UP THE SMOKE
Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three. . .
Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP
THE BEATLES ENTERED THE CAVERN CLUB AS FOUR VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN teddy boys and came out with a number-one single and a number-one album. However, in order to keep up the momentum they had to take on London. They were ready to go 'up the Smoke'.
PAUL: I had this strange entrance into London, coming down from Liverpool where everyone had said, 'You'll never make it, coming from Liverpool.' Which had angered us a bit, so we stayed up in Liverpool a lot. We didn't just all move down to London, we tried to prove ourselves from Liverpool. Hamburg, Liverpool, the north - you know, 'Fuck you!' And we had our original success up in the Cavern. But this got us national success and then came the inevitable move to London.
The Beatles arrived just as the sixties were getting into gear. In 1963, the Christine Keeler-John Profumo affair would bring thirteen years of Tory rule to an end, though Sir Alec Douglas-Home, dragged in from the grouse moors in his tweeds, almost won the election after Harold MacMillan resigned. No more 'Mustn't grumble', no more 'Grin and bear it'; the era of the spiv and the wide boy was back. All manner of East End barrow boys and public-school failures emerged with an eye for the main chance. Get-rich-quick
schemes bloomed, everything modern was 'in', everything and everyone old was out. The entire city was up for grabs, including the people and buildings.
PAUL: 'This working-class explosion was all happening and we were very much a part of it. Making it okay to be common. The East End photographers, the working-class actors. So now we were the wacky chappies from up north. I think we had a lot to do with it.'
London in 1963 was still pitted with overgrown bomb sites, though many of the best sites were under development. The look of the city was undergoing massive changes: the pastoral horizon of Hyde Park was broken first by the London Hilton tower in 1962, then by the Lancaster Gate Hotel, both exceptions made to the London planning regulations 'in order to attract American visitors', who were presumably unable to stay in low buildings. The Post Office Tower rose slowly above the rooftops of Bloomsbury to become the tallest building in London and Richard Seifert's Centre Point, a banal copy of a second-rate original by Marcel Breuer built for Harry Hyams on the site of the medieval village of St Giles, was fitted together like a giant Lego set before standing empty for years.
The atmosphere of excitement that characterised the sixties was already there when the Beatles arrived: the sense of anything goes. Businessmen still wore bowler hats and carried rolled umbrellas but any remnants of pre-war ideas of moderation and long-term planning were gone. Spectacular rip-offs and deals were the new order of the day, such as the shameless, though quite legitimate, way that EMI ripped off the Beatles. The smartly dressed man in the pinstripes now fancied himself as Steed from The Avengers or James Bond in his Savile Row suit and Turnbull and Asser shirts.
You could get anything you wanted in London in the sixties because the fix was in. Corruption was institutional among Scotland Yard detectives. 'Not so much a rotten apple as a barrel of rotten apples,' as the former Inspector of Constabulary Frank Williamson put it. Endemic police corruption allowed organised crime to flourish. In the sixties the notorious Kray twins extended their gambling and protection empire from the East End to include most of Mayfair and the West End. Graft, kickbacks and nepotism: the birth of Swinging London was fuelled by corruption in high places. It could not have happened otherwise.
The other side of the coin was personal freedom and the party that was sixties London. Experiment became the order of the day. The pop and Op Art explosion pushed aside the tentative, gloomy canvases of the British art establishment. Bridget Riley's eye-bending Op-Art paintings were shown at Tooth's in 1961. The next year the same gallery showed Allen Jones's colourful Pop Art canvases (his controversial images of women began only in the mid-sixties). That year Bryan Robertson pioneered Pop Art at the huge space of the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Fluxus Group, including Yoko Ono, were shown at Gallery One. David Hockney received his gold medal from the Royal College of Art dressed in a gold suit with his hair dyed golden. The Robert Fraser, Kasmin and Signals galleries opened their doors and Pop and Op Art were well and truly launched.
In the cinema, the decade opened with a bang when Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was released in 1960. Lindsay Anderson described it as having 'changed the face of the British cinema overnight ... It opened doors that had been nailed fast for 50 years.' Here was a new writer, Alan Sillitoe, and a new star, Albert Finney, who delighted audiences as the working-class lad who told the authorities where to get off. The film had a new, liberated attitude towards sex, not the hypocritical titillation of Tinseltown but a gritty, down-to-earth, Lawrentian approach in keeping with the changing times. John Schlesinger's 1963 film Billy Liar, adapted from Keith Waterhouse's novel and starring Tom Courtney and Julie Christie, continued the theme.
With the ending of National Service and the prospect of two years in the armed forces removed, and with the 'white-heat' of the 'scientific revolution' promised by Harold Wilson's new Labour government, a separate youth culture quickly developed. The country was ripe for it, the atmosphere was different and people wanted change. And all over London, from an East End pub to a debutante's ball in Mayfair, all you could hear was 'She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah ...'
In 1962 the Beatles had made only a handful of visits to London; the next year they travelled there almost once a week. After signing with EMI, more and more of their business was in London, recording, appearing in concert, on radio and television. Their record company, the recording studios, television stations and the BBC were all in the capital. The motorway network had yet to be built and it took six or seven hours to drive from Liverpool to London through the industrial Midlands. Even at night the ancient highway was crowded with lines of slow-moving lorries, their drivers fortified by the extra-strong tea sold in pint mugs at the 'transport only' all-night caffs. It was impractical to keep returning to Liverpool between each engagement and the group soon developed an intimate knowledge of the cheaper London hotels.
They stayed at the Royal Court Hotel in Sloane Square, Chelsea or in the cheap hotels around Russell Square in Bloomsbury: the faded grandeur of the Russell and the Imperial on the square itself or more often, the President round the corner on Guilford Street or the small hotels all down Gower Street, now filled with tourists but then largely used by scholars studying at the nearby British Museum library or visiting the University of London and its campus around Russell Square.
PAUL: It was a group experience, the four of us, that's how we first arrived. We would be staying in Gower Street. It was like 'digs'. It appealed to the artists in us. You could read Lynne Reid Banks's The L-Shaped Room and totally associate. 'This is what I'm doing! This is about me.' It was in that kind of spirit we came to Russell Square, and would do photo sessions with Dezo Hoffmann in the square. We'd come out of breakfast at the hotel, have a nice Rothman after breakfast, pop over to the square, do the thing, then we'd have to be off to Birmingham or somewhere.
When we came down to London we were provincial kids coming down to the big city, so it was all magic to us, all the buildings, all the names: 'Kensington, wow! Chelsea, gosh! Soho, wow! Tottenham Court Road, God!' You'd heard about all these places, read about 'em, you'd seen 'em in movies, so we really enjoyed being there. Charing Cross Road, wow! Whenever we came to London we went to Charing Cross Road for the guitar shops. It was like going to Santa's grotto. We just window-shopped and dreamed. 'I'll get one of them!'
We were just young kids experiencing the thrill of this. We'd been to Hamburg but we'd not knocked round London much. We were just in and out in the van trying to find places, though we had quite a lot of fun doing that.
They also got to know some of the London groups. To have five or six different acts on the bill was not unusual in those days so they spent a great deal of time sitting around backstage with the other acts, waiting to go on. They also met fellow rock musicians in the clubs - or, in some cases, actively sought them out, as they did on 21 April 1963, when all four Beatles walked in on a Rolling Stones gig to see what all the fuss was about. Paul: 'We'd heard about this blues band, and we were into American blues so we showed up at the Station Hotel, Richmond. And there they were, the early Stones: Brian, Mick waving his mike in that characteristic way, and of course the little harmonica thing that he'd pull in on that tight microphone. And he saw us all walk in. We all had long suede leather coats and we all had little suede caps.'
The final sartorial embellishment that Hamburg had provided for the Beatles was a set of matching black suede coats and hats from the same shop that had made their leather suits. Paul: 'We knew that when we went back with these suede twat 'ats, as we used to call 'em, cheese cutters; twat hats and long-length full suede coats, then people would notice.' He was right; the Beatles' long coats were one of the reasons that the Rolling Stones abandoned Chicago blues in favour of rock 'n' roll.
PAUL: Mick says that that is what made him want to get into rock 'n' roll. He saw us come in and he thought, 'Fuckin' hell! I want one of those coats! I want a long coat like that, but to do that, I'll have to earn money.' This is what he said, and that was when he described us as a 'four-headed monster'. Which is true. It was one of our things to go around together because there was a great common bond between us, of having come all this way from Liverpool, through all these experiences in common.
On 18 April 1963, the Beatles took part in a BBC concert broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall. They were at the hall most of the day, for a morning rehearsal and an afternoon run-through of the grand finale when all the acts on the bill assembled on stage to sing 'Mack the Knife'. While they were waiting around, the Beatles did a photo session for the BBC weekly listings magazine Radio Times. The photographer posed them with Jane Asher, a seventeen-year-old red-haired actress who had been a guest panellist on the BBC TV show Juke Box Jury.
Jane had a wonderful ability to put people at their ease. She had an air of seriousness and a self-assurance rare in someone so young, combined with the energy of a teenager. She was outgoing, but her enthusiastic conversation was informed by a fine education and years of experience as an actress, making her far more sophisticated than the average seventeen-year-old. She was also extremely pretty. Jane had been asked to do a celebrity interview with the Beatles for Radio Times so the photographer set up some shots of her screaming at them like a fan. After the concert she joined the group backstage in the green room.
PAUL: We knew her as the rather attractive, nice, well-spoken chick that we'd seen that year on Juke Box Jury. We all thought she was blonde because we'd only ever seen her in black and white on television, and we went mad for blondes. Then she came backstage afterwards and so we all immediately tried to pull her. You know, being the order of the day.
Anyway, one thing and another, we ended up back at the Royal Court Hotel where we were staying. We went to a journalist, Chris Hutchins's apartment on the Ring's Road. It was all very civilised, and we were all there. But at the end of all that, I ended up with Jane. Because I'd maybe made the strongest play or maybe she fancied me, I don't know what. I probably just sort of mentioned, 'Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was.' My only Chaucer line! Probably that did it! She'd be smart enough to know. But I ended up with her. All very innocent and stuff, so from then on I made strenuous efforts to become her boyfriend.
By the summer of 1963, the Beatles had become too famous to stay in regular hotels because of the constant attention of their fans. Hotels objected to mobs of squealing girls rushing through the lobbies and corridors searching for their idols. Since they were spending so much time in London, Brian Epstein rented a flat for them. The 'Beatles flat' was apartment L at 57 Green Street, Mayfair. The idea was that they would all share the rent and use it when they were in town; a fan-magazine idea of heaven, with the four lovable mop tops all living together. In fact it was the very opposite. To begin with, Paul was late off the mark. By the time he got there, the others had grabbed the best rooms and he was left with a tiny cramped room in the back. They all had beds, but it was an unfurnished flat and the Beatles had no time to buy anything for it so there were no pictures on the walls, no chairs, just bare rooms. Paul: 'We didn't really bother. We'd keep saying, "We must get a table, we must get a kettle." But we were pretty hopeless about all that so it was a very cold place. There was no homeliness about it at all. There was nobody's touch. I hated it.'
