TAMPA — A lifelong Beatles fan, Mark Bentley thought he knew everything about the legendary rock pioneers.
But then he learned the full story of the little-known Colin Hanton, whom he now refers to as “the almost Beatle.”
Hanton was drummer for The Quarrymen. He quit that band before they changed their name to The Beatles.
“He was there when it all came together,” said Bentley, a Tampa land use attorney with the law firm of Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel and Burns. “And then he walked away from it. Everyone should know this story.”
Bentley brought his attorney skills to the world of documentary filmmaking to make a movie about Hanton.
Titled Pre Fab!, it premieres at 7 p.m. Friday at Enzian Theater in Maitland as the opening night movie for the Florida Film Festival.
“Our selection committee just fell in love with this feel-good and enlightening film, catching Beatles fever much like the British youth in the 1950s,” said Matthew Curtis, programming director for the festival.
Bentley is executive producer, but he did more than cut a check.
He conducted 90 percent of the interviews with Hanton, historians and the drummer’s friends and family.
He also tracked down and purchased rare photographs and memorabilia, negotiated the rights to music and archival footage and gained access to the childhood homes of Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon plus Abbey Road Studios.
Bentley even persuaded McCartney to be interviewed.
“The only other film crew to ever shoot inside McCartney’s home is Carpool Karaoke,” Bentley, 60, said. “I’m a Beatles fan, but that’s not why I did this. I wanted to preserve a little piece of history.”
The Quarrymen were formed in Liverpool by Lennon in 1956 and consisted primarily of his school friends. A longtime basic narrative is that Hanton was only asked to join because he had a drum kit.
“But there had to be something special about him besides that,” Bentley said. “Other than John Lennon, no one was with The Quarrymen longer than Colin. He was with them for three years.”
Other members were replaced with McCartney and Harrison.
“They had plenty of opportunities to replace Colin,” Bentley said. “They never did. It was John, Paul, George and Colin.”
But Hanton did not see a future for the band.
So, in 1959, after an argument over a gig that turned disastrous when the band got drunk between sets, Hanton quit to focus on his career as an upholsterer.
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In 1960, The Quarrymen became The Beatles with Pete Best on drums.
Two years later, Best was replaced by Ringo Starr.
“I think everyone has heard of Pete Best and Ringo Starr, but almost no one has heard of Colin Hanton,” Bentley said. “What’s fascinating is that Colin has no regrets. He has a beautiful family and did really well in the upholstery business. He says it turned out really well for everybody.”
In 1997, original members of The Quarrymen, minus Lennon, reunited.
Hanton released his memoir, also titled Pre Fab!, in May 2018.
Bentley read it the following month, just as his son, Adam, was touring England as guitarist for the Nashville-based band Arch Echo.
“I figured I’d go see my kid and then talk to Colin,” Bentley said.
Hanton agreed to meet at the Penny Lane Community Centre. He thought Bentley was either a fan seeking an autograph or a journalist writing an article.
“I told him I just wanted to hear his story,” Bentley said. “But when I got back to the U.S. I realized what a unique story this was about a man who is totally content with who he is.”
Hanton also had a firsthand look at history.
“He remembers everything,” Bentley said. “Where they played, when they played, what they played. I thought this would make a great documentary.”
Except, Bentley had no idea how to make one.
So, he brought on his son to score the documentary, daughter Erin Bentley, a marketing executive at Warner Bros., as co-producer and Todd Thompson of Orlando-based Stars North as director.
“All I had in mind was I was going to start this thing with that famous G chord out of A Hard Day’s Night and I’m going to end it that way,” Bentley said. “And I did it that way.”
This was not his last foray into filmmaking.
Bentley is currently producing a documentary on musician Del Shannon, best known for his 1961 No. 1 Billboard hit Runaway.
“I’ve already done 20 interviews on Del Shannon,” Bentley said.
As for Pre Fab!, there are no more screenings planned, but Bentley hopes to land a distribution deal soon.
“If I make some money off of it, that’s great, but that wasn’t my motivation,” he said. “Colin’s story is an important part of rock ‘n’ roll history. I just wanted to share it.”