THE MAN WHO REALLY MADE THE BEATLES; for 46 Years Neil Aspinall Was the Quiet Force Behind the Beatles. but He Never Spoke to the Media. Now, as He Steps Down as Boss of Apple, the Writer Who Knows Him Best Tells His Tantalising Story
Byline: PHILIP NORMAN
LOYALTY is not a virtue associated with the pop music industry. Treachery, exploitation and kiss-and-tell are its far more familiar signature-tunes. But rarely has the industry known anyone more loyal than Neil Aspinall, who has just stepped down from running The Beatles' Apple organisation after 46 years' dedicated service to them.
Many people have claimed the title of 'fifth Beatle', but it unquestionably belongs to 64-year-old Aspinall. He first met the band when they were nobodies and he would earn a few pounds by driving them to gigs around Liverpool in his van.
He was with them through all the madness of Beatlemania in the mid-Sixties, when they conquered first Merseyside, then Britain, then Europe, then America, then the world. He was with them as their talent blossomed in the recording studio, from simplistic teenage anthems like Please Please Me and She Loves You to brilliant concept albums like Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He was with them during their experiments with drugs, their flirtation with eastern religion and their disastrous attempt to be businessmen with Apple in its original form.
His secret was that all four Beatles liked and trusted him, though he was always specially close to John Lennon and George Harrison. And, as their fame grew and the sycophants around them multiplied, they knew they could always rely on him to tell them the truth.
After the band broke up in acrimony in 1971, and all their entourages melted away, Neil Aspinall was still there like a lone helmsman piloting some abandoned Starship through space.
Now he has quit his job as Apple's chief executive, frustrated that the band's musical legacy is being cheapened in the quest for profits.
According to an insider, he was in conflict with his board over various issues, chiefly moves to allow legal downloads from the internet of Beatles music on the Apple iTunes website.
'The board has been constantly blocking and questioning the things Neil wants to do,' the insider said.
'The way the board wants to play it, it is for money, money, money.' But Aspinall himself says these reports are inaccurate and that the parting has been quite amicable.
Quality may seem an alien concept to most of the pop industry, but that is what Aspinall always stood for in running The Beatles' business.
He spent years putting together the film documentary of their career that was finally released as the criticallyacclaimed Beatles Anthology in 1995, accompanied by a CD set of studio outtakes and rarities.
He has since overseen other Apple enterprises which have earned fortunes without compromising quality, like The Beatles' mega-selling One album, the film of George Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh and, last year, the Love album, based on the sell-out Cirque du Soleil Beatles show in Las Vegas.
Above all, as fascination with The Beatles has grown, Aspinall has never sold the story of his years with them - indeed, he has a firm rule never to talk on record to the Press. So I count myself lucky that he made an exception for my current biography of John Lennon.
Like Harrison and Paul McCartney, Aspinall was educated at the famous Liverpool Institute grammar school, where he originally intended to be an accountant. In 1961, he was lodging at the home of The Beatles' then drummer, Pete Best. In the basement was a club called The Casbah, run by Best's mother, Mona, which at that time was the band's steadiest source of work.
One night, they were let down by their usual driver, the Casbah's doorman, so Aspinall took the job over. He would deliver them to a gig, rush home to swot up on accountancy for a couple of hours, then return after midnight to collect them.
THE sacking of drummer Best on the eve of their national breakthrough, and his replacement by Ringo Starr, put Aspinall in an agonising dilemma. …