By now, the press had found out that John was married with a child. Brian Epstein thought that it would harm the group's image if it became known that John was unavailable and had insisted that Cynthia be kept out of the way. Now there was no longer any need for secrecy and John brought Cynthia and baby Julian down to live in a flat at 13 Emperor's Gate, near the Cromwell Road airport terminal. This freed John's room for Paul, but he only used the Green Street flat a short time before a much better offer came up.
Paul and Jane had hit it off together and every time he was in London he would go and see her. They went to plays and clubs, but spent most of their time together at her parents' house in Wimpole Street, sitting talking late into the night. They were falling in love.
In A Twist of Lennon Cynthia Lennon wrote:
Paul fell like a ton of bricks for Jane. The first time I was introduced to her was at her home and she was sitting on Paul's knee. My first impression of Jane was how beautiful and finely featured she was. Her mass of Titian-coloured hair cascaded around her face and shoulders, her pale complexion contrasting strongly with dark clothes and shining hair. Paul was obviously as proud as a peacock with his new lady. For Paul, Jane Asher was a great prize.
Paul soon got to know her family. Jane's mother Margaret managed to combine a full career as a music teacher with running a large household with three children.
PAUL: She was a very warm person, a very nice mumsy-type woman, great cook, nothing was too much for her, a really nice person. Richard the dad was a wacky medic, very intelligent, very eccentric. But terrific and a great fun person to know. Then there was Jane's older brother Peter, who was an interesting, bright guy, also very interested in music and very musical. There was a lot of connection there. Clare was a very nice younger sister, lot of fun.
Jane's brother Peter was soon to be a part of the successful group Peter and Gordon, and her sister Clare was also in show business, as an actress in the daily radio soap Mrs Dale's Diary. The family lived in a large town house in Wimpole Street in the West End of London. It was a Georgian terrace house with six floors, including a rambling basement. On the top floor, in the old servants' quarters, were Peter's bedroom and a little music room. Sometimes, late at night, Paul would be invited to stay over rather than go back to Green Street. Then one day, in the course of conversation, Jane suggested that he could live at Wimpole Street if he hated the Green Street flat so much. Her mother would let him have the attic room.
He did not take long to decide. 'It was everything Green Street was missing; there were people there and food and a homey atmosphere, and Jane being my girlfriend, it was kind of perfect!' In November he moved out of Green Street and took his few belongings to the Asher household. George and Ringo stayed on in the flat until the spring of 1964 when the lease expired, then moved to a better flat below Brian Epstein's in Whaddon House, William Mews, in Knightsbridge.
Jane Asher was educated at Queen's College, a discreet private girls' school on Harley Street, a short walk away from her home in Wimpole Street. In 1951, someone told Margaret Asher that Jane and her older brother Peter were such beautiful children that they should be in films. She decided that it would help their self-confidence and be an amusing hobby for them. Her friend made the arrangements and Margaret took them along to a theatrical agency. Paul: 'Margaret was a bit of a stage mum. She was very ambitious in that particular direction and they were all in films at a very young age. I think Richard might have wanted to encourage the academic direction but Margaret was very much the artistic and acting side, particularly acting.'
At the age of five Jane appeared in Mandy, the story of a little deaf girl, played by Mandy Miller, which also starred Jack Hawkins. Jane end Peter were never in a film together though they worked regularly in films, radio and television throughout their childhoods. At the age of twelve, Jane made her stage debut as Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland at the Oxford Playhouse. Her 1958 recording of Alice in Wonderland is still selling well on tape cassette.
In 1960, Jane became the youngest actress until then to play Wendy in the West End production of Peter Pan and in 1961 appeared in Lewis Gilbert's well-received film Greengage Summer. By the time she met Paul she had a decade of stage, screen and radio appearances behind her and was already well known as an actress.
For a time it seemed that Paul's and Jane's careers might have been complementary. She continued to act in plays and appeared in several more films, including Roger Corman's 1964 film of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, which was made the same year that the Beatles starred in A Hard Day's Night. She and Paul began to move in the same film circles: when Jane played a dolly bird in Lewis Gilbert's 1966 period piece Alfie starring Michael Caine, Shelley Winters and Eleanor Bron, Paul already knew Eleanor Bron from having worked with her the year before on Help! Paul and Jane had become a part of the elite of the London entertainment scene.
The press first caught wind of their romance when a photographer saw them leaving Neil Simon's play Never Too Late at the Prince of Wales Theatre. From then on they were sighted all over town, at plays, art galleries and nightclubs. They immediately became the darlings of the media, which loved to find icons of an age: Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton, and now Paul and Jane.
'Really, I suppose what solidified London for me was the house that they lived in at 57 Wimpole Street,' said Paul. It was quite an extraordinary household: an eminent doctor, a music professor, an actress in a daily radio soap opera, an accomplished young stage and screen actress and two world-famous pop singers, all sharing a Peter Pan town house in the centre of London and behaving as if this was perfectly normal, which, for them, it was.
The Asher family tended to gather in the long, narrow kitchen at the back of the house; you could usually find one of them or one of Margaret Asher's music students making tea or toast or having a sandwich at any time of day or night. It was a very informal household in that respect, though all proper meals were eaten in the dining room. The kitchen was Margaret Asher's domain. She suffered from terrible migraine headaches which often kept her awake so no matter what time Paul got in, it seemed as if she was always up, asking if he'd like a bite to eat. Paul: 'For a young guy who likes his home comforts, boy, did she spoil me! She's a real great lady, who liked to cook, who liked to fuss over someone. And I'm not averse to a bit of that! If someone says, "D'you want some breakfast?" I'm not going to say, "No, I'm cool, I'll get my own."' Margaret Asher took him in, mothered him and made him very much one of the family. He was to live there for three years.
Paul found himself in what was essentially an English upper-class household, albeit a rather artistic and eccentric one. He was fascinated:
It was really like culture shock in the way they ran their lives, because the doctor obviously had a quite tight diary, but all of them ran it that way. They would do things that I'd never seen before, like at dinner there would be word games. Now I'm bright enough, but mine is an intuitive brightness. I could just about keep up with that and I could always say, 'I don't know that word.' I was always honest. In fact, I was able to enjoy and take part fully in their thing.
Dinner conversation would veer from a discussion of the date the tomato was introduced to England - a fierce argument between Peter and his father solved by reference to an encyclopedia - to Dr Asher reaching across the table and signing his name on a sheet of paper upside down ('Bet you can't do that!') and explaining that he had taught himself to write upside down in order to save time when nurses presented papers for his signature.
Wimpole Street and Harley Street, which runs parallel, were streets of elegant town houses built in the eighteenth century by the earls of Oxford for gentlemen and their families on what was then the outskirts of London. The essayist Edmund Burke took up residence there in 1757 and it became an area of fashionable portrait painters, Royal Academicians and military men. Later, in 1891, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was set in nearby Baker Street, lived at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, but Wimpole Street is best known for the poet Elizabeth Barrett, who lived at number 50.
During the years she lived there she rarely left the house of her tyrannical father Edward, who was neurotically determined that none of his eleven children should fall in love or marry. However, on 12 September 1846, when Elizabeth was forty, the poet Robert Browning 'pulled her up from her invalid's couch' and they were secretly married at nearby Marylebone church. Elopement to Italy followed a week later and they lived there happily ever after. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's house no longer stands, but most of the 1750s buildings in the street remain, including number 57 where the Ashers lived. Paul: 'I liked the sense of history. My old school had been like that, and I am always fascinated to see that it's still there. Coming from a new estate in Liverpool, old buildings like that are all very impressive... Linda and I were eventually married in Marylebone registry office, which is a strange little twist.'
Margaret Asher gave tuition in recorder, oboe and other instruments. One of her students was Paul, whom she informally taught to play the recorder, a skill he demonstrated later on 'Fool on the Hill'. She received her students in a small, rather stuffy music room in the basement, well away from the main activity of the house. The room had a low ceiling, wooden cupboards with glass fronts along one wall, and was cluttered with metal music stands and old music scores. The small windows opened into the area below the front railings. It was there that Paul and John would get together to write songs, including 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', their first American number one.
PAUL: 'The little music room with all the music stands became my base. So instead of John coming to Forthlin Road, that music room was now my equivalent because it was the most get-away-from-it room. We always tried to find a place to get away from it all, plus it had a piano.'
John Lennon told Playboy magazine:
We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had 'oh, you-u-u ... got that something ...' And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, 'That's it!’ I said 'Do that again!' In those days we really used to absolutely write like that - both playing into each other's noses.
PAUL: 'Eyeball to eyeball' is a very good description of it. That's exactly how it was. 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' was very co-written. It was our big number one; the one that would eventually break us in America.
Among the many songs Paul composed in the little music room were 'And I Love Her', 'Every Little Thing', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'I've Just Seen a Face', 'You Won't See Me', and 'I'm Looking Through You'. It was a work space with no comfortable armchairs or distractions, perfect for getting the job done.
On the ground floor of number 57 was Dr Asher's reception room. Next to his consulting couch was a manual coffee grinder which he turned vigorously as he listened to his patients' woes. An engraved portrait of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was a distant relative on Margaret Asher's side of the family, hung in the hall, and in the formal dining room a glass-fronted bookcase contained such prized possessions as the rare 1925 edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by Ò. Å. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). It was bound in red buckram and various family certificates and documents were kept inside, commemorating presentations and official occasions as if it were a family Bible. Peter was very proud of the fact that his grandfather had been Ò. Å. Lawrence's solicitor.
The first floor was Dr Asher's parlour where he'd spend most of his spare time playing an out-of-tune grand piano. Paul: 'I sometimes used to borrow it. I remember writing a bit of stuff on that.' In Georgian times, this would have been the main room of the house, with the biggest windows and a balcony overlooking the street. One of Dr Asher's hobbies was to photograph the view using a pin-hole camera: a cardboard shoe box with a hole in one end and a photographic plate at the other. The exposure took two days and though the results were rather fuzzy and blurred, they gave him great pleasure. Since he was a doctor he could write himself a prescription for the film and fill it at the local chemists at no cost.
One of the buildings across the street photographed by Dr Asher was number 35, once the home of the English Surrealist Edward James. In 1937, James commissioned the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte to paint several pictures for the house and Magritte was his guest in Wimpole Street during February and March of that year. Paul was later to buy a number of Magritte's works and now has a small collection; one of them, Le Jeu de Mourre, was the inspiration for the logo of Apple Records.
The family floor came next, and Margaret Asher's sitting room where everyone gathered. It was a small, crowded room containing an overstuffed settee, a large television and items of memorabilia, family photographs and souvenirs. There was no central heating and everyone sat around a little old Victorian fire grate; visitors perched on the arms of chairs and Jane often sat on Paul's lap as tea was passed around. Jane and Claire had their bedrooms on the third floor, with their names on their doors, still there from when they were children. Above Jane and Claire, at the very top of the house, were the attic rooms where Peter and Paul lived.
