A few years ago, I was privileged to meet Jeni Crowley. She worked for the Beatles Fan Club in London, was on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour coach, and worked at the Beatles Apple Shop on Baker Street. Jeni agreed to give me an interview about her time with the Fabs, the first time she had been interviewed by anyone about this incredible time in her life. Here it is below:
Were you a Beatles fan from an early age?
The first time I heard them was Love me Do. I lived in London. A friend of mine went down to the fan club and told me they needed help at any time. I used to go after school or in the school holidays. We used to go to the top floor and there would be sacks and sacks of mail and my job was to sort it out into different areas. Later on I was promoted and came down to the main floor and was answering the phones etc. As you know there are a lot of forged autographs around, done by the fan club people, and I became John Lennon! I was doing it since I was around 13 years old.
Who was the boss?
There was a lady know as Anne Collingham, Who was really a lady called mary Cochran, and Bettina Rose. They were given names. I don’t know why. When I came along my real name was Jean, but when the vacancy came along, there was already a lady called Maureen, and they said you can’t have Jean and Maureen, is there another name you go by? An aunt of mine used to call me Jennifer, so I became Jeni.
We ran the Fan Club as Maureen and Jeni. We used to write the newsletters. The offices in Monmouth Street were above a dirty bookshop and that’s where I used to go in my school uniform and change in the ladies loo on the first floor.
It closed and went to Argyle Street, then went back to Liverpool with Freda Kelly, so the actual fanclub in London folded, and Freda took it back over, and the only London area club was the one I was running with Maureen. In 1967 I suddenly got a message that Brian Epstein wanted to see me. I’d been told you don’t cross Brian Epstein. I didn’t know what I’d done. Maureen had given an interview to the press. It was around the time The Beatles had said they weren’t going to tour any more. The press had come to my house to ask me what I thought about this – and I said it was up to the Beatles. Maureen had been really irate about it though. Brian called me in to say ‘ What about this article? And I said I didn’t know anything about it. I said that I didn’t say anything to the press but the press said I was devastated and was weeping etc. Brian was brilliant, he told me how to handle the press, what to say and that if anything came up in the future I was to go to him. However, he called Maureen in and sacked her!
Brian was very protective of the Beatles.
Within a few weeks Brian had died and Magical Mystery Tour came up. I had been doing some publicity for the Bee Gees with Tony Barrow. Tony sent a telegram to the fan club area secretaries, including me, asking if we’d like to be in this film! We didn’t have a phone at the time. I ran to the phone box and said ‘No I can’t – I’m going back to school on Monday!’ I was 16 and was going to go to art college. But my dad came in from work and read the telegram, and said if you want to go, you should go. He was a big music fan. I ran back to the phone box to ask if anyone had taken my place. They said no, so on the Monday we just met up. Of course we had no mobile phones, noone knew where we were going or who with. They could have lost their daughter, but didn’t seem too bothered!
I had wanted to be a journalist and above the fan club was Disc and Music Echo, and there was a journalist there called Christine, who gave me a press pass. I used to go to Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops and interview various people. So I had met various pop stars and was quite blasé about it. My autograph book is chocker! So to meet the Beatles wasn’t such a big deal. When I did meet them Paul was the first one – we were waiting for the coach in Alsop Place, he just said Hello. The other 3 got on at Virginia Water and we just struck up conversations. The first thing I really remember was going to a restaurant, just after we picked them up. It seemed really posh to me. The four fan club secretaries sat apart in a corner by the door. I ordered a cheese sandwich. I waited and waited for it to come and it didn’t. On the way out George came along and said ‘Have you eaten?’ and I said no, my sandwich didn’t come. George went through the doors to the kitchen and brought the chef out and said ‘She ordered a cheese sandwich!’ – as if I was someone very special. I didn’t forget that. The next day we sat in different places on the coach and he came and sat next to me and we started talking about philosophy, India etc. That was me on the inside looking out. He said ‘I’ll show you what my life is like’ We were coming into the hotel in Newquay, and as we were coming along I saw a few people, and looked the other way and saw more people. As I turned back it was as if the pavement had opened up and people emerged hitting the side of the coach and banging in a frenzy. George looked at me and I was absolutely shocked and he said ‘Now do you see and that really hit me. I thought my goodness, this is their life, and in some ways I am responsible for this life as a fan. It was a strange way of living, but all they knew. I felt very honoured, looking out and being a part of this little set.
They made it up as they went along didn’t they?
We didn’t know what we were doing! Paul was in charge. Sylvia stayed behind at one stage with John and George to film on the beach, and I went off with Paul and Ringo, and there is a scene where I am sitting behind Ringo and his Aunt Jessie. Ringo was ad-libbing, and we were all laughing and Paul said ‘I don’t want you laughing! I had to sit there deadpan.
