Say what you want about the Beatles (chances are you’re a fan), but when it comes to their extra-curricular activities, they liked to indulge in the illegal sort. They weren’t as edgy as their contemporaries, though, like the Rolling Stones who were arrested for pretty much every crime in the book.
When it came to picking their poison, the Fab Four had one type of medicine they particularly liked. Back in the Beatles’ heyday, grass was a big no-no. Remember the “War on Drugs”? Haha, yeah…
Anyways, here’s a list of all the times the Beatles got arrested.
These were the early days when the Beatles still had Pete Best in the lineup. The young and impressionable band went to Hamburg, Germany, to earn some invaluable performing experience while also stirring the pot along the way. On the night of November 29, 1960, Paul McCartney and Pete Best were arrested for attempted arson, of all things.
The boys were already a bit down in the dumps, because George Harrison had just recently been deported back to the UK (authorities discovered he was only 17 and thus not of legal age to be playing their late-night sets, which were after the 10 p.m. curfew).
The band was at odds with Bruno Koschmider, the owner of the nightclub they had been playing in, the Kaiserkeller. Koschmider had canceled the Beatles’ contract earlier that month after hearing that they signed another contract with a rival of his, the Top Ten Club.
Although the boys continued to play at his club for another three weeks, they still had to pack up all of their stuff (they had been staying there at the time) and move into the small room above their new performance spot, which they were planning on renting. Now, the problem was that McCartney and Best decided to carry out the move at night…
So, they lit a fire to light the situation. In Anthology, McCartney said that, as a prank, they fixed a condom to the wall as a makeshift candle and lit it up. While it did no damage other than a few burn marks, Koschmider went ballistic. He called the police and accused them of arson.
In his biography, Many Years From Now, McCartney recalled how the owner told the cops that they “tried to burn his place down.” The cops then told McCartney and Best to “Leave, please. Thank you very much, but we don’t want you to burn our German houses.”
Here’s the kicker, as McCartney pointed out: “Funny, really, because we couldn’t have burned the place even if we had gallons of petrol — it was made of stone.” But that didn’t matter to the police, who were only interested in the alleged intent.
McCartney and Best were held in a cell overnight while the authorities arranged to have them deported. The next day, the pair went to the Top Ten Club to get some rest in their new place. That afternoon, they were woken up by heavy banging on the door.
When Best opened the door, he was greeted by cops who told them to get dressed quickly. They were then taken to Hamburg Criminal police headquarters, where they were told that they were going to be deported. The boys tried to persuade the police otherwise but failed.
McCartney admitted to his initial thoughts at that moment: “Oh dear, this could be the concentration camps – you never know. It hadn’t been that long [since the war].” Before being sent back home to England, McCartney and Best were given five minutes to pack up their possessions.
Best was forced to leave his drums behind. That night, they were escorted out of the country as John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe (the original bass guitarist) stood by and watched. Lennon went back to the UK 10 days later, but Sutcliffe stuck around for a few months−until early 1961 in fact.
The Hamburg visit was effectively a sh*t show, but they ended up back in the same spot in the spring. By then, Harrison was 18, McCartney and Best had paid their deportation fees, and the boys were back on the road for another tour of duty.
“All of a sudden, there was this knock on the door and a woman’s voice outside, and I look around, and there is a policeman standing in the window, waiting to be let in. We’d been in bed, and our lower regions were uncovered,” Lennon recalled.
“Yoko ran into the bathroom to get dressed, with her head poking out, so they wouldn’t think she was hiding anything. Then I said, ‘Ring the lawyer, quick,’ but she went and rang Apple [Records]. I will never know why.”
On the morning of October 18, 1968, the Drug Squad paid John Lennon and Yoko Ono a visit…
At the time, the couple was living at Ringo Starr’s London apartment at 34 Montagu Square. After receiving a tip from a newspaper journalist, the police thoroughly ransacked the place to make sure it was free of drugs.
If you ask(ed) Lennon, he would have told you the whole thing was set up. “The Daily Express was there before the cops came.” He explained how Don Short, the journalist with the tip, even told him and Yoko three weeks earlier that they were coming to get them.
“I’d cleaned the house out because Jimi Hendrix had lived there before in the apartment, and I’m not stupid. I went through the whole damn house,” Lennon admitted. Before the cops raided the place, Lennon’s friend Pete Shotton called him.
Shotton had trained as a cop, so he helped the couple check each room. But Yoko eventually got fed up and made Shotton leave the apartment. He left, taking the vacuum cleaner bag with him.
The ensuing raid was led by the notorious Sergeant Norman Pilcher…
Oh, Sgt. Pilcher, the anti-drugs zealot who made it his life’s mission to take down every drug-taking musician in ‘60s London. We’ll get to him later, but for this story, he entered the apartment at 11:30 a.m., along with eight officers and police dogs – the whole shebang.