The house did not appear to have been decorated for some years. A crack ran up the stairwell and across it, at one turn of the stair, Dr Asher had pasted a small piece of paper. On it was written: 'When this paper tears, the house will fall down.' The fissure had probably been there since the wartime bombing. The stairwell was painted in a variety of colours; Dr Asher had acquired a job lot of paint some years before.
PAUL: So I moved in with the Ashers. No lift or anything, so I got pretty fit, walking those stairs. And they were a fascinating family. My family, my dad, my brother and me, after Mum had died, we were really a little suburban family, watching telly in the evenings, getting the bus everywhere, knowing ordinary Liverpool people, aspiring if anything to the local posh houses. Knowing that there was London and all that, but very wide-eyed about it, quite rightly, I think. It was definitely the big place compared to our little suburban life.
And yet there was an element of continuity in the medical connection. Mary, his mother, had also had a certain amount of medical equipment around the house for use in her work as a midwife.
Dr Asher had been the house physician at the London Hospital and was the assistant medical officer at West Middlesex Hospital. The title of one of his scholarly papers was 'The Physical Basis of Mental Illness', a subject that interested him greatly, and he had written a book called Nerves Explained. He could be very entertaining on the subject of his work and said that his method of dealing with violent mental patients was to run into the room and lie on the floor. 'No matter how mad you are, you don't hit an old man who's lying on the floor. Then, once I've got their attention, I can talk to them.' He once quoted a long piece of medical text which, he said, used only the left-hand keys of a typewriter.
Dr Asher loved to shock his family. Once, when Paul had a bad cold, Dr Asher wrote him a prescription for a nasal inhaler and showed him how to use it. 'You take off the top and place it on your little finger, like so.' He demonstrated. 'Then you take a sniff with each nostril as per normal; then, after you've finished with it, you can unscrew the bottom and eat the Benzedrine.' Peter shuffled his feet nervously and Paul grinned, not knowing how much he could confide in the good doctor. Paul: 'We learned about that stuff up in Liverpool but hearing it coming from him was quite strange.'
Margaret Asher often took pains to point out that her side of the family, the Eliots, was the more illustrious, appearing in Debrett's Peerage. Her father was the Hon. Edward Granville Eliot, brother of the seventh and eighth earls of St Germans, of Port Eliot, St Germans, in Cornwall, an ancient Cornish lineage with the red hair of the fighting Celt. Margaret Augusta Asher was a good deal taller than her husband; a strong, ambitious woman but also kind and generous. Her immense practicality was shown in many ways; for instance, she had invested money in shares in scaffolding because, as she said, 'People will always want to build things.'
Margaret was an oboist and had played in a number of orchestras before quitting to have a family. After that she taught the oboe at the Guildhall School of Music. One of her students there had been George Martin, who later became the Beatles' producer. Paul wrote 'Yesterday' during the period he was living at Wimpole Street and Margaret used it as a test piece for her students, which Paul found 'very gratifying'. She was in a constant state of activity: her pupils were often in the house for private tuition, yet she seemed to be constantly cooking or mending or making arrangements for her children.
Born on 22 June 1944, Peter was two years older than Jane. Peter took after his father in height but had his mother's red hair, which he brushed forward in a Beatle cut. Margaret's greying hair still had the auburn tint of its past glory. Dr Asher thoroughly approved of Peter's short-lived relationship with Millie Small, who had a hit in 1964 with 'My Boy Lollipop', because she was black and he thought that it would improve the gene pool in the family and get rid of the red hair.
When he was eight, Peter appeared in the film The Planter's Wife starring Claudette Colbert and Jack Hawkins and, the same year, in Harold French's Isn't Life Wonderful?. He did some stage acting and lots of radio acting, including BBC Radio's Jennings at School. He was a day boy at Westminster School, a public school attached to Westminster Abbey and built in the remains of the medieval abbey outbuildings. He found that school interfered with his film career but in any case, he was becoming more interested in music. He sang and took piano lessons, tried the double bass and asked his mother to teach him the oboe but 'I never played anything well.'
In his early teens he listened to bebop and folk music, particularly Woody Guthrie. During the skiffle craze he played guitar in a school skiffle group for a few dates, then his school friend Gordon Waller introduced him to Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. In 1962, inspired by the Everly Brothers, he and Gordon performed at school events, billing themselves as Gordon and Peter, imitating the Everlys' style of harmonies with Peter taking the high notes. They made the name change to Peter and Gordon early on when they began to do the rounds of Soho folk clubs and coffee bars.
PAUL: 'Gordon Waller was an Elvis maniac; he did a very good impression of Elvis. He was a lot of fun, he was slightly less academic than Peter. It was he who encouraged Peter to jump school. Lunchtime sessions were very popular then so they could do daytime gigs.' Peter and Gordon spent two years circulating tapes to record companies, trying to make a name for themselves, but to no avail - until Paul began going out with Jane. Then record companies suddenly became very interested indeed.
Peter met an A & R man at the Pickwick Club who was quickly convinced of their talent and signed them to EMI. Now that Peter had a record label, Paul gave him a song to launch his career. It was called 'World Without Love', something Paul wrote when he was sixteen at Forthlin Road though he changed the words a bit for Peter and Gordon. Paul: 'The funny first line always used to please John. "Please lock me away -" "Yes, okay." End of song. It was an early song of mine that we didn't use for the Beatles that I thought would be good for Peter and Gordon - and it was.' Paul had previously offered it to Billy J. Kramer, who rejected it. It was released in Britain on 28 February 1964 and reached number one in May, actually pushing the Beatles' 'Can't Buy Me Love' from the top of the charts. In America it reached number one in June. A double US/UK number-one record was not a bad way to start a career. It also showed that even a song that Paul did not regard as good enough for the Beatles could still be commercial.
It did, however, place Peter in a beholden situation with Paul at home. In normal circumstances, a provincial lad from Liverpool would not have a great deal in common with a Westminster public-school boy, but these were not normal times. Peter's interest in music was wide-ranging and genuine, and he was politically to the left, though he did place great store on the fact that he was a member of mensa, the society for people with high IQs. Peter was an immensely serious young man and they sometimes talked at cross-purposes when Paul made a terrible Liverpool pun or came out with a throwaway line. Paul was only two years older, but he had almost a year of living on the Reeperbahn behind him as well as the rough and tumble of gigging around the Mersey. Peter, on the other hand, was still at school and living at home. Following his mother's family motto, 'Praecedentibus Insta' (Press close upon those who take the lead), Peter was content to let Paul show him the way.
They got on well. Paul: 'So I got in with Peter and met Gordon. But Peter was part of a crowd and he knew a slightly different group of people from me. I could talk to him about anything. I was slightly older. I was the Beatle. We were both interested in music and I wrote their first hit song.' Paul, in fact, wrote their first three songs. After 'World Without Love' came 'Nobody I Know'. Paul: 'I wrote that, custom built for Peter and Gordon. That little bit of melody always irritated me. It wasn't a very big hit but it was okay.' It was released in May, followed in September by 'I Don't Want to See You Again', which was again written entirely by Paul, specifically for Peter and Gordon. Two years later, in order to test the theory that it was just the Lennon-McCartney tag that was making his compositions into automatic hits, Paul gave Peter and Gordon a song written under the pseudonym of Bernard Webb. 'Woman' was not the best thing Paul had ever written, but it still made the charts.
Peter had an L-shaped attic room overlooking Wimpole Street, done out in sixties modern style with lots of Norwegian pine-wood shelves which would quickly fill with gold records and various trophies and awards from his career with Peter and Gordon. Paul kept his pair of Brenell tape recorders just inside the room on a chest of drawers since there was no space for them in his own room, and there were also a few of Paul's instruments in there alongside Peter's guitars. Peter and Gordon were to tour America and Japan at the height of the British invasion which followed in the wake of the Beatles' success. Peter became in every respect a famous pop star, with groupies and girls jumping off balconies, a house in the country and a £50 a week allowance from his management, Noel Gay Artists. It was everything he could have wanted except for the tempering effect of having a member of the Most Famous Group on Earth living the next room.
Outside the front door were always a dozen or so Beatles fans, and they were not there for Peter. 'Oh, it's only Peter,' they would mutter as he got out of a cab. It was very galling for him. Peter and Gordon eventually split in 1967, not long after their last big hit, 'Lady Godiva'. Peter: 'We did a few tours and got fed up. We had management problems. Our manager never came on the road with us. We'd get to a place and the tour wasn't what it was supposed to be. Also, Gordon wanted to go out and be a star on his own.' Peter had always been interested in record production, he would always describe a record in terms of its mixing and editing, so when Peter and Gordon folded he had no trouble with moving sideways into production. He became both producer and manager of Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, recording a series of hugely successful albums with them and finding his true vocation.
Paul's room was next to Peter's, in the back of the house, next to the top bathroom. It was a small, square room with a single window overlooking Browning Mews, where horses and carriages were once kept. The view of rooftops and chimneys gave him a sense of living in an artist's garret. A large brown wardrobe and a single bed occupied most of the room. There was a wall shelf with some bric-a-brac in a jumble - a couple of Jean Cocteau Opium drawings, one in a cracked frame, a stack of first editions - while the space under the bed rapidly filled with a haphazard pile of gold records and trophies to which was added his MBE, awarded to the Beatles by the Queen at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 6 October 1965. There was little to show that the room belonged to anyone much richer than the servants it had been originally designed for, despite Paul's rapidly accumulating wealth. It was in 1965, during his time at Wimpole Street, that he received a letter from his accountant, Harry Pinsker telling him that he might like to know that he was now officially a millionaire.
The main object that caught the eye stood in the corner by the wardrobe: a battered instrument case with white stencilled letters BEATLES, containing his violin-shaped Hofner bass. His other instruments were kept in Peter's much larger room. Paul: 'I eventually got a piano of my own up in the top garret. Very artistic. That was the piano that I fell out of bed and got the chords to "Yesterday" on. I dreamed it when I was staying there. I wrote quite a lot of stuff up in that room actually. "I'm Looking Through You" I seem to remember after an argument with Jane. There were a few of those moments.'
Paul had no space in his room even for records, which were kept in a wire rack on a low wooden trunk on the landing outside his door; the latest American chart entries were sent over each month by Beatles USA Ltd, one of Brian Epstein's companies. Many of the singles Paul played were not even released in Britain. Next to the records was an old black telephone and at the top of the stairs was an electric bell, its wires trailing off down the stairwell in a very amateur way, undoubtedly Dr Asher's handiwork. This was to enable whoever answered the phone to signal to whoever the telephone call was for, the number of rings indicating whether a call was for Peter, Paul, Jane, Claire, Dr or Mrs Asher.
