The Beatles and Royalty

By Bill Harry  

George Harrison being presented to Princess MargaretThe announcement that the group would be awarded the MBEs was issued on June 11 1965 and the Beatles held a press conference the following day at Twickenham Film Studios to discuss it. George was to comment, "I don't think you got that sort of thing just for playing rock 'n' roll music."

The following day the first of many awards by disgruntled previous recipients was returned to the Palace. Over the next few days the irate former recipients making their protest included Hector Dupuis, a former Canadian MP; anti-aircraft expert James berg; ex-Naval officer, David Evans-Rees; another Canadian, Stanley Ellis; a Cyril Hearn; retired squadron leader Douglas Moffit - and a Colonel Frederick Wragg returned no less that 12 medals.

Dupuis commented, "The British House of Royalty had put me on the same level as a bunch of vulgar numbskulls." Ex-RAF squadron leader Paul Pearson returned his award with the comment, "Because it had become debased." Author Richard Pape, on returning his MBE, wrote, "If the Beatles and the like continue to debase the Royal honours list, then Britain must fall deeper into international ridicule and contempt."

The Investitute took place in the Great Throne Room at Buckingham Palace at 11.10am on the morning of October 26 1965 and there were a total of 182 people receiving medals from the Queen. Outside the Palace there was a crowd of 4,000 youngsters chanting 'Long live the Queen, long live the Beatles.' When the group arrived, John was accompanied by his wife Cynthia and his aunt Mimi Smith; Paul by his father James and his girlfriend Jane Asher; George by his wife Pattie, his father Harry and mother Louise and Ringo by his mother Elsie and Stepfather Harry. Brian Epstein was also in attendance.

The various groups were then formed into the Orders of Knighthood with the MBEs, the lowest, coming last. There were 80 MBEs that particular day and they were all ushered into an anteroom for briefing. The Beatles were dressed in dark lounge suits and dark ties. Nothing flamboyant, although Ringo's suit had eight buttons down the front and George Harrison's tailor had given him epaulettes and buttoned pockets. Everyone in the room was interested in the four and a queue of fellow MBEs formed to request autographs. Broadcaster Robert Dougall, who was receiving an MBE, commented, "They signed away as nice as pie."

They were briefed by Lt. Col. Eric Penn, Comptroller from the Lord Chamberlain's office. They were to file into the ballroom in alphabetical order. Nearing the Queen they would come to a Naval Officer. They would stop and wait by him until their name was called. They then walked forward, turned left, bowed in front of the Queen and took four steps to the dias where she was standing. They then shook hands with the Queen, engaged in a few words of conversation, took four steps back and then moved to the right.

The signal came for them all to leave the room and they were led down a long corridor with red carpet stretching into the distance. "Cyril Lord could make a fortune in this place," said Ringo, referring to the British carpet manufacturer.

The Beatles were together in a group and led the party because 'Beatles' is the first name in the alphabetical order of the list. As they shuffled down the corridor towards the ballroom, everyone seemed solemn. The Beatles led the male MBEs and from another room, a host of middle-aged female MBEs emerged and walked ahead of the Beatles. As the Beatles were to go forward to meet the Queen together, a member of the party asked them if they were nervous. John replied, "Yes, we are a bit but we'll be all right when we go into our routine." When the Queen presented the group with their silver medals, she said to Paul, "How long have you been together now?" He replied, "Oh, for many years." Ringo said, "Forty years." The Queen then turned to Ringo and said, "Are you the one who started it?" He replied, "No, I was the last to join. I'm the little fellow." The Queen turned to John and said, "Have you been working hard lately?" and he replied, "No, we've been on holiday."

After the Investiture, the Beatles spoke with the press in the Palace courtyard. Paul said, "We've played many palaces including Frisco's Cow Palace, but never this one before. It's a keen pad and I liked the staff. Thought they'd be Dukes and things but they were just fellas." When asked about the Queen he replied, "She's lovely, great. She was very friendly. She was just like a Mum to us."

John was again asked if he had been nervous. "Not as much as some of the other people in there," he replied. When he was asked how the other recipients had acted towards them, John commented, "One formally-dressed, middle aged winner walked up to us after the ceremony and said, 'I want your autograph for my daughter, but I don't know what she sees in you.' So we gave her our autographs." John was then asked how they knew what to do for the ceremony. He replied, "This big fellow drilled us. Every time he got to Ringo he kept cracking up." Paul was asked what they would do with their medals and he said, "What do you normally do with medals. Put them in a box." The group then went to the Saville Theatre for another press conference.

On March 22 1970 L'Express, a French magazine, published an interview with John Lennon in which he claimed that the Beatles smoked marijuana in the toilets at Buckingham Palace." This was untrue, an example of John's occasionally bizarre sense of humour.

However, John, who in some ways was anti-establishment, had previously made it known that he had never been entirely happy with receiving the award. When he'd originally seen the brown envelope with 'On Her Majesty's Service' written on it, he said he thought he was being called up (for the armed services!). When he discovered what it was he recalled his first instinct was to turn it down. When Brian Epstein phoned him to discuss it and he told him his feelings, Brian said that he had to accept the honour. John knew that if he spurned it, it would do incalculable damage to the group. Later, he was to comment, "Taking the MBE was a sell-out to me."

Once he'd decided to comply with his manager's request, John began giving out his quotes to the press - "I thought people got these things for driving tanks, winning wars." When the protestors began sending their medals back to the Palace, John became annoyed and said that the army officers got their awards for killing people, "We got ours for entertaining. On balance, I'd say we deserve ours more."

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