Lennon insisted they first read their warrant through a window. That’s when he told Yoko to call their lawyer. But since she called Apple, Peter Brown (assistant to the band’s manager) had to arrange for lawyers to attend the scene.
It turns out that Shotton, Lennon, and Yoko didn’t do such a good job cleaning out the place because the squad discovered 219 grains of cannabis resin. Well, the dogs (no joke, named Yogi and Booboo) found the drugs. The resin was discovered in multiple places, including a binocular case, a film can and a cigarette roller.
The couple was taken to Paddington Green police station, where they were charged with drug possession as well as for obstructing the police in the execution of a search warrant. At the station, Lennon spoke to EMI’s Sir Joseph Lockwood, who told him how to deal with the police.
“This is Sergeant Lennon; can I help you?” is what Lennon reportedly said when he took the call. Either way, the couple denied that the drugs belonged to them. The case went to trial, and Sgt. Pilcher read the charges against them a little too gleefully.
Lennon pleaded guilty. Apparently, he was worried that Yoko would be deported (she was pregnant at the time). The whole thing lasted five minutes. Lennon was fined £150 and was told that if it were to happen again, he would be sentenced to a year in jail.
Continuing his drug raid rampage, Sgt. Pilcher now set his sights on another Beatle. He and his Drug Squad raided George Harrison’s home on the same day that McCartney married Linda Eastman. Pilcher clearly couldn’t care less for sentiments.
The squad entered Harrison’s home while he was at Apple Records. However, Pattie Boyd, his wife at the time, was there to witness Pilcher, the other officers, and Yogi and Booboo taking over the place and leaving it in an utter mess. Boyd then called her husband to let him know.
The raid occurred on the same day as McCartney’s wedding, but what did Sgt. Pilcher care? He had one thing and one thing only on his agenda: arrest the high-profile performers on drug charges. “[Pilcher] came out to my house with about eight other policemen,” Harrison shared in Anthology.
Harrison said he figures they called one of the search dogs Yogi because “of the Beatle connection with Maharishi. They thought they’d have a bit of fun.” Boyd, in her book Wonderful Tonight, said that when she heard a ruckus outside, she thought it might be Paul and Linda.
“My first thought was that maybe Paul and Linda wanted to party after the wedding,” Boyd wrote. As the front doorbell rang, so did the bell at the back door: “I thought, Oh, my God, this is so scary! I’m surrounded by police.”
Harrison came quickly to find his house turned upside down. To add insult to injury, members of the squad were sitting in their living room, watching TV! They even helped themselves to some tea. Funnily enough, some of the officers were too starstruck to approach Harrison directly.
Sgt. Pilcher, however, wasn’t as reserved as his colleagues. He gladly informed the Beatle of his arrest. The raid also turned up 120 joints, no less. Pilcher also claimed to have found “a large clump of hashish” in a pair of Harrison’s shoes, but the quiet Beatle strongly denied it.
“I’m a tidy man,” he shared in a statement that year. “I keep my socks in the sock drawer and stash in the stash box. It’s not mine.” Well, at least he admitted to keeping the stash where it should be kept.
Harrison also denied the 120 joints that he said were “planted.” Regardless, he was charged with possession of illegal drugs, and both he and Boyd were transported to the local police station for fingerprinting and processing.
The couple was released on bail, but only after having missed the wedding. In front of a judge, the pair decided to plead guilty to possession of cannabis. The court was reportedly satisfied that the couple were only using it for personal use and thus fined each of them £250.
It’s old news that McCartney was a pot virgin in 1965 when Bob Dylan smoked up with the Fab Four, but the Beatle seemed to really get a kick out of the Mary Jane. So much so that he got arrested for it.
In 1972, he and his wife Linda were arrested for possession of cannabis in Sweden. He didn’t serve any time, though. Rather, he had to pay up a fine of $2,000. The event has been said to be the inspiration behind the Band on the Run. But, of course, that’s up for debate.
Paul and Linda went from being Sweden’s outcasts to Scotland’s gardeners as they started to take up horticulture on their farm in Scotland. But their crop was more than just vegetables; it included all kinds of green. The police found several cannabis plants that grew like weeds (literally) on his property.
McCartney found himself in court, explaining himself to the judge who believed his story – that he didn’t know what kind of seeds he planted as he received so many in the mail. Nevertheless, the Beatle wrote a check for $175 and was free to go back to his farming, just without the weed plants this time.
From getting let off easily in Sweden to getting a slap on the wrist in Scotland, it looks like Paul and Linda were pushing their luck with the whole weed thing. They clearly didn’t learn their lesson (as to how NOT to get caught).
This time, they were busted in LA for possession of cannabis, but it was only because they ran a red light in their 1974 Lincoln Continental. Tthis time, it was Linda who took the fall and got arrested. The charges were dropped, and the McCartneys again paid a fine for possession. Small beans for these two.
