’ instantly sending us into a fit of hysterics, which in turn rather deflated the proceedings.”

The cast of Oh! Calcutta! on stage in the controversial playOh! Calcutta! premiered at the Eden Theatre in New York City on June 17, 1969, after thirty-nine preview performances. It began to run as revival productions in 1974 and is still performed today, making it one of the longest running plays in the history of the theatre. Still considered controversial for its nudity over thirty years after its debut in the late sixties, Oh! Calcutta! serves as a reminder of just how far the creative artists of that time were pushing the envelope in regard to morality and pervading cultural values.

Following is John’s complete sketch from
Oh! Calcutta!

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.

The End

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