Or an inquiry into certain elements of interest regarding the 1957 motion picture, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
The Classic Film
My wife and I happened to stumble upon this classic film being played on PBS this past weekend. Her not having seen it before, agreed to spend nearly three hours on a Saturday night that allowed me to revisit a classic film that I enjoyed as a youth. I’m certain most people are familiar with the film, and if not, a good write up of the film is here.
A researcher could certainly get into all the social criticisms and critiques of the film, but that course of inquiry and analysis has been well researched and presented by other authors and film critics. One could probably teach an entire semester disseminating the sociological structures and constructs that permeate and wander throughout the entire film. However, let’s get into the real matter at hand: potential Paul McCartney “PID” clues found around halfway through the film. So without further delay, let’s take a look.
Commander Shears of the United States Navy
One of the main protagonists of the film is character US Navy Commander Shears. Played by actor William Holden, born William Franklin Beedle, Jr, Shears is introduced to the audience as the Cold War era- Hollywood archetype of the US solider.
Having spent some time in a Japanese POW located in Burma in 1943, Shears is the epitome of the captured soldier. He is scrappy, willing to take shortcuts to skip out on POW work (ie steal a dead soldier’s lighter to bribe his way into sick bay), and continuously in pursuit of escape no matter how impossible the odds of escape might be.
As it so happens, the camp is situated on a rail line that the Japanese are currently constructing to connect Rangoon and Malaysia. It is with this in mind, and the introduction of an English prisoner of war regiment led by Alec Guinness’s character Colonel Nicholson, the plot of the movie formulates. The British, and their commanding officer, are willing to assist in the construction of a rail bridge over the Kwai River. After some time spent in the “oven/box” for refusing to allow officers to work side by with the infantry, Nicholson wins his battle with Japanese commanding officer Colonel Saito, “civilization” at the camp is restored, and commencement of a “proper-English engineered bridge” commences.
Not wanting to dwell too much on the specifics of the film, ultimately what happens next in respect to Shears, the character in question, is the following:
- Unlike his British counterparts, the American Shears continues to fight the enemy by planning an escape
- Commander Shears escapes from the camp and eventually the island
- Shears ends up in British occupied Ceylon
- Shears is then forced to join a British led commando expedition back to the island to blow up said bridge, despite Shears’ protest against any return to the island
Why would the character of US Navy Commander Shears be forced to return to the madness of the island? Impersonation of a dead man, of course! Almost a prelude to the Don Draper character of Mad Men, we see the following conversation take place in the film when the British commando team leader Major Warden attempts to recruit Shears (after some officer r&r on the island of Ceylon) for the most certain, suicidal mission1:
Shears: Major, I just got out of there. My escape was a miracle. Now you want me to go back? Don’t be ridiculous. This is embarrassing-I don’t belong to you. I belong to the American Navy.
Warden: Actually, Col. Green has taken the matter up with your people.
Shears: With my people?
Warden: Your Navy’s turned you over to us.
Then a few sentences forward…
Shears: But they can’t do this to me. I mean it. My Navy’s made a mistake! Look. I’m not a Navy commander. I’m not even an officer. The whole thing’s a fake. I’m just an ordinary swab jockey , second class. When the Houston sunk, I made it ashore with a real commander. We ran into a Japanese patrol. He was killed. I figured it was just a matter of time till I-
Warden: So you changed uniforms with a dead man.
Shears: I thought officers would get better treatment in prison camps.
A few more sentences ahead…
Shears: I got kind of used to being a commander…so when I arrived at the hospital..I took a look at the enlisted men’s ward and then the officer’s ward..and I said to myself, “let’s let it ride along for a while.” There were certain advantages.
Warden: I saw one of them on the beach.
Shears: That’s the whole story. The point is, you can’t use me. You want an officer…an American Commander Shears who doesn’t exist..(skipping to Shear’s plan if returned to the US for impersonating an officer)…I’ll say I impersonated an officer because I went crazy in the jungle. I’m getting worse. Sometimes I think I’m Admiral Halsey. It’s quite a clever plan.
And upon the introduction of photograph, fingerprints, and service record of Commander Shears to Commander Shears, we get:
Warden :You see, we’ve known about your actual rank for nearly a week. Your Navy’s in an awkward position. In one sense you’re a hero…for making an escape from the jungle. At the same time, they can’t bring you home…and give you the Navy Cross for impersonating an officer.