PAUL: The whole style of the family influenced me because of this social diary they kept. The idea that the whole day was planned was fascinating for me. They were the first people I knew that would literally have from seven in the morning till late at night in a diary, laid out. Jane's diary would be: morning, visit to the agent, lunch with someone about a part, opening a bazaar or something, doing an article for Radio Times. We'd get the day done, then there would be the theatre or something and a supper after that. You'd get home and you'd be up at eight the next morning. With Margaret it would be seven in the morning, so-and-so oboe tuition, so Margaret would go over to do that. I think Peter was actually still at school when I moved in, so until later I wouldn't know his diary so much. And Richard of course had his patients and his hospital work, and Claire had a similar diary situation. And it was very very tight too. It could be like nine o'clock so-and-so, five minutes past nine, telephone So-and-so. I've never known people who stuffed so much into a day. I suppose in my case, in the kids' case, it was a lot to do with youth. But the parents did it just as much. I was amazed by the diary. It did actually structure me a lot; I like structure, I liked that kind of thing. It makes things easier, you can think through the problem in hand and not be bothered by every other peripheral thing.
And by the time you got to like six o'clock, a meal and then the theatre! The evening, the real big thing, starts then. It seemed great to me. I was very young and energetic and eager to experience all these great thrills that London had to offer. Not in the spend, spend, spend, 'gimme your pills' kind of way but more in a reasonable way about 'let's see what's really good around here'. So, go see if the National Theatre's any good ... And by God they were! With the Jane connection, obviously I did see a lot of theatre and got into it and was interested in it, and still am.
Being a very bright family they could turn their hand to anything. You can still see them on telly: 'I know that face!' and it's a nine-year-old Peter Asher coming in. They got the parts. Margaret would know where the auditions were being held. They took The Stage, for instance, the paper. Even the youngest sister Claire Asher had a role in the daytime radio soap Mrs Dale's Diary. Looking back on it now I can see why it was fascinating, they were a very interesting family and had lots of points of connection with me. And obviously if you had stage ambitions, at that time to have a Beatle staying with you would not have hurt. Except for the kids outside. We used to have armies of people. Which I felt really embarrassed about, I said, 'God, look! Can't you realise? Look. Cool it! Go and wait round the recording studio. Go and wait where we work.' I was anxious to dissociate myself from that while I was in this atmosphere, which was more me. It was very good for me as well because in their eyes I wasn't just the Beatle. I often felt the other guys were sort of partying whereas I was learning a lot. Learning an awful lot.
In fact, Paul's relationship with the Ashers was ultimately more important than his relationship with Jane.
The fans were a terrible nuisance, defacing the street signs and blocking the road. Paul had more of a relationship with the fans than the other Beatles, partly because he lived in town, and partly because he took a genuine interest in them and got to know many of them by name. Jane also went out of her way to be nice to them, even when they were abusive or tried to kick her, which happened more than once. Some fans even managed to break off and steal one of the cast-iron knobs on the railings outside the front door. Always quick to rise to a challenge, Dr Asher put on his boiler suit and scoured the house for iron utensils and cutlery, which he then melted down. He took a cast of the surviving knob and cast a replica of the missing one. Unfortunately Margaret had been rather fond of some of the items he melted down and the incident caused some friction in the household.
When Paul was filming Help! in the spring of 1965, the fans gathered outside the front door in such a mob that Dr Asher devised an escape route out of the back of the building from Paul's attic room. After donning his boiler suit, he climbed out of the window and reconnoitred the route himself, tapping on the windows of the startled residents. When the occupants opened their windows to him, he explained, in his impeccable upper-class accent, that he had a chap staying with him who needed a discreet method of ingress and egress to his premises and would it be all right if he occasionally climbed across their roof? Amazingly they all agreed, and Paul was able to slip out and into Browning Mews behind Wimpole Street and away. Dr Asher enjoyed it all enormously.
PAUL: I used to go out of the window of my garret bedroom, on to a little parapet. You had to be pretty careful, it wasn't that wide, it was only like a foot or so wide, so you had to have something of a head for heights. You'd go along to the right, which was to the next house in Wimpole Street, number 56, and there was a colonel living there, an old ex-army gentleman. He had this little top-floor flat, and he was very charming, it was quite amazing going through. 'Uh! Coming through, Colonel!' 'Oh, oh, okay, hush-hush and all that!' and he'd see me into the lift and I'd go right downstairs to the basement of that house. There was a young couple living down there and they'd see me out through their kitchen and into the garage. I remember I bought them a fridge later on to thank them; I'd noticed they hadn't got a fridge during a conversation with them.
The couple lived above the old stable at 10 Browning Mews and Paul would leave through a street door set between the two garage doors on the cobbled mews. 'I'd do a left and then I'd be through the archway into New Cavendish Street. I'd have to watch that the fans hadn't noticed, they were just around the corner, then I'd just run down the road. It's quite funny to think now of some of the people I met doing that.' The Beatles' driver Alf Bicknell lived in a mews cottage in Devonshire Close, just two blocks from Wimpole Street, so Paul would sometimes be picked up by the Beatles' famous big black Austin Princess. Alf could often be found with Paul in the back kitchen, enjoying one of Mrs Asher's breakfasts before driving Paul somewhere.
Paul's London was Time magazine's Swinging London, a time before drugs and before hippies, a glittering late-night playground of first nights, doormen, red carpets and cocktail parties, Hollywood smiles and wisecracking working-class lads from up north or the East End being wined and dined and bedded by the daughters of aristocrats, while heard above all the gay laughter and the chatter was the high-pitched whine of the motor-driven camera, the soundtrack of the sixties.
Paul and Jane were a stylish couple - 'trendy' was the word then - and everyone wanted to know them. Fashionable London opened its doors to them; invitations to openings, first nights and dinner parties filled the Wimpole Street mailbox. They became icons, more real to people in smudgy news photographs than in the flesh, shocking to see in real life: Paul, taller than most rock stars, standing almost a head above Jane; the richness of Jane's red hair never apparent in the magazine photographs of the time, most of which were in monochrome. Even today, there is a Jane Asher fanzine, My Sweet Lady Jane, produced in San Diego and dedicated to preserving the image of Jane as the ethereal English rose of her days with Paul thirty years ago.
In the early sixties, Paul wore the type of modified mod clothes that were requisite wear for rock groups. On stage he appeared in suits bought from Dougie Millings, 'Tailor to the Stars', who also dressed Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele and Billy Fury from his shop at 63 Old Compton Street. It was Millings who made the famous Beatles collarless jackets, based on a steward's uniform, and the dark-blue and dark-grey lightweight wool and mohair stage suits worn on their 1964 American tour. He made a brief appearance as 'A Tailor' in A Hard Day's Night and also made the suits worn by the Madam Tussauds waxwork Beatles dummies which were featured on the sleeve of Sgt. Pepper.
Paul bought two or three shirts a week from Star Shirt Makers, a family of Hungarian tailors in Wardour Street, Soho, who made shirts to measure for five pounds. He would go upstairs to their workshop and choose the material and the shirts would be ready next time he visited.
He also bought shirts and ties from Turnbull and Asser on Gerrard Street and trousers and jackets from one of the John Stephens mod shops on Carnaby Street - Stephens had nine male boutiques there by 1966, each a little different. In the early sixties men's shirts had high Victorian collars worn with 'slim Jims': thin straight ties. Trousers were worn low on the hips, tight round the bottom with narrow straight legs. Cuban-heel boots, 'Beatle boots', from the ballet and theatrical suppliers Anello and Davide on Drury Lane completed the ensemble.
Like the rock 'n' roll bands, Britain's young fashion designers came pouring out of the art schools. Mary Quant met her husband Alexander Plunket Greene at Goldsmith's College of Art and together they started Bazaar on the King's Road, Chelsea, selling quirky women's clothes inspired by the short tight skirts and black stockings worn by their art-student and beatnik friends in Chelsea. Mary Quant became known as 'the mother of the miniskirt' as the hemline of her dresses rose higher and higher. In the early sixties she introduced her Ginger Group line of cheap fashion for young people: pleated dresses ending just above the knee with a variety of bright accessories. All the trendy young women in London flocked to the King's Road to buy. In Quant by Quant, published in 1966, she wrote: 'Women had been building to this for a long time, but before the pill there couldn't really be a true emancipation. It's very clear in the look, in the exuberance of the time - a rather child-like exhilaration: "Wow - look at me! - isn't it lovely? At last, at last!'"
Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale came straight from the Royal College of Art and opened their own business without the traditional apprenticeship to learn the trade. From their small showroom on Carnaby Street, with pin-ups of the Beatles on the wall and rock 'n' roll blaring from the speakers, they dressed Jean Shrimpton for Vogue and introduced trouser suits to Swinging London. In Joel Lobenthal's Radical Rags - Fashions of the Sixties, Sally Tuffin says, 'When we first cut pants, instead of a skirt, with the jacket, we actually fell about laughing.'
Barbara Hulanicki, another art-school graduate, opened Biba in 1964: dark, loud, very young, in a very grand theatrical setting of huge ornate mirrors, polished mahogany tables and Edwardian potted plants, huge bunches of peacock feathers and purple velvet drapes. Furs, beads, feather boas, scarves and jewellery were all jumbled up on the counters. Dresses hung from old wooden hat stands, and the communal changing room was just an area divided from the shop by an antique leather screen. It was like buying clothes from Sarah Bernhardt's boudoir. Biba was staffed by tiny, tough, very young London girls, living away from home, fiercely independent, who seemed to know all the customers by name. On a Saturday afternoon the shop was so full that girls had to push each other through the door.
The Beatles were continually on the road and in 1963 they played a ten-week series of summer residences at seaside resorts: Margate, Weston-super-Mare, the Channel Islands, Llandudno in North Wales, Bournemouth and Southport, as well as recording, filming, and appearing constantly on radio and television. However, in September of that year, Paul and Jane, Ringo and his then girlfriend Maureen, did manage to get away for a holiday to a country that had not yet succumbed to Beatlemania.
PAUL: I remember going with Jane, Ringo and Maureen on a holiday to Greece, and nobody knew who we were. And we were trying to sell ourselves the whole holiday, 'We are in popular singing group back in England,' and they were going, 'Uh, push off, gringo.' 'No, no, really, we are ...' The band at the hotel were actually quite good, they really had a little bit of acoustic stuff down and had obviously been playing there for years. In fact, in the song 'Girl' that John wrote, there's a Zorba-like thing at the end that I wrote which came from that holiday. I was very impressed with another culture's approach because it was slightly different from what we did. We just did it on acoustic guitars instead of bouzoukis.
We didn't get pestered at all, but then I remember coming back and hearing, 'Oh, your record's big in Greece now,' and thinking, Well, there goes another little safe haven, and realising we were knocking these little safe havens off one by one. I thought, Oh, shit, either we're all going to get terribly disappointed and it's not going to be what we wanted. Or get hip right now and start looking for things to offset it. I think I realised, before we even got there, that the Beatles would reach a point where there was no turning back, we couldn't be unfamous after it. I never wanted to become a prisoner of my own fame. That always seemed to me the ultimate tragedy.
