The Beatles FAQ
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The Beatles FAQ

John, Yoko and the Monkeys

Eloping couple marry in Gibraltar

Yoko dressed for a night in a prohibition speakeasy or an early Bugsy Malone audition

Two days after Paul and Linda’s wedding, John and Yoko are in a car on their way to visit John’s Aunt Mimi. After a deep discussion on the back seat, they announce glad tidings to their driver. “We’ve decided to get married.”

“Congratulations, sir. When’ is the happy day?”

“Today!” the happy couple announce. “We want to get married at sea. We’ll get the captain to do the ceremony.”

So they drive to the nearest big port, Southampton. This is where the The Ballad of John and Yoko begins:

Standing in the dock at Southampton/Trying to get to Holland or France.

The man in the mac said, “You’ve got to go back”.

You know they didn’t even give us a chance.

Before you unpack your tiny violins, a couple of clarifications. The reason they must go back is that they don’t have their passports. Oh and Yoko doesn’t have a visa to enter French waters. Wouldn’t do much for the wedding vibe if she was thrown in the brig. Or had to walk the plank

Plan B

Time to call Beatles HQ — at a time when mobile phones were beyond the remotest science fiction. They drive round until they find a functioning phone box. Pennies are pooled and dropped in the requisite slots.

“We’ve decided to get married,” John announces. “Next Thursday.”

Stunned silence on the end of the line, Then, Peter Brown says “That might be a bit tricky, John. You have to apply for a licence and — ”

“Somewhere abroad,” John continues. We’re not going to Gretna Green like a couple teenage runaways. A quiet wedding with no press in a groovy place.”

So no pressure, Pete.

We chose Gibraltar because it is quiet, British and friendly. We tried everywhere else first. John Lennon

The first option that Brown comes up with is chartering a plane to fly them to Paris. Alas, there is a snageroo. The French won’t play ball because John and Yoko are not French residents. And French officials run a tight ship when it came to les papiers. Even for a Yeah Yeah — especially for a Yeah Yeah.

Much cursing chez Lennon/Ono. The world’s most famous couple is running out of suitably romantic wedding options. Then the ballad takes up the tale:

Peter Brown called to say/“You can make it O.K

You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain

Gibraltar, Brown explains, ticks all the boxes. No residency requirements or boring passport regulations. Everyone speaks English — with a Spanish accent but that’s cool, right? And you have those cute monkeys…

On Thursday March 20th, John and Yoko charter a flight to Gibraltar. From the airport they are driven directly to the British Consulate Office. The formalities are completed in under ten minutes.

They saunter out for those famous photos and on to the air taxi. Then it’s back to Surrey for tea.

A musical souvenir

The following month John asks Paul to help him record a song about the whole escapade. This may seem a surprising move, given all the screaming that is going on at band/business meeting. Especially as George and Ringo are firmly on Team Lennon-Ono/Klein.

Despite everything, the old friends still enjoy playing together. Besides, George and Ringo are not around (yet more holidays?) and the multi-instrumentalist Paul is.

John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help.

So with McCartney sitting in on lead guitar and drums (Shush! Don’t tell Ringo! You know how touchy he can be!) John and Paul set to work at Abbey Road. Over two days, they record the entire track.

Many years later McCartney said this about The Ballad of John and Yoko.

It’s quite a good song {and} has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles. Source: Many Years From Now

The slight barbs (“impatient”, “quite good”) can’t disguise the obvious. Whatever their squabbles, John and Paul had a magical musical chemistry.

Franco furious

In 1969 Spain was in the thirty-third year of the dreary dictatorship of General Franco. The general had firm views on the possession of the rock:

will use every means to put an end to this offensive situation.

The residents of the Rock had begged to differ with the Caudillo in a 1967 referendum on this question.

Of the 12,762 Gibraltarians qualified to vote, no fewer than 12,138 voted to remain with Britain. Only 44 opted for the transfer of the Rock to Spanish sovereignty. source

This meant nothing to Franco who wasn’t a fan of democracy or voting or The Beatles. Predictably, he took umbrage at the song’s passing reference to ‘Gibraltar near Spain’. This was geographically debatable — it is a British territory on the Spanish mainland — but to be fair to Lennon that scanning that would have challenged Cole Porter.

Besides Franco needed to show the world who was boss. He banned The Ballad of John & Yoko in all the territory he controlled.

This did not include Gibraltar, where the song rang out. Even the monkeys sang along.

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