When all is said and done, the character of Shears is given a title of Major Shears (a simulated rank), and agrees to volunteer to return back to the island. And despite the character of Shears being set up throughout the film as a symbol of human fraud and fabrication, Major Shears, near the end of the film, finally embraces the role of the hero he was ultimately meant to be.
Another (William) Shears and the Beatles
Who is William Shears? Many us are already privy to the knowledge and hypotheses, but to save time and space, let’s take a look at the first Google result regarding Mr. Shears. Per a fantastic Facebook profile post that leads all Good search results presently with the question : “Who is William Shears?”, we get:
William Shears Campbell (Billy Shears), also known as William Campbell (born 15 November 1943) is commonly known for replacing Paul McCartney after his death in 1966.
What is that, Almighty Algorithm of Google? William Shears is commonly known for replacing Paul McCartney after his death in 1966? More Google gremlins at work?
Regardless, Beatle Bill aka William Shears Campbell is a mainstay name that surfaces in the plethora of material known as the Paul Is Dead (PID) canon. William Shears was also the name of the new band leader of the Beatles’ 1967 fictitious band, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, and his name was rolled out in the intro to With a Little Help From My Friends. Surprisingly, the Google machine didn’t include that in its top search results (as of 10-04-2017, that is).
Whether all of this implies that a) James Paul McCartney did indeed die and b) was replaced by an individual by the name of William Shears Campbell or c) replaced by another individual who used the name Shears in tribute to Major/Commander Shears to replace the original Paul, I can’t fully answer. Or if one were to argue that the Beatles, as a whole, used the Major Shears character as a ploy to drum up the PID mythos…well, that could very well be a position in play as well. Yet, let’s move on…
Paul McCartney and the Bridge On the River Kwai
No doubt, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were, at the very least, aware of the 1957 motion picture. The film featured the English Army, WWII themes, exotic locals in the South Pacific, British commandos, an action packed ending, and Alec Guinness. Add to that seven Academy Awards, and I doubt many teenagers of post WWII 1957, UK or otherwise, were not enthralled by the mystique and adventure of the film. The film undoubtedly left a significant impression in the minds of all movie goers of the time. Yet has anything been mentioned in Beatles’ biographies, timelines, or other sources in direct respect to the film in question and Sir Paul? Let’s take a look.
Paul McCartney Goes to Prison – A Metamorphism of a Legend
The majority of references to the film in McCartney’s public presence (at least from my research) dealt with his marijuana arrest in Tokyo, Japan, in 1980. On January 16, 1980, McCartney, blaming his “American attitude” towards drugs, and having flown from NYC to Tokyo, Japan on the Wings 1980 tour, was arrested for possession of roughly ½ pound of marijuana. At that time, McCartney, then 37, stated that it was a horrendous ordeal. Known as prisoner number 22, McCartney stated that his stay in prison “was like something out of Bridge Over the River Kwai…for eight days I didn’t see any daylight at all.”2
Then in his 1984 interview with Playboy, he went on to say the experience “was hell.” Again, having seen “Bridge on the River Kwai; I knew what you had to do when you were a prisoner of war!” McCartney then went on to discuss that he had written a 20,000 word account of his stay in prison.3
In the book, The Beatles: Off the Record 2, the imprisonment of Macca became even more elaborate. Some highlights from this conversation included:
- President Jimmy Carter had stated, just prior to the Wings caravan departure for Japan, that cannabis should be decriminalized and offenses with it should be considered a misdemeanor
- Of course, this in turn had influenced Paul’s subconscious and his decision to pack the ‘happy weed’ with him
- Initally, charges were recommended for up to an eight year sentence in prison for the offense
Then for ten nights in prison…
- It was hell, but he remembered the good parts
- He was locked in a box for nine days
- Having seen The Bridge Over River Kwai, he knew what entailed of a prison of war
- He would be forced to sit cross legged in on the floor and would be inspected, daily, by 12 guards
- After three days, with humor back, he began tapping on cell walls and communicating with other Japanese prisoners using pidgin English
- Having access to no paper, Macca made his own calendar by creating an ‘abacus’ of sorts with the assistance of ‘plaster from the walls’
- After a week, he shared a bathroom with man in for murder in order to shower, and as the guards stood outside on watch, Macca provided the main vocals to a ‘sing-a-long’ with the prisoners and the fans outside
On January 25th, after being released from prison, Macca shared a sad going away scene with the prison population, and upon departure, shook hands with “all the prisoners through the letter boxes of their cells.” When deporting the country, McCartney was seen smiling and waiving at his adoring fans, adding that life in prison “wasn’t too bad,” and that “Japanese fans are just so great. I want to come back again if I’m allowed.”
