As PC673 ‘C’ of London’s West End Central police station, Ray Shayler was a 25-year-old constable when the call came in around lunchtime that there was a disturbance up the road at 3 Savile Row.
The police station was located just 150 yards away and, as everyone knew, number 3 was Apple Corps, the headquarters of The Beatles. Sitting at his desk, writing up a report, Ray could clearly hear music emanating from the building’s rooftop.
‘And I thought to myself, that’s loud,’ he says. The call to attend came through to a young colleague fresh out of training school so Ray offered to help.
‘He looked a bit worried about it and, to be fair, a young lad on his own with not much experience would have had rings run around him by those sorts of people,’ says Ray.
A new three-part documentary airing on Disney+ features the moment The Beatles’ concert on the roof of the Apple building was shut down in 1969. Pictured: The Beatles on the roof
‘So because I’d been at the job for three years and had more experience, I offered to go with him.’
Little did Ray know that the seemingly innocuous police call-out on 30 January, 1969, was to shadow him for the rest of his life.
The disturbance in question was the now legendary Beatles rooftop concert – the last time that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were to perform in public together after a staggeringly successful career. And Ray Shayler was one of the two officers with the unenviable task of shutting it down.
The entire 42-minute performance, complete with constabulary intervention, features in The Beatles: Get Back – this week’s highly anticipated three-part documentary series, directed and produced by Sir Peter Jackson, who made The Lord Of The Rings films. It covers the making of The Beatles’ 1970 album, Let It Be, and draws from the 60 hours of footage shot by British-American director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, for the 1970 documentary of the same name.
For decades, fans tended to avoid the film, as it depicted the tensions between four men who had tasted unimaginable fame and went on to split in April 1970. But with Peter Jackson’s forthcoming Disney+ ‘documentary about a documentary’, viewers are in for a more upbeat take on the relationship between the Fab Four. ‘We were having fun, which never showed,’ said Ringo recently.
Certainly, the band was having fun performing on the roof that January afternoon – the first time they had performed together in three years since their emotionally draining 1966 US tour.
The original plan had been to film The Beatles working on new material and then to show them performing it live.
But when more elaborate plans for the proposed concert were shelved (the suggestion of performing on a cruise ship to Libya was shut down by Ringo and George, who had no intention of ‘being stuck with a bloody big boatload of people for two weeks’), Michael Lindsay-Hogg came up with the idea of them setting up their gear on the roof of the Apple building instead.
It was an inspired idea, except that, as soon as The Beatles started playing, traffic in and around Savile Row came to a standstill.
As PC Ray Shayler and his fellow officer walked down the street, they could see scores of people gathering to listen to the music and although the biggest band in the world was giving an unannounced live performance, the station had received a number of complaints from the other businesses on Savile Row, among them the tailors of Wain, Shiell & Son, according to author Tony Barrell’s book on the concert, The Beatles On The Roof.
Initially, says Ray, the people at Apple refused access to the two policemen. ‘But once I’d explained we’d had a lot of complaints from the other businesses on the street, they let us in.’
The director’s lucky escape
While the arrival of the police made for great footage for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film, it made Michael himself rather jittery. In an interview with Weekend magazine last year, he revealed he had set up a two-way mirror in the reception area of the Apple building to monitor the arrival of the police as he knew people would complain about the noise.
‘As an American who didn’t really have a work permit, I was afraid of being deported,’ he said. And as Ray Shayler says now, ‘That would actually have been a problem as we were quite hot on that sort of thing in those days.
‘I had a diplomat who ended up being sent back to his home in Bulgaria, so Mr Lindsay-Hogg working without the proper permit would have been sent straight back on the first plane to his own country. He had a lucky escape.’
Once inside, Ray spoke to the band’s road manager, Mal Evans, who took them up to the rooftop. ‘And there were The Beatles,’ says Ray, ‘performing on the roof.’
