Give My Regards to Wimpole St
In an extract from his book ‘Guide to the Beatles London’ Richard Porter tells of the London street where Paul McCartney lived with the Asher Family, and dreamed the tune of ‘Yesterday’
Wimpole Street is a very quiet street in the centre of the medical quarter of London, close to Harley Street – most of the houses are divided into consulting rooms for specialist doctors. It also has literary connections – Elizabeth Barrett lived at number 50 Wimpole Street. She married fellow poet Robert Browning at St Marylebone Church after being kept virtual prisoner in the house for most of her life.
John and Yoko were big fans of the Brownings. Yoko wrote Let Me Count the Ways based on a poem by Elizabeth and John wrote Grow Old With Me, based on a poem by Robert. John apparently saw him and Yoko as re-incarnations of the Brownings. For Christmas 1980 John bought Yoko an original handwriting of Elizabeth Barrett with a portrait framed next to it – he was never able to give them personally to her though…
The quietness of Wimpole Street was interrupted in 1962 when gun shots rang out in nearby Wimpole Mews. 17 Wimpole Mews was the home of Dr Stephen Ward, a society osteopath. Ward had many female friends he liked to introduce to his high society male friends. For instance, he introduced Christine Keeler to John Profumo, Minister of War and also to Major Ivanov of the Russian KGB. Keeler had simultaneous affairs with these two men – at the height of the cold war.
On 14 December 1962 a spurned lover of Keeler, Johnny Edgecombe, arrived at Wimpole Mews with a gun and started shooting. The story was all over the press the next day and finally led to the uncovering of the ‘Profumo Affair’ which led to the resignation of Profumo, the ultimate downfall of the Government and the suicide of Steven Ward. It was alleged by Philip Norman, in his book ‘Shout!’ that the press saw Beatlemania as an antidote to the revelations around the Profumo affair.
Number 57 Wimpole Street is now a private clinic. It just also happens to be where Lennon/McCartney wrote their first US number one and Paul dreamt the tune of the most covered song of all time. The house was bought by the Asher family in 1957 when they moved from a flat in Great Portland Street. Dr Richard Asher was an eminent doctor who specialised in mental health. His wife Margaret was professor of music at Guildhall School of music. She taught a young man called George Martin how to play the oboe. They had three children: Claire and Jane were both actresses and son Peter was a singer.
Jane Asher started acting when only 5 years old and made her film debut soon afterwards. Later, at aged 14, she was the youngest actress to play Wendy in Peter Pan. By 1963 she was a regular on the TV show Juke Box Jury – where celebrities reviewed the records of the week.
On 18 April 1963 Jane did a photographic assignment for Radio Times at a concert called ‘Swinging Sounds ’63’ at the Albert Hall. She sat in the audience with a reporter and a photographer who recorded her reactions. When the Beatles came on stage she screamed. Jane met all four Beatles backstage – apparently all four were very impressed by her – especially George, it was alleged later – but she got on better with Paul. They were seen in public together for the first time shortly afterwards and from then on Paul was continually asked whether he was going to marry Jane. Paul even made fun of this in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ when answered ‘No, we’re just good friends’ even before the question was asked.
Paul got on very well with the Asher family and jumped at the chance when the Ashers asked him if he would like to make their family home his London base. Paul was given a room at the top of house at the back – it was almost a self contained apartment with its own bathroom. Paul once compared it to an artist’s garret. It had a bed, easy chair, record player and small piano. Under the bed Paul kept his gold records and his MBE! Peter Asher had the room next door and Claire and Jane’s rooms were below. Even though Paul and Jane had separate rooms they regularly slept together – the Asher’s were a very liberal family.
Paul and Jane were often apart. Paul, of course, was often on tour with The Beatles and Jane was often away on acting assignments. Paul seemed to resent that Jane wasn’t there all the time. Jane certainly inspired Paul to write songs: Here There and Everywhere, And I Love Her and Every Little Thing were all about Jane. However, the relationship wasn’t all champagne and roses, he also wrote I’m Looking Through You, For No One and You Won’t See Me about her.
