In the February 1967 (#43) issue of The Beatles
Monthly Book, the Beatles' official fan club
magazine, the following blurb appeared in the "Beatle
News" section, entitled "FALSE RUMOUR":
about the Beatles are always flying around Fleet
Street. The 7th of January was very icy, with dangerous
conditions on the M1 motorway, linking London with
the Midlands, and towards the end of the day, a
rumor swept London that Paul McCartney had been
killed in a car crash on the M1. But, of course,
there was absolutely no truth in it at all. As the
Beatles' Press Officer found out, when he telephoned
Paul's St. John's Wood home and was answered by
Paul himself, that he had been at home all day with
his black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage."
October 12, 1969, Detroit disc jockey Russ Gibb
of WKNR-FM received a bizarre late-night phone call
from a listener. This Deep Throat told him that,
if he played several tracks off of the Beatles'
The White Album backwards, he'd hear some
rather interesting things. Curious, Gibb decided
"to hell" with his stylus and turntable,
and spent the next several hours shredding his copy
of The White Album. What Gibb heard was amazing.
When played backwards, he discovered a formerly
indecipherable mumbling from John Lennon at the
end of "I'm So Tired" could now clearly
be made out as the literary Beatle moaning "Paul
is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him."
Also, the oft-intoned words "number nine, number
nine" from Lennon's music concrete opus,
"Revolution #9," miraculously transformed
into the eerie phrase "turn me on dead man"
when spun counterclockwise.
Gibb thought, something was up. So certain he was
on to something big, Gibb started digging deeper.
He soon discovered various other "clues"
relating to the supposed demise of the cute Beatle
sprinkled on various other Beatle songs and album
covers, going as far back as their Yesterday....And
Today LP, released a full three years earlier!
Soon after Gibb began enlightening his Motor City
listeners to "The Great Cover-up," disc
jockey's from competing stations in New York City
and beyond picked up this shaggy dog tale, and it
wasn't too long before the news "Paul McCartney
was dead" began to spread around the world.
Within weeks, the sale of new and old Beatles albums
soared as both the distraught fan and the merely
curious bought clean copies just to play them backwards.
(The rumors helped the sales of the just-released
Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely
Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery
Tour, and The White Album. Both Sgt.
Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour, which
were released in 1967, re-entered Billboard's Top
200 charts in November 1969. Both LP's stayed in
the Top 200 until the spring of 1970).
with this preponderance of "evidence,"
and coupled with the Beatles' own real lack of comment,
the public decided the story must be true. "Okay
then," the public said, "we've come not
to bury Paul (besides, Lennon had already admitted
to doing just that at the end of "Strawberry
Fields Forever"), but to ask if Paul is
dead, then how did it happen?"
many more tales developed than tellers in this story,
by 1970 a fairly conclusive and mutually agreed-upon
scenario began to develop regarding exactly how
Paul had come to meet his maker. As the story goes,
on an evening in November 1966 (probably the eighth,
a "stupid bloody Tuesday"), an argument
took place between McCartney and the other Beatles
at Abbey Road Studios. A livid McCartney stormed
out of the building, hopped into his Aston Martin
and sped off into the night. In his anger, he failed
to notice the traffic light change and he spun out
of control, smashing into a light pole at full speed,
thus decapitating him (in other words, he "blew
his mind out in a car"). He was later "Officially
Pronounced Dead" on the scene, in the early
hours of Wednesday the ninth ("number nine,
number nine...). McCartney was then carried in secret
to the morgue (note the "O.P.D" patch
on McCartney's left sleeve on the inside gatefold
of Sgt. Pepper's). Faced with the
prospect of losing revenue due to the untimely death
of the most popular member of the band, (the story
goes) the three "surviving Beatles" hired
one William Campbell, a man who supposedly once
won a McCartney look-alike contest, to fill in for
the dead Beatle. The "clues" then became
the Fabs way of subtly and gently breaking the tragic
news to the fans. (The entire crash scenario is
supposed to be played out in full if you play "Revolution
that's the story of the Paul Is Dead rumor. But
there's another story that's never been told—until
now. The story of an incredible true-life event
that accidentally sparked the greatest rock 'n'
roll rumor of all time.
an era can be said to have a father, then London's
Swinging Sixties was the bastard child of Robert
Hugh Fraser. Fraser was the son of a wealthy Scots
banker, and a man who appeared to have everything
going for him: looks, class, youth and money. Yet
for all of his privileges, Fraser was a frustrated
artist at heart who sublimated his creative longings
into running one of the best art galleries in London.