Those two and a half weeks were probably the only time that Paul and Jane lived as an ordinary young couple on holiday with friends, untroubled by the huge pressure that fame was about to inflict upon them even though they could feel it coming. Paul described how the day before they left on holiday, the Beatles had played the Royal Albert Hall with the Rolling Stones. The two groups had gone to the top of the wide flight of steps behind the hall leading to Prince Consort Road for a photo session and Paul remembers standing there, posing with the others in bright sunshine, 'all in our smart new clothes with the rolled collars, and we looked at each other and we were thinking, This is it! London! The Albert Hall! We felt like gods! We felt like fucking gods!'
Though this was the only actual holiday that they were able to go on without being pestered by the press and fans, Paul and Jane could still get away at weekends.
PAUL: We got off quite often. Jane knew people in the country. This was another rather upper-class thing: going for the weekend to the country, and the people she knew were often very fascinating people. So we'd stay out in the Home Counties for the night. It was the first time I'd seen people leaving a book by your bedside for you to read. I was quite impressed by their choice of books. It was the assumption that you were reasonably intelligent that I liked. They didn't talk down.
Jane had an aunt in the country with a big posh house. We'd drive out there and stay. Or we would go to Scotland, where we'd meet the local vet and the next-door landowner and go and have whiskies late at night and regale each other with great Highland stories. They were all fascinated by the two of us because we came from such a different world from them and we were individually from different worlds.
I remember Jane had an old aunt in Great Smith Street in Westminster and that was intriguing because I'd never seen inside those tiny miniature houses before. She had one of the old freeholds and she had a maid who would appear when she rang the bell. She used to serve us tea on the old silver, and it was really English tea. It was like something you read about in a Hardy novel. That was it for me, it was stuff happening that I'd only ever read of in books. It was an overhang from Britain's genteel past. She was a very old lady and we used to visit her quite often. It was nice because I've never really had a problem with age. I always liked being the young person that the old people found interesting and you could talk to them and ask, 'How was it?' And you could tell 'em all the modern stories and they'd say, 'Oh, really?' It was always a good basis for an afternoon out. So we got around, we could go places, we could visit quite freely. But the big holidays got increasingly difficult.
One of the holidays we went on, again with Ringo and Maureen, was on a yacht in the Bahamas, the Happy Days. I remember writing 'Things We Said Today' in one of the cabins below deck one afternoon on my acoustic guitar. I got away from the main party but it was a bit queasy downstairs; you could smell the oil and the boat was rocking a bit and I'm not the best sailor in the world, so I wrote a little bit of it downstairs and then the rest of it on the back deck where you couldn't smell the engine. I don't know why the engine was on, I suppose we were moving.
Written in May 1964 entirely by Paul, the lyrics to this song, in which a boy affirms his love for his girl even though she is far away, reflect the situation in which Paul and Jane found themselves - each with careers that entailed frequent periods of separation. Rather than translate personal experience into a confessional as John Lennon often did, Paul usually preferred to introduce ambiguity, to distance himself and make the song into a universal experience that others could relate to more directly.
PAUL: I wrote 'Things We Said Today' on acoustic. It was a slightly nostalgic thing already, a future nostalgia: we'll remember the things we said today, some time in the future, so the song projects itself into the future and then is nostalgic about the moment we're living in now, which is quite a good trick. It has interesting chords. It goes C, F, which is all normal, then the normal thing might be to go to F minor, but to go to the Â flat was quite good. It was a sophisticated little tune.
Then someone like the Daily Express got word that we were there so we had the buzzing little boats around. The reporters would say, 'My editor says I've got to stay here till you give us a picture!' So we always had to pose for a picture, smiling hello but thinking, Piss off!
Jane was probably the inspiration for a number of Paul's love songs, one of the most famous being 'And I Love Her', written at Wimpole Street not long after Paul moved in and recorded in February 1964 for the film A Hard Day's Night.
PAUL: It was the first ballad I impressed myself with. It's got nice chords in it, 'Bright are the stars that shine, dark is the sky ...'I like the imagery of the stars and the sky. It was a love song really. The 'And' in the title was an important thing, 'And I Love Her', it came right out of left field, you were right up to speed the minute you heard it. The title comes in the second verse and it doesn't repeat. You would often go to town on the title, but this was almost an aside, 'Oh ... and I love you.' It still holds up and George played really good guitar on it. It worked very well. I'm not sure if John worked on that at all.
John has claimed that the middle eight was his but Paul disputes this:
The middle eight is mine. I would say that John probably helped with the middle eight, but he can't say 'It's mine'. I wrote this on my own. I can actually see Margaret Asher's upstairs drawing room. I remember playing it there, not writing it necessarily.
Despite her forays into the pop business, Jane saw herself primarily as an actress. Most of her friends were in the theatre and she regarded the pop business as rather frivolous in comparison. She was a hardworking actress, prepared to apply herself to most jobs she was offered. In one week in June 1964 she appeared both in ITV's Play of the Week, a serious look at the class problem in modern Britain called A Spanner in the Grassroots, and on ITV's panel show The Celebrity Game. Only the month before, her film The Masque of the Red Death had opened in London. It was all work: television, films, pop journalism or the legitimate theatre. They went to all the new plays, and Jane introduced him to her friends. The two of them quickly became a fixture of London's theatreland.
PAUL: It was a very exciting period in the theatre. I used to love to go to the National, just to see such class! I figured this must be the best anyone could see anywhere in the world. I remember seeing Colin Blakely in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock and thinking, This guy is just damn great! It was good fun because it was meeting professional people who were doing something exciting. Jane and I as a couple would start to be invited to things and it was a reciprocal thing. We'd go to dinner with other actors that Jane knew. They'd invite us, we would invite them back. A lot of socialising went on at that time. You'd build up your phone book.
I remember staying up late one night with Maggie Smith and her husband Robert Stephens, the actor. He wrote to me later to see where I got that flying jacket off the McCartney cover because he wanted one. So, sitting up late with them, after having dinner. It was great! Great conversation because it wouldn't be just about rock 'n' roll. I didn't think of it as social climbing, I just thought, Boy, these are real interesting people. You get dinner, so you get to see them in their own environment. It's wonderful! So I met many many diverse people.
We went to a party with Harold Pinter, when he was married to Vivien Merchant. It was great sitting around at parties discussing stuff with Harold Pinter with a few drinks inside you. I loved it. We would see Kenneth Williams and Jill Bennett. We used to see quite a lot of Arnold Wesker. You'd meet people like John Mortimer, and Penelope Mortimer when they were married. I remember one or two of Kenneth Tynan's parties; what would now look like very interesting rooms with let's say a Beatle, a playwright, a novelist, an actress, an opera singer, a ballet dancer all just cross-fertilising. It was this that made London Swinging London, made London a great place to be.
The theatrical community was delighted by Paul's involvement and he soon received offers to participate more directly.
PAUL: At school from age eleven they said, 'There are opportunities if you're smart enough.' Then London said, 'You're smart enough, here are the opportunities,' and you're getting money and open doors to all these people. I remember going down to the Mermaid Theatre to talk to Sir Bernard Miles, who said, 'Anything you want to do, anything you want to put on, whether it's a musical thing or whatever ...' They all wanted to attract the young people, a young thinking audience. Like the classical world now thinks I'll attract a young audience with the Oratorio.
In September 1966 Paul was even asked by Kenneth Tynan to write music for the songs in the National Theatre production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, starring Sir Laurence Olivier. Paul wrote back thanking him, saying he had given the matter some thought but he couldn't write music to Shakespeare's words; perhaps he could write the 'Ballad of Larry O' for them.
Paul's involvement was not just with theatrical London. Through A Hard Day's Night producer Walter Shenson they met the American writer Larry Geldoff, who later wrote MA.S.H., as well as the horror-film actor Vincent Price, the actress Coral Browne and many of the American film people who passed through London. Jane had been in movies all her life and already knew numerous producers and directors. Paul visited John Schlesinger, who made Midnight Cowboy and Sunday, Bloody Sunday, both classic sixties movies. He met the British director John Dexter and the producer Ned Sherrin, who later made The Virgin Soldiers together.
Life then was the fantasy of Swinging London at its best: intimate candle-lit dinners in the little French bistros that were just opening in Soho and Chelsea, followed by drinks at one of the new 'in' clubs: the Ad Lib, the Scotch of St James, Dolly's on Jermyn Street or Sibylla's on Swallow Street, which was 10 per cent owned by George Harrison. For glamour and showbiz he could dress up for a society party and see his picture afterwards in the gossip columns of the glossy magazines. He could go anywhere, do anything he wanted. Paul could not get enough of it. He systematically explored the city's night life, taking in the fashionable hotel bars, the cabaret clubs, the late-night gambling salons and the international nightclubs, sometimes with Jane but often alone.
Paul took advantage of his unique situation by calling up people he had always wanted to meet. One of these was the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
PAUL: Somehow I got his number and called him up. I figured him as a good speaker, I'd seen him on television, I'd read various bits and pieces and was very impressed by his dignity and the clarity of his thinking, so when I got a chance I went down and met him. Bertrand Russell lived in Chelsea in one of those little terrace houses, I think it was Flood Street. He had the archetypal American assistant who seemed always to be at everyone's door that you wanted to meet.
Bertrand Russell was then ninety-two years old but was still very active in the peace movement. Four years earlier he had been jailed for two months for inciting the public to civil disobedience at a peace rally in Hyde Park and he now devoted most of his energies to running the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and campaigning against the war in Vietnam. His young assistant, Ralph Schoenman, made Paul comfortable until Lord Russell was ready to see him.
PAUL: I sat round waiting, then went in and had a great little talk with him. Nothing earth-shattering. He just clued me in to the fact that Vietnam was a very bad war, it was an imperialist war and American vested interests were really all it was all about. It was a bad war and we should be against it. That was all I needed. It was pretty good from the mouth of the great philosopher. 'Slip it to me, Bert.'
I reported back to John, 'I met this Bertrand Russell guy, John,' and I did all the big rap about the Vietnam and stuff, and John really came in on it all. And he then did How I Won the War.
It was rare for someone not to respond to a telephone call from a Beatle. Paul: 'So I'd be ringing people like Len Deighton, having dinner with him. He's a good cook so that was very pleasant.' He was interested to see how everyone lived, not just the rich and famous. The architects John and Marina Adams, who refurbished Paul's London home, were one couple he would visit. Paul: 'It was a pleasure to go round to see people like John and Marina who were young professionals just setting up house. Otherwise it was Dick James and big apartments or Brian Epstein's big house, which was all a bit swish. I'm not sure if the other Beatles used to do it but I got into it.'
Their great fame gave the Beatles access to many of the most famous figures of the time: they were introduced to the royal family and the prime ministers of the day; they met the winning English World Cup football team, Elvis Presley, Cassius Clay and Jayne Mansfield, though John got worried when she put her hand on his thigh. Later they would use their celebrity to meet film-makers, artists and poets but in the early days of their fame, most of the meetings were not requested but arranged, and sometimes not wanted at all.
