Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Did John Lennon Buy A Second Phantom V?

Guest blogger Eric Roberts writes:

After a long hiatus, this rolling research project about the history of John Lennon's white Rolls-Royce rolls on. Having authenticated the current owners and the whereabouts of one of the most iconic cars of Sixties pop culture eighteen months ago, we thought it was a wrap. Job done. Since late January, however, very exciting news has reached us that will interest Beatles boffins and Lennon lovers alike. As of the last few weeks we have been sworn to secrecy until our inside informant advises us that we can “let the brakes off and go public.” So watch this space for an important announcement about EUC 100C/5VD63, John & Yoko's luxury peace and love machine.

In the meantime, our last entry answered the question, “When did John Lennon dispose of EUC 100C and to whom did he sell it?” One thing that still remains to be addressed is why Lennon felt the need to add a second 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V to his already  impressive collection of cars parked in Kenwood's garage.

Before we examine the available information, it has to be admitted that a degree of conjecture, or theorizing, is unavoidable concerning this question. Until we have an accurate date of purchase, which we hope will soon be forthcoming, certain assumptions are inevitable.

So what do we know? Unlike his original Phantom V, FJB 111C, chassis # 5VD73, Lennon acquired his second Phantom V second hand. The completed chassis, 5VD63, was delivered from Rolls-Royce's famous Crewe works in Cheshire, just over 50 klms from Liverpool, to coachbuilders, Mulliner Park Ward on December 22, 1964. Five months later, the completed vehicle was purchased by Patrick Barthropp Ltd., London.

The name Paddy Barthropp (1920 – 2008) still resonates among RAF veterans and survivors of the Battle of Britain. Wing Commander Barthropp was one of the most highly decorated yet unconventional “gun” pilots of the Second World War. Self declared “sworn enemy of stuffed shirts,” Barthropp had no time for boring routine and “only obeyed those rules he agreed with,” not unlike John Lennon, in fact. So it was that in 1957, he could no longer tolerate the red tape and petty officialdom of peace time service in the RAF.
Wing Commander Patrick Peter Barthropp DFC AFC
With his friend and fellow flying ace, Brian Kingcomb, Barthropp established a luxury limousine chauffeur service in London, catering to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Gregory Peck and Gina Lollobrigida. Kingcomb was also a modestly successful movie producer and so it was a natural progression for Patrick Barthropp Ltd. to supply vehicles to film production companies. Hence, in early 1966, when a Rolls-Royce was needed for the film Georgy Girl, 5VD63 came to be immortalized on screen. Note the personalized registration number, PPB1--Patrick Peter Barthropp's initials.
Patrick Barthropp's 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, chassis # 5VD63,
purchased by John Lennon in 1966
Later that same year, when Lennon ordered his driver and bodyguard, Les Anthony, to find a second hand Phantom V, it was logical that he should call Barthropps to see if they had any ex-hire cars for sale. And as it happens, they did. Less than two years old, 5VD63 was driven from London to Lennon's home, Kenwood on the St George's Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey for him to inspect. We have it on good authority that the original paint work of 5VD63 was not as it would seem to appear in the black and white film Georgy Girl and in available photographs of the car. In fact, the side panels were “velvet green” while the upper paint work--roof, hood and trunk--were “valentines black.” Lennon, however, had a clear vision of what he wanted--pure white, inside and out--the opposite of the all over black color scheme of his original Phantom V.

Our only current source of information regarding the year that Lennon bought 5VD63 from Patrick Barthropp is an ITN interview with David Allison of Christies, London, recorded just prior to a major children's charity auction in December 1985. In the short TV news item (see video here) we are told twice that JL acquired 5VD63 in 1966, the same year that he met Yoko Ono.

August 1966 had been a momentous month for The Beatles, with the release of Revolver to critical acclaim, swiftly followed by their last, nerve-wracking tour of America. Lennon must have been especially wrung out by death threats and endless questions from journalists about his “more popular than Jesus” remark to Maureen Cleave. Less than a week after the band's return to the UK, Lennon flew to Germany to start work on Dick Lester's film, How I Won the War (1967). Later, he reflected, “The Beatles had stopped touring and I thought if I stopped and thought about it I was going to have a big bum trip for nine months so I tried to avoid the depression of the change of life by leaping into the movie.”