By 1964, the Robert Fraser Gallery at 69 Duke Street
was recognized around the world as being the sharpest,
hippest gallery, exhibiting the latest and most
important artists of the period. Fraser was also
accumulating friends more accustomed to the pop
charts than Pop Art. Musicians like Mick Jagger
and Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon,
Brian Jones and others were regular fixtures at
both Fraser's gallery, and at his Mount Street apartment.
To the still scruffy rockers, Fraser represented
all that swung about the Swinging Sixties: the money,
the sex and (especially) the drugs. Fraser was where
all of the razz-ma-tazz of the era sprang. Without
him, smoking dope was just getting high.
Chtaibi first met Robert Hugh Fraser in the early
1960s. He was a young Moroccan student, the ward
of Mark Gilbey, the multimillionaire heir to the
Gilbey liquor fortune, and it wasn't long before
Mohammed Chtaibi (then known as Mohammed Hadjij)
and Robert Fraser became fast friends. Soon after
he opened his gallery, Fraser asked Chtaibi to be
his personal assistant and move into the adjoining
penthouse on Mount Street, which Fraser watched
for an aging movie star, who no longer bothered
to drop by. Officially, Chtaibi's job was to pick
up and deliver painters and paintings to the gallery,
but he soon realized his real job was to
baby-sit the gallery while Fraser ran off with his
famous friends. Sometimes Fraser would invite Chtaibi
along with him (usually to cook, drive or carry
the dope), and this is what he did on the first
Saturday of January in the winter of 1967. They
were going to Paul McCartney's house to have a party.
and Chtaibi's taxi pulls up to the gate at 7 Cavendish
Avenue, McCartney's London home located in the swank
St. John's Wood area, late in the afternoon. Twenty
or so fans, mostly girls, were already camped outside
hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive Beatle. When
the slight, dark-haired Chtaibi gets out of the
cab the girls all scream, thinking at first glance
that he's McCartney, but McCartney is already shuttered
inside the three-story detached house, playing rock
'n' roll records. Fraser goes to the gate and presses
the intercom button several times. It's many full
minutes before McCartney (thinking it's the girls
playing pranks again) answers with a laconic "Yeah?"
After a brief exchange, the gate swings open just
enough for Fraser and Chtaibi to squeeze through,
and then clicks closed again.
safely ensconced inside the house, the trio retires
to McCartney's cluttered back-room lounge to relax.
After a few minutes of chat, McCartney exits, but
quickly returns with a large book, which he places
on a table. Chtaibi watches as McCartney opens up
the book. He's surprised to learn it's actually
hollowed out in the middle, making the book a secret
box, and the box is filled with all manner of hard
and soft drugs, from hashish to cocaine, heroin
and acid. This is the stash, the heart of the party.
McCartney takes out a bag of hash and assigns Mohammed
the task of rolling the "Benson & Hashish
B-52 Bombers," joints made from a mixture of
dope and tobacco, while he and Fraser chat. A few
Bombers later, the intercom buzzes again. Within
moments, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones
and mutual hipster friend Christopher Gibbs (the
nephew of a former British Governor of Rhodesia)
are standing in the middle of the room. Now the
party starts to get serious, and the Bombers are
augmented by some of the harder drugs.
a few hours of fun, and with darkness falling, the
group decides to "make a weekender out of it."
Plans are made to drive to Redlands, Richards' secluded
thatched-roofed country mansion in West Wittering,
Sussex, after a brief stop first at Jagger's place
in Hertfordshire. Laughing and joking, they spill
out of McCartney's door and shamble toward the cars.
Even though three vehicles are parked in McCartney's
drive (McCartney's Aston Martin and black Mini Cooper,
and Jagger's Mini Cooper), they all decide for some
reason to try and cram into Jagger's small car.
underneath the weight of Richards and Gibbs, Chtaibi
suggests they take a second car. McCartney agrees,
and tells Chtaibi to get out and follow them in
his Mini. (Unlike Jagger's Mini Cooper, McCartney's
was especially designed for him as an almost toy
version of a Rolls-Royce complete with arm chairs,
a wet bar, smoke-tinted glass, a racing-style steering
wheel about 12-inches wide and oversized tires.
The car was the only one of its kind in Great Britain
and was easily recognized as being McCartney's).
As a special precaution against possible nosy cops,
McCartney hands Chtaibi the book—the heart
of the party—and says "meet you there."