Sweden, Scotland and America may have been somewhat kind to the Beatle, but McCartney may have underestimated the Japanese’s intolerance. He was busted for possessing over 200 grams of pot when he landed in the country on January 16, 1980.
He was on tour with his band Wings at the time, but instead of doing a planned 11-city concert tour, McCartney spent nine days in the Tokyo Narcotics Detention Center. Only after Japanese court officials decreed that the Beatle had paid his dues via jail time, did they let him go. They kept the pot, though.
McCartney was lucky that he got off with just nine days in the slammer because holding about half a pound of marijuana in his baggage was enough to warrant a smuggling charge and a potential seven-year sentence. Luckily, he was let out and deported back to the UK without even appearing in court.
At the time, the main question people were asking was, “What was Paul thinking?” Half a pound of marijuana? For “personal use?” McCartney had actually been denied a Japanese entry Visa five years earlier due to this very reason!
Twenty years after his 1980 arrest, McCartney revealed what may have been his reasoning at the time (we can never be so sure what our reasons are decades later, after all). He admitted that he might have subconsciously been trying to disband Wings, which he did immediately upon landing in England.
But then again, in a 2004 interview, Sir Paul offered an explanation that sounds a tad more convincing. “We were about to fly to Japan, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” McCartney said. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”
Ah, Barbados, such a beautiful island. The sun, the water, the chilled vibe – the place is practically begging you to take a toke. And that’s exactly what these notorious tokers did. I mean, at this point, you gotta wonder: did these two do anything else?
Paul and Linda chose to stir up the pot by buying some on a Barbados beach. In what happened to be a sheer coincidence, the couple’s arrest in Barbados was exactly four years to the date of Paul’s arrest in Tokyo (January 16). Regardless, Barbados officials fined and released them. (Mental note: No jail time in Barbados).
Wanna hear something funny? Sgt. Pilcher – the notorious narc who arrested all the rock bands in the ‘60s? Well, he was arrested, too. You see, the beautiful irony was that the narc himself was ultimately jailed for perjury.
Pilcher became famous for catching not only the Beatles, but the Stones, Dusty Springfield, Donovan, and more. But his time in the sun faded to black when he got caught for fabricating evidence. An Old Bailey judge told Pilcher that he had “poisoned the wells of British justice.”
Here’s another fun fact: John Lennon supposedly wrote I Am the Walrus with Sgt. Pilcher in mind (you would think they wrote Sgt. Pepper about him, but no). Now in his mid-80s, Norman “Nobby” Pilcher wrote a memoir, Bent Coppers, in which he sets the record straight.
Of all the stories he denies, there’s one thing he does accept, and it’s Lennon’s 1967 song, I Am the Walrus. Lennon wrote a reference to “semolina pilchard” and he’s glad to be known as the “Walrus.”
Back in the ‘60s, Pilcher was almost as famous as the artists he was busting. He made girls around the world jealous by being the one to grab the velvet collars of the biggest rockstars of the era. But lo and behold, the sergeant and his drug squad were corrupt.
Pilcher ended up behind bars for four years. Only now, with his memoir, is he finally speaking up. According to Sgt. Pilcher, he – like so many of his targets at the time – was a victim of a stitch-up.
He first joined the force in 1956 after a stint in the military police. He initially wanted to do “something sincerely useful” but realized that if he was really going to be such a squeaky-clean officer, he would never be able to fully investigate crime.
In his words: “London and the Met were rotten, and if you needed to walk through the muck, you’d need to be prepared to get your clothes dirty.” These were the War on Drug days, and as Pilcher explained, the force had ants in their pants – they needed as many high-profile arrests as possible to deter the youngsters from doing drugs.
His early days as a narc saw the homes of composer Lionel Bart and the singer Dusty Springfield getting raided, thanks to tip-offs from all kinds of sources. Dusty’s “foul language and insults” didn’t deter him, though.
If anything, the clash between him and his targets motivated him even more. “The Home Office was breathing down our necks to move on more of the big names,” he wrote. In 1967, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones became a target. A year later, it was Tubby Hayes, the saxophonist and addict, who got arrested for heroin possession.
Then came his chance to cuff the famous couple, John and Yoko, in October 1968. He wore a postman’s hat as a disguise and led his drug squad into the apartment. “They were stark naked!” he recalled of the infamous raid. But Pilcher had to admit that he was impressed by Lennon.
“His ideas of peace and kindness were expressed in his demeanor and attitude, which was quite humbling indeed.” Lennon even sent his favorite narc postcards from Japan with the greeting: “You can’t get me now!”
Maybe for Lennon, it felt like a game of cat and mouse. But for Pilcher, this was his life’s work. And he took it very, very seriously. This “bent copper” didn’t limit his attacks to the UK; he arrested the late Levi Stubbs of the band the Four Tops at the Mayfair Hotel.
