The Twickenham Museum
People : Musicians

Neil Aspinall
The 'Fifth Beatle'
1941 - 2008

Neil Aspinall

At school with the Beatles in Liverpool

Neil Aspinall was born in Prestatyn, Flintshire, in 1941. His mother had been evacuated from Liverpool and the family moved back there after the war. When he was 11, he joined the same class as Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. George Harrison was in the year below and the two would often go for a cigarette behind the old air-raid shelters. John Lennon was studying at the Liverpool College of Art, next door, at the time.

Aspinall left school in 1959 with 8 O levels and trained as an accountant, while lodging with the Best family in West Derby. He helped Mona Best to run the basement of her house as a club, the “Casbah”, while her son Pete became a close friend. Pete Best, a drummer, joined the Beatles in August 1960 and travelled to Hamburg where they had an engagement. When they returned in December, Aspinall became their occasional road manager, driving them in a Ford van and charging each of them five shillings (25p) per gig. In July 1961, he became the Beatle’s first full-time road manager.

The cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Becomes the Beatles manager

Although Aspinall had had an affair with Mona Best (a son was born in 1962), he remained friends with Pete to his death, despite Best being sacked from the group by their manager, Brian Epstein. Aspinall was replaced as road manager in 1965 but became the group's personal assistant, managing their engagements and finances. He would occasionally perform on their recordings – he was in the choir on “Yellow Submarine” and played harmonica in “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” (from “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”). He was instrumental in the formation of the ideas behind this album and secured the photographs of the various personalities on its cover, designed by Peter Blake.

Forms Apple Corps and settles in Waldegrave Park, Twickenham

In August 1967, Brian Epstein died from a drug overdose. As a consequence, the group's contracts and finances were in disarray and Aspinall effectively became their manager – role which continued after their own company, Apple Corps, was formed. The group's record producer, George Martin, was said to be unhappy with this appointment as he felt that Aspinall lacked the social qualifications to deal with executives in record companies. In 1969, Allen Klein, the Rolling Stones' manager, was appointed to oversee the finances. Soon after, the Beatles and Klein entered into litigation and Aspinall dealt with the ensuing law suits.

Aspinall had married, in 1968, Susan Ornstein, daughter of a United Artists executive who had produced the Beatles' films. They moved to Waldegrave Park in that year. He continued to oversee the group's business and artistic affairs, while 70 million albums were sold and their combined wealth became an estimated £2 billion. He led Apple Corps in its dispute with Apple Computers over logo rights and trademark infringement. The introduction of iTunes and iPods forced the two companies to come to a permanent settlement in 2007. He resigned shortly afterwards.

Yoko Ono and Stella McCartney at Neil Aspinall's funeral

Funeral at St Mary's

Aspinall died of lung cancer on 23 March 2008 in New York. His funeral was held on 7 April at St Mary's Church, Twickenham. The mourners included Yoko Ono, Stella McCartney, Pete Best, Sir George Martin and Pete Townsend. He is buried in Teddington Cemetery and is survived by his widow, 3 daughters and a son.

References:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition

The Independent, 25 March 2008

The Richmond and Twickenham Times, 11 April 2008

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