50 Years Ago This Month, These Chiswick Residents Stepped Into Beatles History With 'Paperback Writer'

One brave lad even asked John Lennon if he could "nick his gear".

50 years ago this month, these unassuming residents of Chiswick took a walk in their nearby park, and accidentally stepped into pop music history.

It came about as they crossed the peaceful grounds of Palladian villa Chiswick House in West London - formerly home to the infamous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (played by Keira Knightley on screen) - and came across a group of four young men, drinking cups of tea and rehearsing with instruments. Just another day in the park, it seemed, except these were the Beatles, and they were about to record their timeless video for 'Paperback Writer'.

Paul, Ringo, George and John decamped to Chiswick House in West London for their video for 'Paperback Writer'
Paul, Ringo, George and John decamped to Chiswick House in West London for their video for 'Paperback Writer'

To put it in perspective, this was 1966 - with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison's mastery of the pop charts already in the can with songs 'Please Please Me', 'Love Me Do' and 'She Loves You' behind them, but with 'Penny Lane' and 'I Am The Walrus' still to come. 'Paperback Writer' and its accompaniment 'Rain' would feature on 'Revolver', along with 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. Tension was beginning to bubble between the four boys from Liverpool, but their creative ambitions were also taking flight. That day in Chiswick marked a dawning of fresh pop consciousness, as the stars set about creating what cultural historian Saul Austerlitz would describe as "among the first true music videos", even if the surprised locals had no idea of its significance.

"I was walking across the gardens - I was with my friend, we both had prams - and we literally bumped into them," Shirley Bascran remembers of her meeting with the Fab Four. "My son Jim was with me, and he and his friends were running around. Shirley's daughter Lisa was there too.

Yesterday, or 50 years ago to be precise, Chiswick locals John Kenton, Shirley Bascran, Sandy Loewenthal and Nigel Fox unwittingly chanced upon musical history
Yesterday, or 50 years ago to be precise, Chiswick locals John Kenton, Shirley Bascran, Sandy Loewenthal and Nigel Fox unwittingly chanced upon musical history
Lucinda MacPherson

"I think the band were drawn to their energy, which is why they ended up appearing in the video. I think it was John [Lennon] who suggested they go up in the trees - they're the children you can see in the video for 'Rain' (filmed on the same day).

"They were all very polite, smiley, saying hello to everyone. I do remember being surprised by how tall both John and Paul were.

"It was all over pretty quickly, then we went on our way. We didn't have a record player at the time, so we couldn't play the song, but a couple of weeks later, the video turned up on the TV, and they they all were. It all seems like a hundred years ago. Jim went on to work as a fire officer. It's a wonderful memory, though."

For Sandy Loewenthal, a schoolboy on a mid-afternoon break with his pal Nigel Fox, it was a youthful meeting that helped inspire his lifelong passion for music, which he went on to make his own profession.

"My friends and I had just got out of school and we climbed over the gate in the park, which was our usual lunchtime diversion," he remembers now. "The next thing I knew, I was looking at George Harrison sitting on top of a pillar, cross-legged, playing his guitar. I thought I must be hallucinating, but they all turned out to be real.

"We wandered over to them, and it was exactly what you'd expect… 'Okay, lads' from all of them. I can hear their distinctive Liverpudlian accents right now in my ear."

Sandy was overwhelmed to meet his boyhood idol John Lennon, and somehow found the courage to ask his favourite Beatle if he could take something as a momento of the shoot. "I actually asked John if I could 'nick some of your gear'. I don't know what I thought I was after, probably some amps and guitars. John replied, 'Fine, if you think you can get away with it.'"

John Kenton's memories of the day come from a different perspective. "I was 18, and working as one of the garden staff here at the house," he recalls today. "We'd only been given a couple of days' notice that this was going on. My job was to ferry around their equipment all day, on one of our gardening trucks.

"They were very unassuming, chatting, wandering around, lots of smoking. I could hear them planning what they were going to do - all very low-key, nothing like the list of logistics that goes on these days, I imagine - and then John Lennon suddenly came over to me. He'd spotted something.

Ringo Starr wasn't overtaxed that bucolic day in Chiswick, May 1966
Ringo Starr wasn't overtaxed that bucolic day in Chiswick, May 1966

"He said, 'Can I borrow your bike?' Of course, I said yes, and so that's my bike you can see him riding in the video. It was a Moulton, quite modern for the time. That was my small contribution to the Beatles."

John explains he went on to work in the theatre, and one of the reasons he thinks he was never thrown by the stars around him on stage, was because of how many luminaries he'd already encountered in his leafy suburb. "We leave them alone here, and let them get on with it."

The video for 'Paperback Writer', which was shot on 20 May 1966 was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who went on to direct the Beatles' final film, the documentary 'Let It Be'.

But why did the band choose Chiswick House for this video that was so different from their previous, studio-bound offerings?

For music journalist Mark Ellen, who provided the notes for the Beatles' recent remastered collection, the proximity to central London of the building, plus its ornate furnishings, would have all been attractive.

He says: "It has high walls and big old iron gates so they could keep people out while they were filming. Also it has beautiful old statues, a fabulous old stone mansion and a conservatory where they stood around strumming their un-plugged-in guitars and wheeling Ringo around in a wheelbarrow."

Come together... 50 years later
Come together... 50 years later
Lucinda MacPherson

And how important was the video that resulted from that day in the park? Extremely, according to Mark, who points out what a step it marked in the band's dawning hunger to experiment visually, just as they were doing musically.

"Until this point, the Beatles' music had seemed in black and white, locked in the monochrome parameters of TV studios and news photography," he explains. "These two videos were shot in colour, an amazing innovation!

"And as the band’s songs began to move beyond love affairs and internal dramas, the films – ‘Rain’ in particular – had a broader sense to them, the images of sun, damp and shade in its magical lyric - soon to reappear in the scented Lewis Carroll lawns of ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, a nostalgia for a lost Victorian England.

"Until that point, we’d seen the four of them managing to look buoyant and self-assured, despite the cheap and cheerful nature of their promotional clips. Now they drifted enigmatically round an 18th-century ornamental park full of Grecian urns and stone sphinxes. It wasn’t just in colour: suffused with pastoral impressions of space and time, it almost felt three-dimensional."

So, an important day in the history of pop music, certainly. And a great day in the life for these Chiswick locals, most definitely.

Click here for more info on Chiswick House. Tap the first picture to open the slideshow below of more significant Beatles sights:

Liverpool City Centre, Liverpool

Beatles' 50th Anniversary: 16 Must-See Beatles Sights


What's Hot