NOT many people would know that Brasenose College, Oxford, is the alma mater of David Cameron, but ask any self-respecting Beatles fan which college was visited by the Fab Four on March 5, 1964, and you won’t have to wait long for an answer.
Yet, famous as it is now, the trip, 50 years ago this month, involved secrecy and subterfuge, with a young Jeffrey Archer orchestrating much of what took place.
Jeffrey Archer, the novelist whose political career ended with his conviction and subsequent imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice, came to Oxford in 1963. His arrival coincided with the 21st birthday of Oxfam and Archer quickly became involved in the charity’s efforts to raise £1m.
One fan managed to plant a kiss on Ringo’s cheek, left, as The Beatles were rushed into the college
With typical energy he set about getting students involved in trying to raise £500,000 and hit on the idea of contacting the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. Stories soon appeared in the Cherwell magazine and the Daily Mail suggesting that The Beatles had consented to lend a hand.
But according to Lord Archer’s biographer Michael Crick, the group hadn’t consented at all.
- Michael Crick
“In fact Brian Epstein was extremely reluctant for them to become involved,” Crick observes. “If they agreed to help Oxfam, he felt, it would make it harder to turn down other requests. Epstein clearly didn’t know what to think of this odd student whizz-kid who was constantly trying to speak to him.”
Not one to give up Archer travelled, armed with Oxfam posters and collecting tins, to Liverpool, where The Beatles were performing at the Empire. Talking his way backstage, he managed to persuade The Beatles to pose for a photograph, showing them putting money into a tin.
Archer then played his ace card, suggesting that if the band came to Oxford, they could have dinner with the University Chancellor, Harold Macmillan.
As it turned out the former Prime Minister could not in fact be there on the agreed date of The Beatles’ visit.
- Fans queued up at Didcot Station in the hope of catching a glimpse of their heroes
So Archer asked the principal of Brasenose if the group could be entertained in his lodgings.
Sir Noel’s wife Lady Hall would recall: “The police were in a terrible state and said they wouldn’t be able to control the crowds in Radcliffe Square.”
At the height of Beatlemania, with the group besieged where ever they went, the police fears were justified. Amid great secrecy, a plan was hatched for The Beatles to be collected by train at Didcot and smuggled to Oxford by car. Local school girls, nevertheless, heard rumours about The Beatles’ visit and a crowd gathered at the station, screaming over two hours: “We want The Beatles.”
Acting Supt Brown took to a megaphone to plead with them all to go home – they ignored him
They were to be disappointed with the “Beatles Special” stopping at Cholsey – where a mere 40 fans lay in wait – from where the Fab Four were driven to Oxford for their date with the dons. Just making the short journey across the High Street they were spotted by a handful of girls, who immediately began to mob them outside Brasenose – one managing to plant a kiss on Ringo’s cheek.
The coming together of The Beatles with an Oxford college was always going to provide high comedy. When a servant offered Paul McCartney Champagne in a silver goblet, Paul said he would prefer milk. And George offered to sign his autograph if he could have a jam butty instead of smoked salmon.