In one instance the Beatles were staying in the Aldrovandi Palace, a large luxury hotel in Rome overlooking the zoo. Brian Epstein found out that Noel Coward was also staying there.
PAUL: Brian came and said, 'Noel Coward would like to meet you boys.' We all said, 'Oh, fucking hell, no! No, no, no. I'm going to bed.' Nobody was really keen, we were better just casually interacting with people. Once you actually had to meet them, it became a bit official and our black humour would kick in and we'd try and counteract the fact that four of us were going to have to line up to meet the great man, so piss-takes would come fairly readily. No one was going to go, and Brian said, 'You can't, you just can't!' So I went down and met him. But then he said some not too pleasant things about us after that, so fuck him anyway.
But you don't have an awful lot in common with these people. You would just meet them because they were great people. Sir Malcolm Sergeant would look in at Abbey Road, with his pinstripe suit and his red carnation, or his rose or whatever it was he always wore. George Martin would say, 'Chaps, Sir Malcolm would like to say hello.' 'Hello, boys.' 'Hey, wow, Sir Malcolm. Great, well, fabulous seeing you!' I remember meeting Sir Tyrone Guthrie on the front steps of EMI. To me it seems like he was in a huge astrakhan coat but it might just be my memory playing tricks, a big hat, indeed the Great Man of the Just William books. And this is what I call the cusp, they were all there. There was a rubbing-up that occurred, and we weren't snobs. They were on the way out, we were on the way in.
Sometimes being a Beatle gave them the edge even over other celebrities. Their favourite restaurant was Parkes on Beauchamp Place. It was very small and very expensive and no matter who you were a table had to be booked weeks in advance because there were only four or five tables. The Beatles, however, knew Tom Benson who ran it and to them it was an outpost of working-class Liverpool where they could always be assured of getting the best table, the one next to the kitchen, whenever they turned up, unannounced.
PAUL: Tom was a very sweet, quiet-spoken Liverpool guy. His mum had a flower stall outside the Liverpool News Theatre which showed cartoons and news all day while you were waiting for a train. He said, 'You know the old lady who sells flowers outside the News Theatre?' 'Yeah?' 'It's me mum!' 'Oh, well, blow me down!' So of course then the flowers on every plate was all explained.
These same flowers made their way into a Beatles song. Tom would bend the petals back on tulips to create a strange organic sculpture for each plate, the stamen and inside colouring of the petals making an almost unrecognisable object. John referred to them in 'Glass Onion': 'Looking through the bent back tulips, to see how the other half live.' The other half being the wealthy Chelsea crowd who patronised the restaurant, as well as, presumably, the parts of a tulip not normally seen. The food at Parkes was excellent and very sixties: there were exciting ways to use an avocado, then virtually unknown in Britain, game with cherries and chicken with grapes. Tom Benson kept cans of bamboo shoots, exotic food in those days, in order to create a vegetarian meal if George Harrison and Patti showed up unannounced. His restaurant was another example of the social fluidity of the sixties which allowed young working-class people to get to the top in previously closed professions.
One of the problems of Paul's fame was that shopping or eating out was made difficult by the continual pestering of autograph seekers and press photographers. The only escape was to shop at the costly boutiques of Mayfair and Knightsbridge where discretion was guaranteed and to eat in the same fashionable and expensive restaurants as other celebrities. Jane was always distressed by what she saw as a waste of money. Once, to Paul's embarrassment, Jane examined the bill at Chi Chi's nightclub and demanded to know how two rounds of drinks for four people could possibly amount to an average week's wages.
The advantages of fame outweighed any inconveniences it might have given. It gave the Beatles the keys to the city. All doors were open to them. In the rock 'n' roll hierarchy they were the top; utterly unassailable. The public adored them; not just the fans but the mums and dads as well. Politicians vied with each other to meet them and the press dutifully reported their every move. It also gave them immunity. As long as the police liked them, they could do anything they wanted. Donovan remembers one occasion in 1966 when Paul dropped by at his flat in Maida Vale. They smoked a few joints, jammed on a few songs together; then the doorbell rang. Donovan wrote:
I went to see who it was. It was a young bobby asking about a car illegally parked in the Edgware Road. Paul came to the door and the copper stood to attention.
'Oh, it's you, Mr McCartney. Is it your car? A sportscar, sir?' Sir, mind you. 'Shall I park it for you?'
Paul gave him the keys to the Aston Martin and the car was parked. The bobby came back with the keys and left with a grin. Now you can see that the Beatles were treated like royalty then, they could do no wrong, yet.
PAUL: 'George Harrison was saying there appeared to be nothing else but the Beatles for a couple of years, certainly not in our lives but, he said, even in other people's lives it seemed like there was just nothing else. Everything was to do with the Beatles, the Beatles, the Beatles. There was no other frame of reference.'
In the early sixties, when Paul first began his in-depth studies of London's nightlife, it still consisted mostly of gambling and cabaret clubs. There were no all-night restaurants, except the one at London airport, and that became so crowded with non-flyers, many in party clothes, that they brought in a new rule requiring at least one in the party to have a boarding pass. Until the so-called Beat Boom got fully under way, there were none of the 'in' clubs for rock musicians that were to open later in the decade. In order to get a meal after a late-night recording session or a gig, there was nowhere to go except a nightclub.
PAUL: I used to go to nightclubs a lot. You know, London, hey! We'd get back from a thing quite late, and my day hadn't ended. I'd have a bit of dough, access to London's nitery. Young guy on my own, what do you want me to do, go to bed? I couldn't go to a play, because they'd all finished by 10.30. Really the only entertainment by then would be a cabaret, a late-night thing.
London's clubland was in Mayfair, around Berkeley Square: Annabel's, the Astor and the Colony were on the square itself, the Blue Angel and the Beachcomber were just off it on Berkeley Street and there were a dozen more within a few blocks. Paul would look at the ads in What's On and try them out: Bertie Green's Astor Club where you could dine and dance till 4.00 a.m; the Blue Angel at 14 Berkeley Street. 'Montmartre In Mayfair, where you can shuffle or listen to the Don-Claude Quartet'; the Beachcomber Hawaiian bar at the Mayfair Hotel ('exotic food, swinging music') or L'Hirondelle on Swallow Street with Phil Phillips, 'the continental comedian and the gorgeous L'Hirondelle Lovelies, the dance team all London are [sic] raving about'. The cabaret usually started at 1.00 a.m, there was always a comedian - David Frost was doing his stand-up comedy act at Quaglino's - a singer or two and sometimes several resident combos: 'Dancing to Jack Dorsey's Broadcasting Band'. There were show girls but no strip-tease.
PAUL: If it was lousy I'd just order a drink and go, and if it was good, I'd maybe order a meal and watch the cabaret. I was very well versed in all of that way of life. I really became a man about London. Every detective story or James Bond novel had all these clubs like the Blue Angel so it was fun for me.
I remember the first of the places I found in What's On was the Saddle Room on Hamilton Place, which was owned by a French lady, Helene Cordet, who had been a TV star, and it was rumoured she had some sort of connection with the Duke of Edinburgh, which was why she'd been set up with the club. But the real point was late-night eating. The restaurants tended to wrap it up around eleven, but there were certain ones started to open later, like Borscht 'n' Tears. There'd often be an acoustic act and it was nearly always pretty good.
One of the biggest dinner clubs was the Talk of the Town, famous for its spectacular shows.
PAUL: I'd go to Talk of the Town a lot. Part of the thrill for me at the time was the reverential treatment. I would always ring and do it properly but when I arrived I was known by all the maitre d's so I could just swan into a place, which I defy anyone to turn down. You'd see dreadful people there but I've got a kind of side of me that's fascinated by dreadful acts, I like to see that kind of thing. I was collecting information, peep peep peep, antenna out.
I saw Sophie Tucker, 'A legend', at Talk of the Town. I remember exchanging jokey notes with David Frost because she did this big appeal, 'And I wonder if you'd like to donate to the Sophie Tucker Home for the Injured' or something, so I was sending notes to David Frost, 'I wonder if you'd like to contribute to the Paul McCartney Forest Fund for Young Trees.' To the waiter, 'Could you give this to Mr Frost?' I had a lot of fun with that kind of thing, growing up in London. And I had a bit of money. That was the big thing, of course. I could get in these clubs with my fame. I could afford them and I could give good tips, what more d'you want, man?
My thing with clubs became later and later and later. Often, after a few drinks, I'd be seriously looking for somewhere to party at four in the morning. By then they would tend to be gambling clubs. There would be the Cromwellian in Kensington which had gambling that went on when the rest of the club was closed. You could go to the casino and do in another hour.
I used to go to the Curzon House, near the Playboy Club, near the Hilton. I'd get thirty pounds in five-shilling chips. It was all very cheap and I'd do lots of roulette and mainly lose. Lots of high speculation, it was so good if I ever got a thirty-six to one. And the idea anyway was to lose this money. The way I figured it was if I'd gone to a theatre and dinner, it would have been about thirty quid, so I thought this is going to be the equivalent. It was just fun.
The Curzon House at 21 Curzon Street was Brian Epstein's favourite club and Paul would sometimes run into him there. Brian would lose thousands at baccarat or chemin de fer. He liked to make an evening of it, eating a superb meal and drinking fine wine, knowing that the club would pick up the tab because he lost so much at the tables.
PAUL: Brian would be, 'Ugghhh, the pills!' The jaw would be grinding away. I remember Brian putting his Dunhill lighter on a bet - 'That's a hundred pounds' - and he'd lose it all. But he didn't mind, some people just like that bumpy ride.
The Ad Lib
The best fun was if I had to be somewhere and it wasn't that late and I had to get rid of the chips. I remember one evening I didn't want to just change them, so I put them on 36-1, and I kept winning! When you wanted to get away, suddenly your luck changed. 'Oh, oh, oh, good!' That evening I went out with more than I came in with, but generally not. I like characters, I like looking, I like a bit of voyeurism. I would always imagine I was a writer. I would get ideas for songs, ideas for characters, little things, essences of things. I'm a great observer, and a gambling club has a great ambience. I used to really like it. It's like a big game but it's serious. Nobody's laughing. I used to wander round the tables, occasionally throw a five-bob chip on blackjack. It was really a social thing. The kind of people I'd meet there would be Roger Moore looking like James Bond, or Michael Caine, that slightly older film-star kind of guy.
You're talking about some kid from an estate in Liverpool, who'd barely been into the city centre, who then had been thrust into Hamburg, not the city centre but the strip-club district, who now was able to wander freely around London. It just seemed fabulous. You had your own packet of cigarettes. You were growing up and there were all these exciting things happening. Obviously, for me, the great thing was I had an entree to places like the Curzon House gambling club where even Lord So-and-so had to get nominated and seconded! But it was always, 'Hello, Paul! How are you? Go right in, mate. That'll be all right. Let 'im in.' And you always, 'Oh, thank you. Thanks very much.' Wink wink.
