As in so many of his songs, the melody and first line of 'Eleanor Rigby' came to Paul as he sat playing his piano. It was through asking himself what type of person would be clearing rice up after a wedding that eventually led him to his character which then became based on his memory of old people he had known as a child. Initially though, the fictional church cleaner featured in the song was to be called Miss Daisy Hawkins not Eleanor Rigby.
Paul started by imagining Daisy as a young girl but soon realized that anyone who cleaned churches after weddings was likely to be older. If she was older, he considered that she might not only have missed the wedding she was having to clear up after, she might also have missed her own. Maybe she was an ageing spinster whose loneliness was made worse by her job and having to clear away the debris left behind by family celebrations. "I couldn't think of any more so I put it away," he remarked.
Paul toyed with the song for a while but wasn't comfortable with the name of Miss Daisy Hawkins, He thought it didn't sound 'real' enough. Sixties folksinger Donovan remembered Paul playing him a version of the song where the protagonist was called Ola Na Tungee. "The words hadn't yet come out right for him," says Donovan.
Paul has always thought that he came up with the name of Eleanor because of having worked with Eleanor Bron in Help! Songwriter Lionel Bart, however, is convinced he took it from a gravestone in a cemetery close to Wimbledon Common where they were both walking one day. "The name on the gravestone was Eleanor Bygraves," says Bart, "and Paul thought that would fit his song. He came back to my office and began playing it on my clavichord."
Paul came across the name Rigby in January 1966, while in Bristol visiting Jane Asher who was playing the role of Barbara Cahoun in John Dighton's The Happiest Days Of Your Life. The Theatre Royal, home of the Bristol Old Vic, is at 35 King Street and, as Paul was waiting for Jane to finish, he strolled past Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers, which was then on the opposite side of the road at number 22. This gave him the surname he was looking for.
The song was finally completed at Kenwood when John, George, Ringo and Pete Shotton crowded into the music room where Paul played it through. Someone suggested introducing an old man rifling through garbage cans whom Eleanor Rigby could have a romance with, but it was decided that would complicate the story. Paul had already introduced a character called Father McCartney. Ringo suggested that he could be darning his sock, an idea which Paul liked. George came up with a line about 'lonely people'. Pete Shotton suggested that it be changed from Father McCartney because people would think it was a reference to Paul's dad. A flick through the phone directory produced McKenzie as a alternative.
Paul was then stuck for an ending and it was Shotton who suggested that he bring the two lonely people together in the final verse as Father McKenzie takes Eleanor Rigby's funeral and stands by her graveside. At the time, the idea was dismissed by John who thought that Shotton had missed the point but Paul, who didn't say anything at the time, used the scene to finish off the song, and later acknowledged the help he'd received.
Extraordinarily, sometime in the Eighties the grave of an Eleanor Rigby was discovered in the graveyard of St Peter's Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool, within yards of the spot where John and Paul had met in 1957. It's clear that Paul didn't get his idea directly from this grave, but is it possible that he saw it as a teenager and that the pleasing sound of the name lay buried in his subconscious until called up by the song? At the time he said: "I was looking for a name that was natural. Eleanor Rigby sounded natural."
In a further coincidence, the firm of Rigby and Evens Ltd, whose sign had inspired Paul in Bristol in 1966, was owned by a liverpudian, Frank Rigby, who established his company in Dale Street, Liverpool in the 19th century.