Neil Aspinall: Beatles' friend and road manager who became the boss of Apple

Although Neil Aspinall could lay claim to being the "fifth Beatle", few outsiders knew who he was and indeed Paul McCartney publicly referred to him as "Mr X". He was rarely interviewed about his pivotal role in the Beatles' career, but he did make an exception for The Beatles Anthology television series in the mid 1990s and for the recent reissue of the film Help! Aspinall was first the group's friend and road manager, and then, as his trustworthiness and discretion were appreciated, came to manage the whole Beatles' empire, although he never had an official job title.

Aspinall's parents came from Liverpool but his mother moved to Prestatyn, in north Wales, for the war-time birth of her son, in October 1941. Returning to Liverpool, Aspinall attended local schools and, when he was 11, joined the same class as Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Institute grammar school. Aspinal and George Harrison, who was in the year below, would often go behind the school's old air-raid shelters for a cigarette.

Known as "Nell" since childhood, Aspinall was a better student than any of them: the four Beatles acquired five O levels between them, but Aspinall managed eight. He left school in July 1959 and went into articles for accountancy. He studied by correspondence course and moved into the large Victorian house owned by the Best family in the West Derby area of Liverpool.

When Mona Best opened the basement as a teenage club, the Casbah, Aspinall helped to get it up and running. In 1960, her eldest son, Pete, joined the Beatles on drums for an engagement in Hamburg. By the time they returned in December, they had transformed their sound and were dedicated to playing music. Aspinall would watch them play and sometimes drive them in a Ford van he had secured for 15 weekly payments of £3. Each Beatle would be charged five shillings (25p) plus running costs. As the bookings increased, Neil was asked, in July 1961, to become their full-time road manager.

Aspinall's affair with Mona Best led to a son, Roag, born in July 1962, but this did not ruin his relationship with Pete and they remained friends until Aspinall's death. That friendship was tested in August 1962, however, when Best was sacked by the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. Best discussed the issue with Aspinall and was surprised to hear that Aspinall was prepared to take the group to Chester "as they haven't sacked me". When Neil asked the group why Best had been sacked, Lennon said, "It's nothing to do with you. You're only the driver". Aspinall was a tough, authoritative figure who could control a situation without hitting anyone, although he must have come close with Lennon.

The Beatles made the Top 20 with "Love Me Do" and, early in 1963, became national stars. At first, Aspinall would handle the administration and drive the Beatles to their bookings, but as Beatlemania took hold they were joined by another Liverpool friend, Mal Evans. These two plus the four members of the group became the Beatles' inner circle, since others, such as Tony Barrow and Peter Brown, were employed by Brian Epstein. The duties of Aspinall and Evans might even include selecting the girls who could visit individual Beatles in their hotel rooms.

When Aspinall travelled with the Beatles on their first trip to America, in 1964, George Harrison caught tonsillitis, forcing Aspinall to stand in for the camera rehearsals on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also attended recording sessions and occasionally got roped in to performing, being part of the choir on "Yellow Submarine" and playing harmonica on "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite". Aspinall secured photographs of the various personalities chosen by the group for the artist Peter Blake to design the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In August 1967 Aspinall witnessed the disarray following the sudden death of Brian Epstein. He commented, "There was a meeting of the six of us – the four guys, Mal and I. They didn't know where any of the money was, they didn't have a single contract for anything with Brian, not with a record company, not with a film company – Brian had them all. It made them realise that they had to get it together. They decided that they needed an office and organisation of their own."

When the Beatles founded their own company, Apple Corps, Aspinall became the administrator and had a desk job from then on, exhibiting a natural flair for management even in the chaotic first two years. The company was driven by the ever-changing whims of the individual members of the group and was impossible to control. Although Apple was eventually to concentrate on music and film, it originally owned a shop with its own clothing lines and encouraged some madcap inventions.

In 1969, the Rolling Stones' manager, Allen Klein, came on board in an attempt to sort out the mess and stop the company losing money. Lennon appreciated his trusted friends and told Klein, "Do what you need to do, but don't touch Neil and Mal".

Klein himself was dismissed in 1973 and Aspinall slowly but surely resolved the litigation and disarray that Klein had left behind. By then, the four owners of the company were failing to agree, and it says much for Aspinall's negotiation skills that he managed to make the Beatles more money than they had ever known. He was wary of overexposure, for example, and disliked any marketing that celebrated the anniversary of a product as it only showed its age – the Beatles were still, in his view, a contemporary group. The 1 compilation album in 2000, which was his concept, sold 27 million copies worldwide.

Aspinall's speciality was the protection of the Beatles' trademark and copyright. He would secure as many photographs of the group as he could in order to give them a degree of control over how they would be presented. As a result, the Beatles are still the world's biggest group, nearly 40 years after they disbanded. He was admired by other music executives for this, although undoubtedly many film-makers and publishers found it exasperating to deal with the company.

In 1978, the Beatles instructed Aspinall to arrange litigation against Apple Computers for trademark infringement. Apple Computers was permitted to continue, provided it did not enter the music field. The introduction of iTunes and iPods made this a more pressing issue, and a confidential agreement between the companies was reached in 2007.

In the mid 1990s, Aspinall was the executive producer for The Beatles Anthology project, which involved a series of TV documentaries, a coffee-table book and three double albums. The project was incredibly successful, appreciated by existing fans as well as a new, younger audience. Shortly before his retirement in April 2007, Aspinall was overseeing the remastering of the Beatles' back catalogue for release later this year.

Aspinall was immensely loyal to the Beatles and although it was hoped he might write his memoirs once he had left Apple, this was never a possibility. He would not have signed a gagging order as one was never needed.

In August 1968, Aspinall had married Suzy Ornstein, the daughter of George "Bud" Ornstein, the chief executive at United Artists Pictures. They had met on the set of a Beatles' film. They had four children and also ran Standby Films, which released Hendrix – Band of Gypsys in 1999. Aspinall was a talented artist and at the time of his death was working on a book of drawings.

Spencer Leigh

Neil Stanley Aspinall, businessman: born Prestatyn, Flintshire 13 October 1941; married 1968 Suzy Ornstein (one son, three daughters), (one son with Mona Best); died New York 23 March 2008.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£130 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ks1 teacher required for m...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?