Yet more than four decades after The Beatles' vignette laid bare the loneliness of her existence, Eleanor Rigby is the centre of attention.
A salary ledger from a Liverpool hospital in 1911, which shows one E Rigby signing for her monthly wage of 1, three shillings and four pence, was last night going under the hammer at a London auction – with an estimated price tag of 500,000.
The ledger was sent by Sir Paul McCartney in 1990 to Sunbeams Music Trust, a charity which helps people with learning difficulties learn to play music, after it asked for a donation. The parchment contains the signature of the teenage scullery maid, who worked at Liverpool City Hospital.
Since the song was released in 1966, fans have debated whether its protagonist was real or made up. Sir Paul has insisted the heroine was the product of his imagination, but the price reached by the ledger shows that, even long after her death, Eleanor Rigby is still casting her influence.
It is not the first piece of evidence which appears to prove her existence. A churchyard in the Liverpool district of Woolton is the resting place of an Eleanor Rigby, who died in 1939. The graveyard is next to the church where Paul McCartney met John Lennon.
Ted Owen, managing director of The Fame Bureau, music memorabilia experts who auctioned the document, believes Sir Paul drew his inspiration from the woman, even subconsciously.
"It's intriguing McCartney owned it because he says he created the song around a fictitious figure," he said. "How did he have this document and why did he have it? When he was asked to donate money, he sent this."
Sir Paul, who has not disclosed how he came about the ledger, has been evasive and playful about the song's inspiration. After its release he said: "I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. The first few bars just came to me, and I got this name in my head – Daisy Hawkins. I don't know why. I couldn't think of more so I put it away for a day."
He later claimed he decided on the name, Eleanor, from Eleanor Bron, who starred in the Beatles' film Help!. Rigby, he said, came from the wine merchants, Rigby & Evans.
When the auction was announced, he claimed again the character was not real. "If someone wants to spend money buying a document to prove that a fictitious character exists, that's fine," he said.
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear
No one comes near.
Look at him working. Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No-one was saved