When I came home to London in December 1969 at the end of the university term, I was flat broke, as usual, so I went to an employment agency to find work, also as usual. ‘How would you like to work for the Beatles?’ they asked. ‘Don’t you have anything better?’ I said.
Fifteen minutes later I was walking through the front door of Apple Corps in Savile Row, reporting for duty in the postroom. I owed the job to the fact that I was not a besotted fan. When I naïvely asked why Apple went to an employment agency to find staff when millions would have done the job for free, the answer was ‘that’s just the problem.’
But of course I was a fan. It was difficult not to be. My only previous encounter with the Beatles had been at their Christmas concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1964. Then, it was impossible to hear a single note over the din of the screaming teenage girls. In Savile Row, it was altogether more sedate, at least on the surface.
My duties weren’t huge, to be honest. My colleague in the postroom was called Nigel. Our job was to respond to any and every request that might be made. There weren’t many. Most of the time we played Battleships.
I worked at Apple over the winter holiday in 1969 – a little after the release of Abbey Road – and also at Easter 1970, just before the release of Let It Be. By then, Allen Klein had become business manager and the place was unrecognisable. Out had gone the chaos and the financial diarrhoea; in had come an efficient business. It was sorely needed, but it was also the end of the fun, and very nearly the end of the Beatles.
I met all four of them except Paul, who was already in exile from Savile Row. But I had to take a taxi (in the days before couriers) to deliver papers to his house in St John’s Wood. I don’t know what they were, but they are unlikely to have been trivial. They were almost certainly documents vital to the workings of Apple, or to its dissolution.
I took the envelope to the address, handed them over to whoever answered the door and departed. Who would entrust such papers to an unknown student today? Who would risk the likelihood that the envelope would be opened and its contents copied and sold? It never occurred to me to do that; it never occurred to others that I might.
George was an occasional visitor to his company’s premises. At the time, he was involved with the Radha Krishna Temple, a troupe of itinerant saffron-robed musicians who banged tambourines along Regent Street while chanting ‘Hare Krishna’. When they tired of this, they came to the Apple offices for a rest, and to see George. It drove the receptionist mad.
John was there most of the time. He sat with Yoko behind a large white desk, dipping crispbread into a tub of caviare. At that time, they were principally concerned with the notorious Hanratty case (James Hanratty had been hanged in 1962 for a murder many people still think he did not commit) and I had to photocopy all his letters from prison.
Ringo was the only one of the four who attempted to manage this goldmine of a business, in which no level of cost, however astronomic, had any chance of exceeding income. He was there almost every day, spending much of his time chairing meetings. He must have hated it, yet he forced himself to do it. I ended up with the utmost admiration for Ringo.
I am always asked how many autographs I collected, and the answer is none. Cool was never so important as it was then, and how uncool would it have been to have asked for an autograph? Far better just to say ‘Yeah, hi man, how’s it going?’ to John as he passed on the way to take a piss.
Since almost every record made by the Beatles went gold in almost every market, there was a vast stash of gold records. They filled the back staircase at Apple. On my last day, it occurred to me that if one of them disappeared, it wouldn’t be missed – say the one for Paperback Writer in Mongolia – and it would be nice to have as a souvenir. Being far too law-abiding, I asked permission first, and was a little surprised to receive it. I was a few minutes from walking out of the Apple front door with a legitimate Beatles gold disc when the Personnel Manager changed her mind.
More than forty years later, this remains the best job I have ever had. It filled immediate material wants and provides a memory that, all these years later, I find hard to believe was real. But it was. Other jobs have accorded more wealth, more status. Has any accorded even approximate prestige? For a child of the ‘60s, this was its climax. If I am hazy about some of the details, it’s because they weren’t important then. At 19, you sort of expect these things to happen to you. At 66, you know they are gold dust. If I had known that then, I would have kept a diary.
But I did get a watch: a square chunky watch with the Apple logo, now somewhat faded, that we all got as a present at the staff Christmas party in 1969. The Beatles weren’t the band for the evening, but it was still the Beatles’ Christmas party, and never was it so easy to get a date. The watch stopped working years ago. It doesn’t matter. So did I.