The media ate it up, and with time, the sargent started being known as “Groupie Pilcher” since he appeared in photos of the arrests alongside the famous rockstars. Pilcher explained that the only reason those photos were even seen by the public was that some corrupt colleagues leaked news of the arrests to the press for cash.
Robert Mark, the police commissioner of the Met, pledged to “arrest more criminals than he employed.” If Pilcher blames anyone for his later fall from grace, it’s Commissioner Mark and his drive. What happened was Pilcher, during a major drug trafficking investigation, fabricated entries in his police diary.
This, he explained, was standard practice and something his police bosses had encouraged him and the other officers to do. By 1973, after a long and tedious trial, he was convicted of perjury and jailed for four years.
Justice Melford Stevenson said as he sentenced him: “You poisoned the wells of criminal justice and set about it deliberately… not the least grave aspect of what you have done is provide material for the crooks, cranks and do-gooders who unite to attack the police whenever the opportunity arises.”
In other words: he was a disgrace to the force. Pilcher served time at the Ford open prison in West Sussex, and you could say that he even enjoyed it. He was able to play cricket at Arundel Castle and soccer in a local league.
Upon his release, he found work running a driving school and an old folk’s home. So, why did he wait until his 80s to write his tell-all memoir? “To set the record straight and let the public know about the corruption within the police service.
“I never felt bitter at the time, but now I’m really very bitter,” he said. He claims that many of the stories about him were fake, including, for example, the Donovan arrest. He said he never arrested the musician in 1966, which many said was his first high-profile arrest.
Before he targeted the Beatles and the Stones, Pilcher’s had his eyes on folk singer Donovan. On June 11, 1966, a frazzled young woman showed up at Donovan’s apartment door, and it was obvious that something was wrong.
The last thing on his mind was that he could be the target of the police, so he opened his door. But in came the ”coppers.” Donovan said they “smashed the place up. I’m jumping naked on the back of policemen’s necks, they’re smashing up beautiful things in the room, it’s terrible.”
They found hash, but Donovan swore it wasn’t his: “We couldn’t even find that stuff to buy in London. The little bit of hash we did have, we’d already smoked.” Okay, so that was one allegedly fake story that Pilcher wants to clear up.
Another is the one about busting Eric Clapton in Chelsea. One of Pilcher’s most famous arrests was of the Stones’ Brian Jones. Pilcher apparently kept a list of his future targets, and at some point, local journalists got a look at the list and thus were able to tip off the rockstars.
In January 1967, Brian Jones was next on the list. After coming back from the Cannes Film Festival, Jones started getting calls from journalists, asking if he’d been busted yet. That’s when he learned of his name on the top of Pilcher’s list.
Like all the others who knew he was approaching, Jones went ahead and cleaned out his apartment. But, and also like the others, the drug squad still managed to find evidence. The officers in the raid found a “purple Moroccan-looking wallet with this iffy-looking grass in it” on the musician’s bed.
This was, of course, planted. Pilcher reported that he found cocaine, too, and told the young Rolling Stone, “Well, I’m not going to charge you with this, am I? For one-thousandth of a gram?” It seemed as though the sarge was having fun with the stars in his sick little game.
On February 12, 1967, it was time for the other Stones to get busted. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were allegedly set up by British newspaper The News of the World. At the time, Jagger was already in litigation against the paper for libel.
The paper reported that he was doing drugs at a Moody Blues party. Thanks to the story, he was pushed to the top of Pilcher’s list. And so, at another party, Jagger and Richards were the subject of another drug squad raid.
After “finding” Jagger’s four tablets of amphetamines and seeing that Richards was “allowing his house to be used for the purpose of smoking cannabis,” the two rockers were cuffed. They were then released on £200 bail. With that, Richards had something to say about the state of events in London…
“When we got busted… it made us realize that this was a whole different ball game, and that was when the fun had stopped. Up until then, it had been as though London existed in a beautiful space where you could do anything you wanted.”
“And then the hammer came down, and it was back to reality.” Although the pair of Stones was released on bail, they still had to go to trial. They were ultimately convicted and sentenced to jail.
Jagger got sentenced to three months; Richards got a year and a half. But the public was enraged. A famous editorial in The Times of London actually caused the authorities to think it over. In protest, The Who announced that they were willing to record and release Rolling Stones music.
They intended “to keep their work before the public until they are again free to record themselves.” The product of this protest was a 45 of two Jagger/Richards tracks: The Last Time and Under My Thumb.
Jagger could thank his lucky stars that he was released after three nights in the can and Richards after just one. Pilcher denies having planted any evidence, nor did he allow drug dealers to operate freely if they informed him.
Here’s the cherry on top: Britain’s rockstar narc now wants to legalize drugs and bring them above ground. How’s that for irony?