Daily Mail, 13.4.18
One morning in 1969 I was sitting at my desk at the London Evening Standard when we got a tip-off that John Lennon had been arrested on a drugs charge.
My job at the time was, among much else, to cover everything Beatles. So, immediately, I telephoned their friendly Press officer, Derek Taylor, at their Apple headquarters.
‘I said this would happen. John is a fool, isn’t he,’ I apparently said.
Taylor’s response was not what I expected. In an angry and increasingly loud voice, he said. ‘We never take drugs, Ray. It is most improper of you to say so ON THE TELEPHONE. HOW DARE YOU LIBEL US!’
I thought he must have gone mad. Of course, the Beatles took drugs, and Derek was himself no stranger to mind altering substances either. But, at that moment, as I have now read in this reissue of his memoirs, he was paranoid that his phone was being tapped by the Metropolitan Police. The last thing he wanted was the ‘very straight Ray Connolly’, as he describes me, to be confirming his employers’ drug use on the phone.
Other than for that day, he was the most gentlemanly and welcoming of Press officers. Rare was the week in the late Sixties that I wouldn’t at some stage wander into his office where he would sit in a large white wicker chair and chat, between taking calls from journalists around the world, on every aspect of the Beatles’ lives.
Intelligent, erudite and articulate, he was possessed of a very hip kind of class. Having learned his journalism in Liverpool and then Manchester before being tempted away to handle the Press on Beatles’ American tours, he juggled the constant pressure that people like me put on him with the need to promote and yet protect his bosses.
It was, as he recounts, a job which called for unlimited skills of diplomacy, as evidenced in one US city when the wife of the mayor insisted that he fetch the Beatles for her daughter to see – as though they were simply waxwork models.
He couldn’t do that because they were sleeping, he told her.
‘Wake them,’ she replied.
‘Get them up. I’m not here to waste my time… They have no business to be asleep at this time of day’.
Of course, he didn’t wake them. But, little by little as the hysteria continued, he must sometimes have thought he, too, was asleep and dreaming, so absurd were some of the situations in which he found himself, when the four young men he represented were treated as though they were living gods. Better than most, he knew they weren’t even saints.
The demands on him were unrelenting as the Beatles phenomenon just kept on growing. ‘We were all frightened,’ he writes of the Apple staff. ‘We were frightened of Them, and we were frightened of each other and we were frightened of the Press.’
Years later, he told me that he developed a serious alcohol problem during those years, so great was the pressure as the Beatles began to fall out among themselves. But, with a wonderful way with words, this father of six, never let it show.
Sometimes he thought that the people the Beatles resented most were those who were closest to them. ‘We were adjacent to the truth, to the money, so near to the fame, and the success and all of the “glam-glit-scream-cheer”, that we got to look very like courtiers covered in gold dust.’ But, he had to remind himself, it was just a job.
Derek Taylor had lots of other jobs during his life, some of which also make funny chapters in this book, notably his interview with Mae West who, in her dotage considered reinventing making herself as a rock and roll star.
That turned out to be a short engagement, but she did bequeath him a couple of useful tips – one being, never to pick up her clothes of the floor, because, if she left them, there would always be someone to do it for her.
The Beatles, of course, had learned that particular lesson very early in their careers, something Taylor was not afraid to divulge when he wrote about them and his own part in their myth-making.
They were, he said, generous, but ‘very tough, too, and working for them has made us all very uneasy…because they are four very hard, tight men, not callous, but calloused. Us Beatles’ aides, we come and we go and we are mostly unmourned when we have gone.’
He was wrong about that. When Derek Taylor died, aged 65, in 1997, he was most definitely mourned…not least by we journalists who had once besieged him.