Moments later, the front gates fly open and the
crowd of girls let out a collective shriek of "Paul!!"
as the two cars speed past them, bound for the privacy
of their home counties.
Chtaibi has driven McCartney's Mini many times,
it's mainly been short distances, usually local
hash runs, and he's a little uneasy with the car's
tight steering. He curses to himself as he realizes
his suggestion has put him in the dangerous position
of driving the car at night, down unfamiliar roads,
with no clear idea of his ultimate destination.
He's also quite stoned and is having to concentrate
hard just to keep the little car between the lines.
Within minutes, the two Mini Coopers are well past
the bright city lights of London, heading up the
M1 into the country dark of Britain's outer regions.
Before long they're traveling at speeds upward to
70 mph, dangerous indeed on such narrow black roads
better suited for bicycles than automobiles. Chtaibi
is having to push the Mini faster than he's comfortable
with in order to keep Jagger's taillights in sight.
about the halfway point in the journey, something
crucial happens: Chtaibi runs out of cigarettes.
Giving the car more gas, he succeeds in pulling
McCartney's Mini up beside Jagger's car and motions
to Fraser to toss him some ciggies. Amazingly, considering
their speed, Fraser manages to land a few butts
inside the car. Jagger and company then pull ahead
and out of sight.
this point, it should be mentioned that in his hurry
to get into the Mini outside McCartney's house,
Chtaibi accidentally left about a 12-inch section
of the car's seat belt dragging on the ground. As
he slows down to light his fag, another car comes
up from behind him and begins to pass. As it does,
the car's tires run over the dangling seat belt.
Unaware of the passing car, Chtaibi immediately
feels the Mini being tugged to the right. He compensates
by instinctively pulling the steering wheel in the
opposite direction. At this exact moment, the passing
car drives off of the belt. The next thing Chtaibi
knows, the Mini is leaving the asphalt and is flying
through the air at incredible speed toward a large
metal streetlight sitting atop a massive concrete
pylon. As the Mini smashes headlong into the pole,
the jagged metal of the light shaves the car straight
up the middle like a tin can, breaking the engine
in two, and leaving Chtaibi unconscious and bleeding
and hugging the monstrous lamp between his legs.
doesn't know how long he's been unconscious. Perhaps
just a few minutes, maybe longer or maybe less.
But not too long after the crash, Chtaibi starts
to awaken. The first thought that occurs to him
is not the state of the car, or of his bloodied
head and body—it's of the box. The heart of
the party. Realizing the dire implications should
the police find a box full of drugs in Paul McCartney's
car, Mohammed manages to pull himself out of the
wreckage, locate the box, hobble across the dark
highway (scaling a high barrier fence and a traffic
island in the process), throw the box as far down
a ravine as he can, and still make it back to the
accident site before the police arrive.
on the heels of the police come the spectators.
They immediately recognize the Mini Cooper as belonging
to McCartney, and an audible buzz goes up after
they see a slight, dark-haired man being pulled
from the car and placed into an ambulance. Putting
two and two together and coming up with three, the
word quickly spreads that Paul McCartney's been
in a car accident.
is taken to a nearby hospital where he is treated
for multiple cuts, bruises and other injuries. After
the doctors remove all of the glass from his face
and body, Mohammed (still bolstered from the drugs
at McCartney's) decides he's okay, checks himself
out and goes home. Once back at Mount Street he
spends a few anxious hours waiting for the phone
to ring. "Surely they're going to call,"
he thinks. "If only to know what happened to
the drugs." But, surprisingly, the phone never
rings. He decides to go to a party instead. The
next morning, hurting and hung-over, he gets a call
from Robert Fraser demanding to know what happened.
Fraser tells Chtaibi that McCartney and the others
were plenty pissed off he never bothered to show
up with the drugs, accusing him of giving them the
slip and making his own party. Chtaibi tells Fraser
the story of what happened and asks Fraser to ask
McCartney if his insurance can cover his injuries.
Fraser says he'll relay the tale to McCartney.
Monday, Chtaibi is somewhat surprised by an unusual
visit from McCartney. But far from being pleased
by—or even acknowledging—Chtaibi's super-human
efforts to get rid of the stash, McCartney lashes
into the Moroccan for wrecking his prized car. Chtaibi
pleads with McCartney for help, saying he doesn't
have enough money to go to the hospital and he'd
like to collect on the insurance. McCartney is adamant.