On a stopover in Holland (from his flight from Japan back to England), Dutch reporters go on the offensive regarding his recent arrest. Once more, McCartney cites evidence regarding the need to make marijuana legal. Also of interest is the following exchange with another Dutch report at said news conference:
Q: What happened, Paul?
A: What happened? I was in jail for ten days. Didn’t you hear? It was on the news.
Q: How did you get out?
A: How did I get out? Walking, on foot.
Q: What did the authorities do?
A: They dropped the charges
A: Well, why don’t you ask them.
Q: Don’t you know?
A: It was just because it was considered…I don’t know! I don’t know! they just told me today that I could get out, you know (Senator Ted Kennedy became involved).
Q: Do you have any idea of the consequences of the whole thing?
A: How do you mean?
Q: Well, financially?
A: Well yeah, it’s a bit of a drag, financially
Q: Do you think you’ll ever go back to Japan?
A: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Q: Do you want to?
A: Maybe.I’m not sure.
Q: There must be a lot of disappointed fans over there?
A: True, but I’m disappointed, too. So that makes two of us.
Upon return home, and Macca admitting to not having a very good memory, he set down to record his experience in a 20,000 word document titled Japanese Jailbird, in case anyone were to ask him about the experience. For example, McCartney states, if “my son is a great big 30 year old, he’ll say, “Dad, what about that Japanese thing?”, he’ll be able to say “there you are. Read that (ie read Japanese Jailbird).4
Yet in 2016’s Paul McCartney: The Life, biographer Philip Norman states that Paul “blamed no one but himself, made light of his experiences in the Japanese penal system…and slipped in a little proselytizing for the legalize pot-lobby he’d supported since the mid-sixties”. Suddenly, his experience in the Japanese legal system was different: “It wasn’t exactly The Bridge on the River Kwai”5
Personally, the added details over the years to the “experience that is Paul McCartney in prison” is very interesting. On one hand, it was hell; it was like Colonel Nicholson’s imprisonment in the box at the POW camp in Burma, it was like “A Bridge On the River Kwai.” On the other, hand, it wasn’t too bad; Sir Paul even now recently states that it wasn’t “A Bridge On the River Kwai.” I ,of course, am in no way demeaning the experience that he and his family endured that January of 1980, but the details and statements are certainly in the public arena for thought and pause.
Life Imitating Art? Art Imitating Life? Art Imitating Art?
So what to make of all of this? At high level, we have :
- An extremely interesting correlation with a William Shears and Commander Shears
- William Holden/William Beedle is Commander Shears in the Bridge On the River Kwai
- Commander Shears is a fraud; an individual who put on the uniform of a dead man and impersonated the individual for what he thought would be for short term advantage, yet could not give up the identity in the long term due to benefits of the dead’s man position in the military
- Major Shears, despite being depicted as a character of fabrication for personal gain, ultimately becomes justified and a hero near the finale of the film
If PID theory holds true, we now have quite a few associations between the fraudulent/imposter Commander Shears and a potential Paul McCartney replacement “who is commonly known” as William Shears Campbell (again…Google’s Algo’s first search result’s words…not mine). A dead man whose identity was replaced by an impostor. A dead man’s identity used for an impostor’s personal gain.
Also of interest is the strange parallel between Sir Paul’s arrest and incarceration, and the incarceration of Alec Guinness’s character, Captain Nicholson, in the film. Both are detainees of the Japanese, both are locked in a ‘box,’ both refuse to give up their identities while imprisoned, and both emerge with their principles unchanged. Captain Nicholson emerges with his principles regarding the Geneva Convention and civilization fixed; the prisoner number 22, the Japanese Jailbird, emerges with his principles regarding the use and decriminalization of marijuana unchanged.
Other Fun Finds on the Web
To be fair, this subject matter has been hinted on by other individuals on the Web. For instance, the screen shot above was found on Iamaphoney’s blog under the reference of A Bridge On the River Kwai.6
Another interesting reference comes from a forum on The Beatles Bible website7; one person noticed the dialogue of Commander Shears and the beautiful nurse on the beach on Ceylon (played by actress Ann Sears):
Shears: You give me powders, pills, baths, injections, enemas…when all I need is love.