Mr and Mrs Asher were very protective of Paul. Paul’s fans heard where he was living soon after he moved in, and fans camped outside the house almost continually. To help Paul get in and out of the house Dr Asher devised an elaborate escape route for Paul. He had to climb onto a foot wide parapet along to the right and into the flat of a retired colonel at No. 56. He then went right down to the basement flat of a young couple who used to let him through their kitchen window and into their garage. Then Paul went out of the street door by 10 Browning Mews and did a left through an archway into New Cavendish St.
Mrs Asher offered to teach Paul how to read and write music notation but after a few lessons Paul gave up. He still can’t read music notation to this day. However, Mrs Asher did succeed is teaching Paul how to play the recorder. Paul can be heard playing the instrament on Fool on the Hill.
When the nearby Post Office Tower was being built Dr. Asher watched the building’s progress from his bedroom window. Just before it opened he wrote to the owners, the GPO, asking if he could visit the tower with his family. He turned up with Peter and Jane and Paul McCartney! The owners were amazed to see two world famous pop stars and a world famous actress in their new building.
Paul immediately struck up a friendship with Peter and his friend Gordon Waller who sang under the name Peter and Gordon and wrote A World Without Love especially for them. It reached number one in the UK charts. Peter also became involved in a project to start an art gallery and bookshop with two friends Barry Miles and John Dunbar. Paul was also very interested in the project and donated money so it could open. It was called the Indica Art Gallery and was where John met Yoko in November 1966.
Mrs Asher’s music room was in the basement of the house. John Lennon was a regular visitor to the house and he and Paul regularly used the music room to write songs. It was not long after Paul moved in that they wrote I Want to Hold Your Hand down there. Gordon Waller remembers that John was on a pedal organ and Paul on a piano. John later remembered they wrote the song ‘eyeball to eyeball’. They had the ‘you’ve got that something’ line when Paul hit a key on the piano and John looked up and said ‘That’s It!’ – they had the link that made the song.
Early one morning Paul woke up in his bedroom with a tune in his head. He went straight over to the piano he had by the bed to play it. He called the tune Scrambled Eggs. Paul initially thought he was remembering the tune from someone else’s and went around his friends asking if they recognised it. No-one did so Paul finally realised that he had dreamt the tune and wrote some proper words to it. He called it Yesterday.
When Paul actually had this dream seems to confuse him; in two different authorised biographies Paul gives different dates. In Yesterday and Today he said it was late 1963 – in Many Years From Now he states it was 1965.
In 1965 Paul bought a house in Cavendish Avenue, St John’s Wood, just around the corner from Abbey Road. Paul took some time to do it up, with Jane’s help, and they both moved in a few months later. However, they started to drift apart – especially when Jane went on tour to America with the Bristol Old Vic touring company. When Jane came back, Paul was heavily into drugs and Jane didn’t join in.
Paul and Jane announced their engagement on Christmas Day 1967, but broke up in May 1968. Paul wanted Jane to give up her acting career and start a family but she refused.
Tragically, Dr Asher committed suicide at 57 Wimpole Street in 1969. Not surprisingly, the Asher family moved out soon afterwards.
Jane is continuing her very successful acting career and also had her own lifestyle TV programme on the BBC called ‘Good Living’. She is married to cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who made a satirical papier mache model of The Beatles that was shown on the front cover of Time magazine in 1967.
Peter Asher worked for a time as A and R man of Apple records. Allegedly, when Paul broke up with Jane he stormed into Apple the next morning to sack Peter as an act of revenge – Paul later changed his mind but soon after Peter left Apple with his discovery James Taylor and masterminded his career, along with that of Linda Rondstadt. Peter is now a top record company executive in America.
A few years ago I had the unique opportunity of visiting the house with a reporter from the Times newspaper, who was writing an article on it. The house, at the time, was owned by John Carlotta, who was the former manager of Deep Purple. Throughout the house were many gold records for songs like ‘Smoke on the Water’.
57 Wimpole Street was sold for about two million pounds in the early 2000’s and is now a private clinic.
57 Wimpole Street is one of the places visited on Richard Porter’s London Beatles Walks. For more information see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com
Richard’s book ‘Guide to the Beatles London’ is available at the Beatles Coffee Shop, St John’s Wood.