On that bitterly cold day – John donned girlfriend Yoko Ono’s fur coat, while Ringo had on wife Maureen’s red mac – it was, admits Ray, ‘an interesting moment’, seeing The Beatles singing live.
‘I wouldn’t say I was a fan – I didn’t like The Beatles much when they went a bit Hare Krishna,’ he adds, ‘but we had a few Beatles records and LPs at home; I liked their music. But when I got on the roof, I had a job to do and I thought, “Well, we’ve got to try and stop this.”’
The Beatles – whose set included Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down, One After 909 and Dig A Pony – ‘sort of looked at us’, says Ray, ‘and carried on with what they were doing. I told Mal that, much as I appreciated what they were doing, it couldn’t happen any more as it was amounting to a breach of the peace.
‘I asked how long it was going on for. He said, “One more record”, so I said, “You might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Get on with that one and then it stops.” It was a discussion; it never got heated.’
Ray and his colleague were joined by the station’s two duty officers and several more were outside the building to control the crowds – among them a young policeman, Ken Wharfe, who went on to become Princess Diana’s royal protection officer.
After the band had finished, with John Lennon quipping, ‘I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition,’ they trooped past Ray and his colleagues.
‘George and John didn’t talk to us, but there was a reason for that. They’d recently been caught with cannabis or something and were on bail – it’d been in the papers.
Police holding back the crowd at the premiere of the documentary Let It Be in London in 1970
‘Paul was apologetic about the concert and Ringo joked about the whole thing, saying, “Don’t put the handcuffs on me!” Then they went down the stairs, we followed and that was that.’ As the event passed with such little incident, Ray admits – astonishingly – ‘I didn’t even put pen to paper to record it.’
Ringo later joked he wanted the cops to drag him off. ‘It would have looked really great, kicking the cymbals and all but they didn’t, they just came bumbling in.’ Ray laughs.
‘I don’t remember bumbling in – I made a clean step over the threshold! We were in our overcoats which were like blankets – you don’t look lithe doing anything. I’m sorry we disappointed Ringo by not arresting him, but there was no intention of arresting anyone.
We were on Top Of The Pops for weeks!
‘If The Beatles had got stroppy or were determined to carry on, then things might have been different. But that wasn’t the way we worked in those days, and I always tried to resolve issues without arresting people.’
A few months after the ‘disturbance’ at 3 Savile Row, the song Get Back reached No 1.
‘It was on Top Of The Pops for about six weeks. But because The Beatles weren’t performing it live in the studio, they had to show video of the concert, so there were me and my colleagues on Top Of The Pops for weeks.’
Years after the concert, someone from Apple told him there were around 26 film cameras set up around the area as they knew the police would come once the music started. ‘Certain cameramen were detailed to film us. I suppose we were unpaid extras.’
Ray, who lives with his wife Wendy in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, said she was ‘really envious’ when he told her about the rooftop concert (pictured)
While Ray has seen his ‘performance’ in Michael’s original documentary (‘I don’t think that I let myself down in the way I handled the situation, but I do look sort of severe… I blame the helmet’), he has yet to see himself in Peter Jackson’s re-working of Michael’s footage.
‘Apple sent me the discs, but I haven’t got around to watching them,’ he says. ‘I’m retired now, but I’m keeping busy.’
Now 77, he lives in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, ‘which is about 20 miles away from Paul McCartney’s home in Peasmarsh,’ he says, ‘although I haven’t seen him since the concert.’
Ray lives with his wife Wendy – a big Beatles fan who was, he admits, ‘really envious’ when he got home after his shift that day in 1969 and told her what had happened.
With hindsight, does Ray regret not having arrested the band that day? ‘Not at all,’ he insists.
‘Actually, someone asked me how I felt being the man who stopped The Beatles’ concert. But I wouldn’t say that was true. I didn’t stop The Beatles – I merely suggested it would be a good idea if they didn’t carry on.’
Then he adds, only half-jokingly, ‘Now, if it had been The Rolling Stones up there on the roof…’
The Beatles: Get Back, from Thursday on Disney+.