Pocas veces he tenido la oportunidad de conocer a gente auténtica, con carisma suficiente para moverse por la vida con la elegancia y clase de los grandes. Gente con una apertura de miras superior a su tiempo y la voluntad suficiente para hacer sus ideas prosperar.
Juan era una de esas personas: brillante, valiente y luchador.
Quizá por eso no dejaba indiferente, imposible no contagiarse de su pasión por las cosas, por la vida, por los viajes o los idiomas.
Juan era mucho más que los Beatles para todos los que tuvimos el placer de conocerlo. Era pura vida, un pura sangre de los que cada vez quedan menos.
Me quedo con lo que me enseñó, lo que compartimos, recordando que la vida la ganan siempre los valientes.
Descanse en paz.
Juan Carrión Gañán
Published by THE TIMES
Spanish teacher who tracked down John Lennon in Spain and persuaded him to include printed lyrics on the next Beatles album sleeve
Juan Carrión examining an image of John Lennon and his Rolls-Royce at an exhibition at the house in Almeria where the Beatle wrote the song Strawberry Fields Forever.
On a hot afternoon in 1966, in a dusty corner of southern Spain, a middle-aged Spanish teacher came face to face with John Lennon.
Juan Carrión, then 42, was no star-struck fan in search of his idol; he was, instead, a man on a mission to convince the Beatle to help his students to learn English. Carrión wanted Lennon to print the lyrics of the Beatles’ songs on the sleeve of their next album so that his pupils, who learnt English through reciting the band’s songs, could understand them better.
At the time Spain was still under General Franco’s austere dictatorship. Learning English was done through formal grammar lessons. To make it more fun, Carrión got his pupils to tune into Radio Luxembourg, then a pirate radio station, to listen to the Beatles. As their songs became more complex with the 1966 album Revolver, however, it became harder for the students to work out what John, Paul, George and Ringo were singing about.
Carrión set out to remedy this by travelling to Almeria in southern Spain, where he had heard Lennon was filming How I Won the War, directed by Richard Lester. He befriended Les Anthony, Lennon’s chauffeur, and persuaded him to look at some of his students’ notebooks, then pass them on to his boss. They were filled with Beatles lyrics — and mistakes. Intrigued that Spaniards learnt English through the words of his songs, Lennon asked his chauffeur for pens to correct the errors. He also arranged to meet Carrión, who arrived at the wrong time. The Beatle was amused and gently told him off, saying: “You’re late!” Undaunted by meeting a superstar, Carrión asked for neither an autograph nor a photograph, but persuaded Lennon to help his students to learn English.
Lennon duly promised Carrión that the Beatles would print their lyrics, for the first time, on their next album. When he returned to London, he sent Carrión some records and lyric sheets. Carrión wrote back thanking him and, rather sweetly, asking how much he owed him for the records.
Lennon sent a typed and signed reply: “Dear Señor Carrión, thank you for your letter. I am enclosing our new record, which I hope you will like. And please don’t mention money, it is a pleasure to send you our work.”
The record was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, complete with the lyrics printed on the inside sleeve. A discreet man, Carrión kept his meeting with Lennon secret for almost 40 years.
In 2005, when Adolfo Iglesias, a journalist, was researching Lennon’s time in Spain, he stumbled across Carrión’s story and arranged to meet him, at which point the English teacher shyly produced the correspondence he had maintained with Lennon. Until that moment, Beatles experts had no idea that this was the reason the band had decided to put lyrics on the sleeve.
“Can you imagine many people keeping a secret about John Lennon for 40 years?” Iglesias said. “Juan was like that, modest. Of course, he liked the Beatles, but he was more interested in teaching English and the power it could give you. You have to remember we were growing up in a country where no one spoke English very well.”
Carrión kept his meeting with Lennon secret for almost 40 years
Carrión’s unlikely encounter with Lennon became the basis for Iglesias’s book Juan and John: The teacher and Lennon in Almeria Forever and an award-winning film, Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed. The title is a line from Strawberry Fields Forever, which Lennon wrote in Almeria after the gates of the villa where he was staying reminded him of those at the Strawberry Field Salvation Army garden in Liverpool.
In the film version Carrión is depicted as a diehard Beatles fan, which he was not at the time he met Lennon. He did become a fan after their meeting, however, and in 1980, when he heard the news that Lennon had been murdered in New York, he broke down. He kept all the newspapers from the day after Lennon’s death.
Born in Madrid in 1924, Juan Carrión was one of the six children of Abelino Carrión and Teresa Gañán. His father ran a chain of grocery stores and his mother was a housewife. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), as Franco’s forces encircled Madrid, his father ran the gauntlet of Republican militias hunting down the middle class. The young Carrión watched as his school, which was run by priests, was burnt to the ground by leftwingers. According to a friend: “It was an important moment for him, which he would never forget. He was passionate about education.”
After the war, Carrión became a senior civil servant in the ministry of agriculture. He employed his good English to translate documents to buy machinery with which Franco hoped to rebuild a country destroyed by conflict.
However, Carrión soon tired of life in the civil service and quit his job to teach English at the Spanish embassy in London in 1955. After a few years soaking up British culture, he returned home, moving to Cartagena in southeastern Spain, where he ran a language school.Juan Carrión with the album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which, in 1967, was the first to include on its sleeve the lyrics of the group’s songs.
Ahead of his time, he used a multimedia approach, employing BBC broadcasts and English-language films and getting students to sing Beatles songs.
“A strict teacher, he would nag at students to get it right,” a former pupil recalled. “He would have them trembling one minute and then comfort them the next.”
In his youth he fell in love with a married woman, which in Catholic Spain meant that their relationship was doomed from the start. “Perhaps it was romantic, but he never had any other girlfriends after that,” his friend said. “He dedicated himself to teaching. When asked why he never settled down, he would say: ‘If I married and had children, I would not have my wide family of students.’ ”
Carrión did indeed treat his pupils as family members and would invite them to his house at Christmas. There they were encouraged to join him in working for a local charity during the festive season. A man of passions, he loathed smoking and urged people to give up the habit, which he had stopped in the 1950s. He bought a house in Ibiza and joked to his friends: “I have seen all these hippies in Ibiza, but I have never smoked a joint in my life.”
Carrión watched as his school, run by priests, was burnt to the ground
When not teaching, Carrión was a keen cyclist. He completed the Camino de Santiago (St James’s Way) pilgrimage on his bicycle. He also loved playing tennis and made friends through the tennis club when he studied English at a college in Oxford in the 1950s.
Politically neutral during the Franco dictatorship, despite coming from a conservative, middle-class family, Carrión was not exactly conventional. “He had money, but he was a bit of a hippy,” his friend said. “He could have had a safe job, but gave it up for what he felt passionate about. He knew teaching was a way to get closer to people.”
He was a demanding teacher and was quick to correct errors. Once, when he appeared on a television programme, he upbraided the reporter live on air when she made a mistake in English.
David Trueba, the director of Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed, said: “Before exams he would take pupils out into the park to practise, and prepare course work so well that some pupils kept it 40 years later, and would go on journeys to Britain or New York during summer.”
Carrión continued teaching into his nineties, even after he was diagnosed with cancer. He gave his last lesson in hospital two days before his death.
Juan Carrión Gañán, English teacher, was born in 1924. He died of prostate cancer on August 30, 2017, aged 93