"That car's only insured for me, my chauffeur,
Jane [Asher, his fiancé at the time] and
Jane's mum," he says. Chtaibi later complains
to Fraser about McCartney's lack of sympathy. Fraser
tells Chtaibi to not worry about it, that things
would be fixed. They never were.
the question is: was Mohammed Chtaibi's unfortunate
encounter with Paul McCartney's Mini Cooper the
inspiration behind the ensuing Paul Is Dead rumors?
While there is no definitive proof that it was,
there are an awful lot of coincidences between what
did happen and what was rumored.
start, although it didn't take place in late fall
of 1966 (as went the rumor), there really was
a car crash involving Paul McCartney's Mini Cooper
on Saturday, January 7, 1967 on the M1. While it
did not involve McCartney, the car was driven by
a man who resembled him enough to start tongues
wagging and stories flying.
Chtaibi's accident, the Beatles suddenly incorporated
an inordinate number of references to car crashes
and accidents into their lyrics. Rather odd topics
for rock songs, and ones previously neglected by
the Fab Four. To wit: "He blew his mind out
in a car" ("A Day In The Life," recorded
February 1967). "You were in a car crash and
you lost your hair" ("Don't Pass Me By,"
recorded June 1968). And these rather bizarre excerpts
from "Revolution #9," a song which acts
almost as a recreation of a car accident, encompassing
screams, crashes, flames and comments from spectators,
including: "People ride, people ride. Ride,
ride, ride, ride, ride... He hit a pole... He'd
better go to see a surgeon... In my broken chair,
my wings are broken and so is my hair... It's a
fine chemical imbalance... Must've got it between
his shoulder blades...", (recorded June 1968).
for no apparent reason, there's a toy car sitting
in a doll's lap on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's.
The doll wears a sweater reading "Welcome,
The Rolling Stones." The group that evening
included McCartney and three of the Stones, and
they were headed to Richards' home. Also, for no
apparent reason, there's a picture of two cars meeting
on a darkened road on page 14 of the Magical
Mystery Tour booklet. If these aren't references to Chtaibi's accident, or to "Paul's
death" (as denied by the Beatles), then what
do they mean and why are they there?
did the Beatles use Chtaibi's accident as
the inspiration for the hoax and, if so, why? Again,
there's no definitive proof that the Beatles had
a direct hand in the Paul Is Dead rumor. They have
always denied culpability, but the sheer overwhelming
abundance of "coincidences" and "clues"
sprinkled across four or five albums does cast some
shadow on their story. Clearly something was
up. As to why they would even entertain doing such
a bizarre thing, it's important to remember the
times in which this all took place. Less than a
year earlier the band had become fed-up with screaming
Beatlemania and decided to stop touring in order
to concentrate on their music. This was a risky
move. No pop band had ever attempted to go from
teen idol to serious artist. Would the kids relate
to their new mature style? Would the sophisticos
they were hoping to reach embrace the former Mop
Sgt. Pepper's was released, neither scenario
looked very likely. In fact, the British press had
taken to calling the Beatles "washed-up"
and "out of ideas." A lot was riding on
their next move and it was a tense time. Is it really
such a stretch to think four clever men like
the Beatles might want to take out a little insurance
against the possible failure of Sgt. Pepper's
by cooking up a fantastical scheme as bizarre as
the Paul Is Dead Rumor? After all, aren't these
the same guys who had previously played with our
brains by putting backwards singing on "Rain,"
who sang "tit, tit, tit" on the choruses
of "Girl" and who managed to slip the
phrase "Paul's a queer" into the ultimate
kiddies' song, "Yellow Submarine?" The
thinking could have been, should Sgt. Pepper's
go belly-up, the band could slowly reveal the "clues
as to Paul's demise" some months, or even years,
later in order to spur sagging album sales. Embarrassment
at the premature discovery of the scheme could easily
account for their later adamant denials. It's a
brilliant idea. In fact, the whole thing has John
Lennon written all over it. Assuming, of course,
they had been involved.
Mohammed Chtaibi first told me his tale nearly 12
years ago, I asked whether or not he believed
McCartney and the other Beatles had been involved
in the subsequent Paul Is Dead rumor. Chtaibi smiled
and, placing tongue-firmly-in-cheek, sarcastically
replied: "I hear if you play 'Silly Love Songs'
(McCartney's mid-'70s hit) backwards, you can hear
him say 'I wish I was dead!'"
Mohammed. And happy motoring.