The Beatles: Members of the British Empire
On Oct. 26, 1965, thousands of merry young fans outside Buckingham Palace chanted ”God save the Beatles” while they waited for a glimpse of the Fab Four. Inside the stone walls, the boys giggled their way through hallowed pomp and circumstance as Queen Elizabeth bestowed on them medals designating them Members of the British Empire — a rank only a notch or two below knighthood and usually reserved for philanthropists and military heroes.
The honor, however, was lost on Lennon, who roused that the group was selling out to the Establishment. The Establishment wasn’t too happy about it, either. A British Army officer sent his MBE back because he didn’t want to share his award with those ”vulgar nincompoops.” According to the 1983 Beatles bio The Love You Make, by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, the group itself was miffed that its manager, Brian Epstein, was ignored. He attributed the slight to the fact that he was gay and Jewish.
Lennon got through the day with the help of some joints stored in his boot. He even brought along an extra for 16-year-old Prince Charles, who wasn’t on hand to accept it. Lennon gave in to his rebel tendencies again four years later when he dispatched his chauffeur to his Aunt Mimi’s house to retrieve the medal, which she had proudly displayed on top of her telly. He returned the MBE to the palace with a note on Bag Productions stationery: ”Your Majesty, I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against’ ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon of Bag.”
Time Capsule: Oct. 26, 1965
It was the Beatles’ week: ”Yesterday” topped the singles charts, while the soundtrack to their film ”Help!” occupied the No. 1 album spot. Some of us pondered through theodore H. Whites’ The Making of the President 1964, but most of us struggled with the choice of Petticoat Junction or Peyton Place on TV or took in The Sound of Music at the bijou.