Nurse: It’s true. All you really need is love.
Also noted on Iamphoney’s Kwai page is a 1962 EMI Parlophone record called the Bridge on the River Wye. Produced by (at that time) future Beatles’ producer George Martin, the record featured British comedic group The Goons. Peter Sellers was an important piece of this comedic troop. The Bridge on the River Wye was intended to be parody of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.
One last note of interest on the Iamaphoney article is Ringo Starr’s involvement with a Saturday Night Live sketch that, once again, parodied the motion picture The Bridge on the River Kwai. I was not able to track down the exact sketch for review, but was able to discern that Ringo, and his then wife Barbara Bach, were indeed host/guest hosts on that December 8, 1984 New York City based sketch comedy television show.
And One Last Random Find
One last interesting fact regarding the film is the US ABC-TV screening of The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film was broadcast in color in the United States on the date of Sunday, September 25, 1966 (a curious time period of Beatles history, as many of you are aware). Out of curiosity, I attempted to find a date in the life of the Beatles that correlated to September 25, 1966; as luck would happen, I found the book A Day in the Life, by L. John Perkins.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of the book. The self-described PID novel is written by English born L. John Perkins, a PhD of nuclear physics. Perkins, from his Amazon biography, appears to be prolific in both published peer reviewed nuclear physics papers and mass media, scientific articles, but has also managed to publish one non-nuclear related work on December 03, 2005. His highly technical and fictional thesis, briefly, is that on Sunday, September 25, 1966, James Paul McCartney died in a car crash on an English lane called Blackburn Road in his “same day purchased” yellow, E-type series Jaguar 4.2 liter roadster for a large sum of money. I’d definitely recommend this under the radar work to everyone interested (and curious of anyone’s thoughts on it).
I will be first to attest that this is in no way, shape, or form the proverbial “smoking gun.” I also realize that some of this material is not new in the world of PID knowledge. Yet I would argue, at the very least, that the major motion picture event known as A Bridge On the River Kwai, was certainly a known commodity in the Beatles’ inner circle. Sir George Martin mocked it, Ringo Starr mocked it, and Sir Paul McCartney’s first thoughts on his arrest were that of mocking his treatment in prison for the possession of marijuana.
Are these indeed more clues to the potential puzzle? Am I stating that the Beatles, in 1966, fully aware of the film and the character known as Commander Shears, a character attached to the impersonation of a dead man, either used an actual individual with the middle or last name Shears, or gave the stage name Shears to a man to impersonate a dead James Paul McCartney? Of course I can’t state that. The goal of this inquiry was to simply point out some odd coincidences discovered in my research.
And what do I ultimately know? Nothing, of course, but to be honest, when the name ‘Shears,’ ‘Admiral Halsey,’ and the phrases ‘the whole thing is fake’ and ‘you changed uniforms with a dead man’ hit me within minutes of one another, I definitely rewound the DVR last Saturday and took a second listen. A few research leads later, the assistance of Google, and a few conversations with fellow PID researchers (again, Desiree, thank you!) later, I put this interesting series of synchronicities together, relating to, of course, everyone’s favorite Japanese Jailbird, Sir Paul McCartney.
And L. John Perkins: if you happen to read this, please let me know; I’d be happy to send funds your way to buy you a beer.
1. Bridge on the river Kwai script – transcript from the screenplay and/or David Lean movie. http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/b/bridge-on-the-river-kwai-script.html. Accessed October 5, 2016.
2. The Pittsburgh press – Google news archive search. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19800126&id=8M0cAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UFwEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7005,3878454&hl=en. Accessed October 4, 2016.
3.Paul McCartney 1984 playboy interview. http://courses.music.indiana.edu/rock/paulint.html. Accessed October 4, 2016.
4.Badman K, Welch C. The Beatles: Off the record. 2, the dream is over. 2nd ed. London: Omnibus Press; March 1, 2003.
5.Norman P. Paul McCartney: The life. United States: Little Brown and Company; May 3, 2016.
6.Tafultong, profile V my complete. Bridge on (over) the river Kwai. http://iamaphoney.blogspot.com/2010/01/bridge-on-over-river-kwai.html. Accessed October 5, 2016.
7.The Beatles bible. https://www.beatlesbible.com/forum/beatles-films-television-radio/bridge-over-the-river-kwai/. Accessed October 5, 2016.