Another chapter in The Beatles saga has come to an end. Neil Aspinall, who served The Beatles first as their road manager and later managing Apple Corps for them, passed on Sunday night at the age of 66. The cause was lung cancer.
Neil Aspinall was born in Prestatyn, North Wales on October 13, 1941. His mother had evacuated Liverpool because of German air raids on the city (his father was in the Royal Navy at the time). His mother and he returned to Liverpool when Aspinall was a baby and the threat of the blitz had subsided. He attended West Derby School and the Liverpool Institute for Boys, where one of his classmates was Paul McCartney. He later met George Harrison at the Institute as well.
Aspinall had been working as an accountant trainee at a firm in Liverpool when Pete Best (then the drummer for The Beatles) asked him to serve as the band's part time road manager. In the early days his service as road manager for the band consisted of charging each member five shillings to transport them and their equipment in an old Commer van. By the time The Beatles had returned from Hamburg the group was making enough money that Aspinall could afford to quit his job as an accountant and become their road manager full time. There was only one time that afterwards that Aspinall would nearly leave The Beatles. Close friends with Pete Best, he was very angry when Best was fired as the band's drummer. Fortunately, Best assured Aspinall that he must remain with the band, while Lennon and McCartney were able to smooth things over with him.
Eventually Aspinall's duties would go far beyond that of a road manager, as at times he acted as a personal assistant to The Beatles. Along with Mal Evans, Aspinall wold check the band's gear for concerts, arrange meals and accommodations, and even decided which groupies were worthy to meet The Beatles. When George Harrison was sick with the flu, it was Neil Aspinall who stood in for him in rehearsals for the band's historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was Neil Aspinall who sought out the many photographs of celebrities The Beatles wanted for the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He even participated, albeit rarely, in Beatles recordings. He sang in the chorus on the song "Yellow Submarine." He played harmonica on "Being for The Benefit of Mr Kite" and tamboura on "Within You Without You." The character of Norm the road manager in the movie A Hard Day's Night was based loosely on Neil Aspinall.
Following death of Brian Epstein, the group's manager, it was Neil Aspinall who took over management of Apple Corps. So valued to The Beatles was Aspinall that when music entrepreneur Allan Klein was brought in to straighten out their finances, John Lennon told him "Don’t touch Neil and Mal, they’re ours (Mal being Mal Evans). Aspinall would see The Beatles' empire through the break up of the band, numerous lawsuits, and several important projects. Among those projects were the two disc set of The Beatles performances on BBC Radio (Live at the BBC), Yellow Submarine Songtrack (an album including every song in the movie), the Cirque du Soleil show Love, and his crowning achievement, The Beatles Anthology. The The Beatles Anthology ultimately became a six hour miniseries (the home video version being nearly 13 hours) and accompanying recording.
Neil Aspinall not only produced The Beatles Anthology, but also Let It Be and Hendrix: Band of Gypsys.
Loyal to The Beatles to the end, Aspinall joked that he ever did write his memoirs, they would only be published after he died. It appears, however, that Neil Aspinall took whatever secrets he had about The Beatles to the grave, as he seems to have written no memoirs.
Neil Aspinall was perhaps the individual closest to The Beatles, closer than even Brian Epstein or George Martin. His association with them lasted decades, from the beginning until last year when he finally stepped down from Apple Corps. So valued was Aspinall to The Beatles that in 1988, when The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, George Harrison stated that Neil Aspinall should be considered the fifth Beatle. As a man who oversaw The Beatles' empire and who was their trusted friend for decades, it is very sad that he had to die all too soon.