Paul was very professional and without any doubt was the leader. That really showed. I went to see Backbeat at your recommendation, and thought it was absolutely brilliant, and I could see then where Paul stood in the scheme of things and that’s how it was – Paul saying I want this to be a success, this is what we are going to do.
We saw two previews of Magical Mystery Tour, one just for the fan club secretaries, at which John and George came along too. A couple of days later there was a fancy dress party with everyone there, where it was shown again. I remember that at the party I really felt like a drink of water, and grabbed a glass, and it turned out to be vodka! I spent the first part of the party on the floor of the ladies loo! George’s mum took me under her wing and said ‘OK, I’m going to look after you now. She wrote letters to me later and said she was going to adopt me! The party was great, I got to dance with Lulu, Robert Morley played Father Christmas. He was a famous actor and I had to go and sit on his lap!
The first time to see Magical Mystery Tour on my own with my family around me, we were waiting for something like A Hard Day’s Night and it didn’t happen, and I remember feeling quite embarrassed as I didn’t know what it was about.
We had an open invitation to Abbey Road. On the last day of filming at West Malling, John said they were recording and we should come along whenever we liked! I checked it out with George and he said it was OK too. That was the first time I was in there watching and hearing them sing – I sat there and thought – ‘Wow – it the Beatles!
They were recording I Am the Walrus. I went in with John Lennon, and as I walked in I saw Cliff Richard and shouted at John ‘There’s Cliff!’ like a crazed fan.
I was sitting behind a soundproof screen and some girls came in. A little while later George came up to me, and asked if it was OK if your friends leave. I said ‘What friends?’ And they said those girls over there. I said I didn’t know them. They’d come in and said they were with me!
I fell asleep in the studio as it was very late at night – I heard someone say ‘She’s asleep!’ And it was Ringo. George came along with a cup of tea and some biscuits. It was 3 o’clock in the morning! George got me a taxi to make sure I got home. He gave me a kiss goodbye as I got into the taxi. The taxi driver got down to Trafalgar Square without saying a word, and he then said ‘Do you know that was one of the Beatles?’ I said ‘really? I thought it was the milkman!’
George used to talk to me about getting hold of a book called ‘Autobiography of a yogi. This was while we were still on Magical Mystery Tour.
There was one occasion when we were in Abbey Road and they were passing around joints. It was passed to me, but George took it out of my hands and said, “She doesn’t need it, she’s the only person who’s got the philosophy without the drugs. I was very touched he saw that in me. That’s a great memory carry with me.
George had asked me a few times what I was doing and I said I was still at school. He said ‘what do want to be at school for? He said to me why don’t I come to work at Apple? They had opened the shop, and Jenni Boyd was leaving, so by this time I said Oh, all right then, so I went to work in the Apple shop. I stayed there until the ‘great giveaway’. I went to Savile Row a few times too, and got given the ‘Two Virgins’ album for my 18th birthday. I left it on the train as I was too embarrassed to take it home! I gradually lost touch with the Beatles after that.
What was the Apple shop like?
‘Magic Alex’ was around with his ‘dream machine’ in the back room. It was a strange place. There was Caleb – The manager of the shop, and a few people who I wondered whether they should be there or not! The Fool came in quite regularly and made me a coat. They had a basement flat where they made some wonderful creations. The flat was in Montagu Square.
To get into the shop you had to hold a handle in the shape of a hand. George and Ringo came in a lot, and Yoko, and Kyoko, with her nanny. One day I was in the shop when Ringo came in. We were walking down the stairs and we realised it was like ‘Your Mother Should Know’ – we both starting singing it and he danced me down the stairs. Pattie and Jenni used to come in regularly. To me, though, it was just a job, not particularly out of the ordinary. It was the inside looking out thing again. The outside world looked freaky to us and we were protected.
Was it sudden when it closed down?
Yes, we didn’t know a thing! Though I’d had bad vibes – I was having my lunch break one day, when I felt that I must go home. I had this feeling that something awful was going to happen, but we had no idea. As I went out the door, John, Yoko and some others came in and ransacked the place, taking anything they wanted. The next day they just said to give everything away. I got up to serve someone and they took my chair! They said we could take anything before it goes. I got the doll. They were called Clarence and Clarissa, for some reason, and there was a baby Clarence and baby Clarissa. I had all four, but gave three of them away. Clarissa had red hair, like Jane Asher, they were based on the Beatles partners. I’ve still got Clarence. He’s a bit grubby now though.
I have one of the labels. It used to have clothes attached.
After the shop closed, I could have got a job at 3 Savile Row, but I wasn’t pushy and thought it was time to move on.