And I could reciprocate occasionally. I remember at the premiere of Hard Day's Night, there was this boxer called Bruce Wells; lightweight, British, quite good. My dad and I liked boxing in Liverpool. We knew all the boxers, we watched a lot of it on telly. We'd arrived in our giant Austin Princess, nudging our way through millions of people in Piccadilly Circus, around Eros and hanging off all the buildings, to the London Pavilion. So we pushed through to the entrance awning, where the crowds of people were held back by ropes, and this guy just pushed out of the crowd and said, 'All right, Paul, all right, Paul,' acting like a bodyguard, and I thought, Who the hell are you? He said, 'All right, Paul, Bruce Wells,' he said, 'I'm with you, right? I'll just stick behind you.' And I caught on very quickly to what he was doing and I said, 'Okay then, go on, just get ...' And he said, 'Make way, please,' and he looked absolutely the part with the dinner suit, and I got him in. And I very nearly got him in the royal line-up! Princess Margaret, I think it was. Because he just stuck with me, and he looked the part.
It was not long before the club owners realised the potential of providing a club aimed specifically at the rock 'n' roll crowd. The Ad Lib was the first to play good music, stay open late and tolerate the antics that the groups got up to. It was located above the Prince Charles Theatre at 7 Leicester Place, a pedestrian walkway leading off Leicester Square in Soho, and was reached by a lift. The manager, Brian Morris, used to work at Les Ambassadeurs and knew how to tailor the glamour and elegance of the fifties Mayfair nightclubs to suit the emerging pop aristocracy. He dressed the disc jockey in a dinner jacket and all drinks were served in miniature bottles. The DJ played solid R & Â - Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Bobby 'Blue' Bland and Aretha Franklin - from a pair of turntables housed in a piano case. The same music played in the lift to get you in the mood on the way up.
Once the Beatles had been sighted there, it quickly became home to the Moody Blues, the Hollies and the Rolling Stones as well as the young in-crowd of photographers, boutique owners, dress designers, actors and playwrights, rock 'n' roll managers, hairdressers and fledgling musicians who were busy creating Swinging London.
PAUL: The Ad Lib was the first. We started to get a bit of money and a bit of time, and that was the nightclub where the good music played, mainly Black American. They had a black chef who used to come out about 11.30 and bang a tambourine and everyone would cheer and dance the conga. It was a shouty, lively scene. Lots of silly things happened there. They'd often have to chuck you out of those places. I remember arm wrestling with Allan Clarke of the Hollies and he'd been beating everyone. And to my surprise I beat him. I'm really not at all sporty, but I think I vibed him a lot. 'You know, I'm a Beatle after all.'
It was a social scene. You'd sit there and the evening would just build. There was a lot of loud music if conversation got boring. But it was fun, it was the pub, that's really what it was.
Among the regulars at the Ad Lib was the famous sex-change April Ashley.
PAUL: She used to ask me, did I want to go and feed the ducks? She was very nice, she was definitely a sort of woman, but we all knew from the newspapers that she was a man. I'd sit and talk to her, and I guess people could tell that it wasn't worth pulling me. I think you've got to give off scents, and respond correctly to certain things, whereas with me it was just flirting. She used to flirt and I'd be flirted with, quite happily. But when it got to 'Do you want to come and feed the ducks in St James's Park?' I'd say, 'No, I'll give that a miss.'
The main thing was, it was just a great club: great dance, pull birds, chat with unusual people. Then it dwindled, as these things did; their stars rose and waned. Suddenly there's another club that's better, like a watering hole, one has more water, one is drying up. The Lib fell out of favour a bit and the next one was the Scotch of St James. But of course, it was all a family. I used to go to each one and see who was there. Most people had their own favourites, but you would just check out each club and if there wasn't much happening you'd just go on to the other one, like a pub crawl.
I used to also do a few bars. Late night would find me at Trader Vic's or Quaglino's, often, with nobody I knew, hanging, chatting to the barman, never smashed and falling over, always able to get home. I was very controlled about it.
Certainly I've had evenings when I've been out to a club and not been legless but when I've got back I've suddenly realised, Oh, I've had three too many. And now they are beginning to kick in. You're as drunk as three back, and that was more than enough. People would buy you drinks. 'The gentleman over there sent you a drink.' 'Thank you.' So you'd be at one of those speakeasies and another tray would arrive. 'Oh. Really, who is this from?' 'The gentleman over there.' 'Oh, thanks.'
The clubs in those days were very much for drinking; slipping away to the toilets for a line of cocaine was completely unheard of in the mid-sixties. John Dunbar remembers going to the Ad Lib one night with Paul and meeting up with John Lennon: 'I remember John being very shocked when I lit some hash in a little hash pipe I had -"What are you doing, man?" He was very paranoid.' In fact the exclusivity of the club meant they were perfectly safe from the police, but drugs were almost completely unknown in London at the time and tremendous precautions were normally taken before using them. To whip out a hash pipe in a crowded club seemed the height of folly.
Because they were the first band to really make it big, there was no ready-made rock community for the Beatles to hang out with when they first came to London. The majority of people at the Ad Lib were not in the music business. It was a crossover period and the Beatles found themselves mixing with both the variety stars of the past and the up-and-coming new bands of the future.
PAUL: We'd sometimes get booked on variety bills. I remember a comedian called Derek Roy once introduced us, a poppy-eye English comedian who was now fallen on hard times, and the only way I knew of him was from a comic called Radio Fun, when I'd been a little kid. It had a red and white cover and was black and white inside and in it were people like Frank Randle. I had no idea who Frank Randle was but he was in Radio Fun. He'd been a star on the radio, he was a famous northern comedian, all stuff that my parents knew about. The radio was equivalent to the big movie stars now so all the people off the radio were in these comics. Now what they would do for a gig would be to introduce us. Well, they'd do anything! They'd MC, tell a few gags, but they used to have a terrible time because the audience only wanted to see us. They did not want to listen to the ramblings of some demented old comedian. But we also had people like Dave Allen, who was just starting off. He was very good. Dave could handle it, he was irreverent, knew how to do this kind of stuff.
So we had associations with these people. For instance, there might be dancers on the bill. Now you get that with Janet Jackson and Madonna, but that's hardly the same kind of thing. Then it was just hoofers. Someone would come on and kick their legs up for a bit. So it was on the cusp of showbiz. We were still in showbiz. It wasn't rock - as it's now offensively named. It wasn't that, it wasn't an industry, it was very small time and we were playing cabarets. It was crossover with the old-time showbiz and one of the people who we'd met doing it was Alma Cogan.
Alma, 'the girl with the giggle in her voice', was famous throughout the fifties and early sixties as much for her huge glittery dresses - she would make as many as eleven dress changes in one show - as for her bouncy novelty records like 'I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango'. She had more hits than any other female singer in Britain, though mostly in the early fifties. She was always on television variety shows with her black bouffant hairdo, eyebrows arched high in a moment of frozen surprise, her mouth wide open in a Hollywood smile and yet another new wardrobe to show the viewers. She was a huge star.
The Beatles first met her when they appeared together on Sunday Night at the London Palladium on 12 January 1964. They met her in rehearsals and became instant friends, recognising that they shared a similar sense of humour. In Sandra Caron's charming portrait of her sister, Alma Cogan: A Memoir, she tells how Alma asked the Beatles back to the family flat at 44 Stafford Court, in Kensington High Street, after the show. Despite her years of fame - she cut her first record in 1952 - at thirty-one Alma still lived at home with her mother and sister. The Beatles were smuggled out of the side door of the Palladium to avoid being mobbed by screaming fans and had left the building before the final curtain even came down, so they arrived at the first-floor flat long before Alma. Alma had not telephoned to say they were coming and Sandra unexpectedly found herself playing hostess to the Fab Four. Fortunately she already knew Paul, who had introduced himself to her in 1962 when Sandra was performing in a satirical revue at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in Greek Street, Soho.
There could be no better representative of the old-fashioned Denmark Street Jewish showbiz side of the London entertainment industry than Alma Cogan, who even had a hit in Iceland with 'Never Do a Tango with an Eskimo', but this unconventional friendship made sense. Alma and her warm and generous family had much in common with the Beatles' old neighbours and friends in Liverpool, like Rory Storm's mother's house where groups could drop by any time for a cup of tea and a chat. Sandra Caron wrote: 'They needed to relax and get away from crowds. Our flat gave them refuge for many months to come, with Mum - Mrs Macogie, as they called her - making pots of tea and sandwiches, and playing charades.'
It is debatable just how much of a refuge the famous Cogan flat was since it was an open house for a very theatrical side of the showbiz crowd: Danny Kaye, Ethel Merman, Sammy Davis Junior, Cary Grant and Michael Caine were all regulars when they were in town, as were English pop singers of the fifties like Frankie Vaughan, who had many chart hits, including 'Green Door' in 1956, and Tommy Steele, whose 'Singing the Blues' established him as Britain's first rock 'n' roll singer in January 1957. Still, all the Beatles used to visit but, Sandra wrote, 'at first we saw rather more of Paul, who would drop into the flat at all hours. One time, with his niece in tow, a lovely little girl, he brought the three of us a gift. It was the biggest bottle of Hermes perfume I've ever seen. It looked like a gallon.'
PAUL: We'd known Alma as the big singing star. We never interacted musically, she was a little too old for our generation, not much probably, but it seemed like an eternity, so I never took her seriously musically. She was old-school showbiz. She invited us round to her mum's place in Kensington, she and her sister lived with her mum, and her mum was an old Jewish lady. They were very nice, Alma and her sister Sandra. There was a slight romance thing there with Sandra. Sandra was a little younger than Alma. It never sort of took off or anything but I sensed the mum saying when I went to visit, 'That's a nice boy, darling, you could ... you know?' Looking back on it now, there was a sense of that. And there were parties and, after all, young people, it was par for the course.
The parties were held in the lounge, a large room filled with Italian leather furniture. Red lampshades cast a rosy hue over the proceedings, wine came in red glasses and the napkins were pink. The only books to be seen were an unopened set of Encyclopaedia Britannica but there were hundreds of long-playing records neatly arranged on shelves. Bottles of spirits filled a large silver tray; flamenco-dancer dolls, glass vases and ornaments filled the surfaces. The walls were lined with framed photographs of Alma, put there by her proud mother alongside a rather kitsch portrait of Alma by Fred Wood.
PAUL: I saw a documentary about John Betjeman, who said that when he got out of college there was a country house to which he was invited. And he said, 'There I learned to be a guest,' and that's what was happening to us at Alma's flat. There we learned to play charades, and we started to do it at our own parties. It was just a little learning curve.
Alma's closest circle included the Welsh actor Stanley Baker, whose recent film Zulu (1964) had received critical acclaim. Another was Bruce Forsyth, a tall, bouncy, lantern-jawed television comedian and quiz-show host, famous for his appalling catch-phrases.