By an odd coincidence, as Lennon left London for Germany and Spain, Yoko Ono flew into London from New York with her husband Tony Cox and their child, Kyoko. She had dropped everything, leaving the organizers of a Fluxus event in Central Park to hasily find a substitute performer for her notorious “Cut Piece,” in order to attend the Destruction in Art Symposium and participate in a month-long program of anti-Art events. More than capable of holding her own in the heavily male dominated company of international avant-guard artists, Ono asserted that “Happenings” had become establishment and explained that her work was “a rehearsal and not an ultimate state of mind.”

“Two Evenings With Yoko Ono” on September 27th and 29th at the Africa Centre, Covent Garden, was one of the highlights of D.I.A.S., as reflected by the hefty entrance fee. On both nights she performed “Cut Piece”, daring audience members to participate and to confront their suppressed lust and violence by slowly stripping her, piece by piece, of her clothing as she sat on stage in a state of mindful imperturbability.

One of the members of the honorary committee of the Destruction in Art Symposium was Barry Miles who, along with John Dunbar and Peter Asher, was a co-owner of the Indica bookshop and art gallery. Miles would go on to run Apple Corps' spoken word record label, Zapple, until Allen Klein closed it down, and is the author of Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney's biography. Miles states that as soon as D.I.A.S. was over, Yoko Ono approached John Dunbar and persuaded him to give her a show at Indica, where her self-published book, Grapefruit (1964), was already on sale. Five weeks later, on the night of the 9th of November, “Unfinished Paintings and Objects” was previewed to invited guests, among whom was John Lennon.
John and Cynthia returning from Spain, 6 November 1966
Mr. and Mrs. Lennon had only touched down at Heathrow two days earlier after two months filming in Spain, where he'd composed “Strawberry Fields Forever” in his spare time. Les Anthony drove Lennon in his black Mini Cooper to Mason's Yard in London's West End. Anthony relates that his employer had second thoughts about attending the event and chose to sit in the back seat for half an hour before leaving the security of the blacked out windows of the Mini and entering the gallery.
Indica Bookshop & Gallery, Mason's Yard, St. James, London, ca. 1966
Perhaps it was because Lennon was experiencing the effects of LSD, or perhaps he was reluctant to face what he referred to as the “smiling scene” and assume the mantle of his own celebrity status. In any case, Les Anthony accompanied Lennon and was able to observe first hand what happened when John and Yoko met for the first time. (Note: McCartney insists that it was in late 1965 that Ono first came to London looking for original musical scores for “Notations,” a book by John Cage. When McCartney declined, he referred her to Lennon, who obliged by giving her the original handwritten lyrics to “The Word” from Rubber Soul.)

Yoko took one look at John and attached herself to him like a limpet mine--with much the same destructive effect,” recalled Lennon's driver, Les Anthony. “She clung to his arm while we went around the exhibition, talking away to him in her funny little high-pitched voice until he fled.” -- Barry Miles, Many Years From Now

“In those first days, before John left Cynthia, he and Yoko used to do their courting, to put it politely, in the back of the car while I was driving them around.” According to Les Anthony, who was certainly in a position to know, the time between meeting and mating was exactly three weeks. -- Albert Goldman, John Lennon: In the Hard Day's Light

Yoko Ono, Peter Asher, Barry Miles and John Dunbar, 1966
Whatever the truth about how and when the relationship between Ono and Lennon began, two undeniable facts have been largely overlooked by Beatles historians. The stark white walls of the Indica gallery served to emphasize the whiteness of Yoko Ono's art works. In pieces such as Play it by Trust, white serves to obliterate the dichotomy between self and not self. Conceptually, conflict is disabled by the unifying color, white. Though she often wore black, the dominant impression of Ono's work from the Sixties is of white on white.
Play it by Trust, Yoko Ono, Indica Gallery, 1966
Then we come back to John Lennon's decision to purchase a second 1965 Phantom V Rolls-Royce not long after he met Yoko. As we've already seen, Lennon immediately had the car resprayed white with white fitted seat covers and even a white steering wheel. Is there a connection between these two facts?

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