PAUL: We'd never seen anything like this but we liked a laff so we played charades with Stanley Baker and with Bruce Forsyth; he was always at those things, Bruce was absolutely great ... They were all a little older than us, probably ten, twelve years older than us, but they were great fun, very confident showbiz people who welcomed us into their circle.
It was exciting for us, we would hear all the showbizzy gossip and meet people that we hadn't met before: Lionel Bart would sometimes be there, Tommy Steele, Lionel Blair would nearly always be there. Again we were on this sort of cusp; for instance, if the Beatles did something like Mike and Bernie Winters' Big Night Out at Blackpool, Lionel Blair would be the choreographer, he was always the choreographer on those things.
Much as Alma liked the Beatles, her closest friendship was with their manager. Brian was nearer to her in age: she was born in 1932, he was born in 1934; they were both Jewish and they shared a deep attraction for the glittery world of old-fashioned show business. Despite Brian's homosexuality there were those who thought they were destined to marry because they seemed so attached. He always brought her presents from his foreign trips and even took her to Liverpool to meet his parents. Later, John Lennon and Alma became very good friends; he called her Sara Sequin, and they continued to see each other even after Alma began going out with Brian Morris, the manager of the Ad Lib Club.
At the time Alma's circle of friends were so generously welcoming these new members of their profession, they could not have known how profound the changes being ushered in by the Beatles were going to be. The careers of an entire generation of performers were terminated by the rise of the beat groups. The old Tin Pan Alley showbiz schmaltz of Denmark Street music publishers and bookers was replaced with a new breed of independent managers and rock 'n' roll wheeler-dealers who had no respect for the old ways. The choreographers, stage designers, hairdressers and make-up artists, the house combos, comedians and comperes who created big variety shows, were all swept away by the revolution started by the Beatles; none of them was needed at a rock 'n' roll concert.
(Only years later, with the advent of the giant touring bands, did some of the traditional jobs reappear. A stadium show requires elaborate lighting, stage costumes, sets, programme sellers and security; an enormous staff of roadies, accountants and assistants accompanies a rock 'n' roll tour, often numbering more than a hundred people in a fleet of trucks and tour buses.)
When the Beatles themselves were first touring, some of the old guard still had a role to play because the transition from show business was not yet complete: they still wore Dougie Millings stage clothes and had comedians and hoofers on the bill. But when the next wave of bands came along, spearheaded by the Rolling Stones, it did not take promoters long to realise that the audience at a rock 'n' roll concert was only interested in seeing rock 'n' roll, and the bands themselves soon dispensed with the wardrobe mistresses, make-up women and hairdressers. Rock 'n' roll was moving on; out from being just another branch of showbiz along with conjurers, clowns and dog acts, into a distinct industry all of its own; one which would earn first millions, then billions of dollars. But though the Beatles are often credited for starting the whole rock 'n' roll juggernaut, this was never John and Paul's intention.
PAUL: One of the things that it's hard for people to realise is that we were on the cusp of the change-over between showbiz styles. The thing we were doing, rock 'n' roll, was to become an industry. Probably because of us. The Beat Boom. We opened it all up in America and once America gets hold of a thing, it's a thing! We weren't looking to build a huge industry, which is what happened, there was none of that. It was just being in show business, that's how we looked at it. We thought, this is what it's like now so we'd better get ready for it, it'll probably be like this then. But of course it all changed and we were the ones that changed it.
The Ad Lib burned down in 1965, but already people were defecting to the Scotch of St James. The Scotch was on two floors at 13 Mason's Yard, an old stable yard hidden off Duke Street, St James's in the heart of Burlington Bertie clubland. Members were auditioned through a sliding panel in the thick wooden door before being granted admission. The doorman must have taken notes when he read the weekly music press because every rising pop star was welcomed by name and ushered in. The club was decorated with panels of Scots tartan but was so dark that the decor was unimportant. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, the latest releases from Stax, Motown and Atlantic were played at a volume where even shouting could barely be heard, by a DJ set up in a nineteenth-century coach next to a pocket-handkerchief dance floor. There was also a stage with live music.
The owner, Louis Brown, hired Joe Van Dykes as manager, and he made it into more of a rock 'n' roll place than the Ad Lib. Anyone on that week's edition of Top of the Pops was likely to be found there: the Rolling Stones, the Spencer Davis Group, or visiting Americans like Sonny and Cher as well as lots of miniskirted models. Eric Burdon from the Animals lived at Dalmeny Court overlooking Mason's Yard and was a fixture. On Friday nights, Vicki Wickham, the producer of Ready Steady Go!, would arrive with the stars of that night's show: the Supremes, James Brown, the Toys or the Ronettes. Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott, Julie Driscoll, Tom Jones and Ronnie Wood were all habitues. Paul: 'The Moody Blues used to hang about there so much that there was a corner called "the Moody Blues Corner". It was a cool little place to go. The Scotch was pretty good.'
The Yardbirds' manager Simon Napier-Bell described it in his autobiography You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: 'The Scotch was more than just a club to show off your status and position - it was a positive celebration of being part of what was happening in the world's most "happening" city. It was a nightly indoor festival, a carnival, a theatrical event, and everyone played their parts to the full.'
The next of the watering holes to find favour was the Bag o'Nails, the latest enterprise of the Gunnell brothers, whose previous clubs included the Whiskey A Go Go and the Flamingo All Nighter Club. Witnessing the success of the Ad Lib and the Scotch of St James, Rik and John Gunnell bought the Bag o'Nails at 8 Kingly Street, Soho, a narrow lane parallel to Carnaby Street. The Bag o'Nails had begun life back in Victorian times as a club where gentlemen could meet the better class of prostitute. It was a long basement room with a small stage at the far end, a raised seating area at the other. Tiered alcoves lined each side, with a long, narrow dance floor below taking up the centre of the room. It is still there, its interior unchanged except that for the last two decades it has reverted to its old role and is now a hostess club called the Miranda.
It was said that you didn't want to get on the wrong side of the Gunnells, but they knew how to run a club. They managed Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Georgie Fame and many lesser-known bands, so there was no shortage of live music. If bookings were short for their bands, they would slot them in one of their clubs.
PAUL: The Bag o'Nails, the big one. That was my favourite in the end. That was where I met Linda. Bag o'Nails, down the Bag. It was supposed to have been a hookers' hangout before. It probably was then, too. But young, trendy hookers in miniskirts. Now I recall, I might have got asked for money one night after pulling some bird. I wouldn't pay, though, you know... But yeah, it was basically that, pullin' birds. That was the basis of it.
The thing about the Bag o'Nails was that they had live music. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were down there, Alan Price played down there a lot and Jimi Hendrix eventually. I became quite a regular.
The Bag o'Nails was Paul's favourite eating spot after late-night recording sessions. As the other Beatles were chauffeured out to their houses in the country, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall would often accompany Paul to the Bag, sometimes driving him there in the Beatles' Austin Princess. Steak, chips and mushy peas was the standard fare at the late-night clubs, but Neil would produce a flashlight to inspect everyone's portions and make sure they were exactly as requested, much to Paul's amusement.
PAUL: The clubs were all more or less the same: birds and occasionally live music. I've been back to clubs since, and I realise it was about pulling birds, because if you're not pulling birds they are very boring places. It's lovely to be looking at some gorgeous bird across the room and giving her the eye all evening; I mean, that's something to do. But if you're sitting there with your wife, it's a completely different matter and I realise that's why I stopped going. There was no need.
There was a lot of that. There was a lot of the power. That was what a lot of young guys had worked for all that time, that's why you wanted to be in a group: to avoid having a job and to pull the birds. And obviously once you got as famous as the Beatles did ... We were at the peak of our careers, we were young, we were looking pretty good and we had all this power and the fame and everything so it was difficult to resist playing with it.
That was always the argument, 'Look, you don't have to do this. Nobody's forcing anybody, but if you fancy a bit of fun...' It was the attraction and the spirit of the times. And it would often end up in going back to somebody's place. And when you think about it, I was really lucky to have made it through that.
The sexual freedom the Beatles experienced in Hamburg was only just beginning to develop in Britain when they returned, but as their career progressed and the sixties moved into gear, the idea of sexual liberation, as it was then called, rapidly gained common currency.
PAUL: The big clincher was the advent of the pill. Because the danger had always been pregnancy, and you'd always had to worry about that. It was dodgy, and you always had to be very careful. But when the pill started to happen, then all hell broke loose! Or all heaven broke loose, in our case, because then people didn't seem to mind. It ushered in a whole new era where it was kind of expected.
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When we went to America I remember being very European and liberal about sex, and of course with the phenomenal effect that the Beatles had on America anyway. We felt like trawlers, trawling for sex, everywhere we went it was on our minds.
We were just guys on the run, guys on the lookout. We were so pleased that we could finally get girls because in our teenage years it had been very difficult, and now they were throwing themselves at you and this was just very pleasing, nothing more and nothing less. I was pretty free. I got around quite a lot of girls. I felt that was okay, I was a young bachelor, I didn't feel ashamed of it in any way, I felt good about it. It felt natural.
My dad used to say to me, 'I had to worry about syphilis, gonorrhea.' I'd say 'Well, we don't have to worry about that now.' He'd say, 'I had to worry about getting girls pregnant.' I said, 'They're on the pill.' It seemed to me that the whole period when I was there in the hunting game, all the conditions became spectacularly right! For all our generation it became, 'God, there are girls running round in miniskirts, who don't mind sleeping with people'; in fact, at one point it was sort of strange not to. And to me now I always use the image of Moses opening up the waters. The minute we'd done with it, he closed 'em back again. I certainly wouldn't envy anyone out there now. So the attitudes were 'dolly birds, miniskirts, free love, all you need is love'.
Living in the Asher house gave me the base and the freedom and the independence. That, alongside all the other things, because I wasn't married to Jane. I was pretty free. I remember John very much envying me. He said, 'Well, if you go out with another girl, what does Jane think?' and I said, 'Well, I don't care what she thinks, we're not married. We've got a perfectly sensible relationship.' He was well jealous of that, because at this time he couldn't do that, he was married with Cynthia and with a lot of energy bursting to get out. He'd tried to give Cynthia the traditional thing, but you kind of knew he couldn't. There were cracks appearing but he could only paste them over by staying at home and getting very wrecked.
With a lot of those people I met and related to, albeit for a short time, I've mercifully forgotten them and I don't really remember what went on, thank goodness. There may have been a few drinks involved and I was a little merry and, you know, you slip back to someone's flat...
My main feeling really is one of relief. You do feel like some of it was outrageous. But I'm glad to have had a slightly outrageous period in my life, as long as it didn't hurt anybody, because I'd always felt maybe my character was too careful.
I think the great thing was I never had any deep, dark secrets. That's what the papers wanted. They wanted me to be hiding a little Miss Whiplash somewhere, and for the flat to be in my name. But it was never that. It was always a one-night stand with whoever was around and wanted to party.