March 12th, 1969, is a monumental day in the history of The Beatles for two polar opposite reasons. Just as the London police service launched a suspiciously well-timed drugs raid conducted on George Harrison’s estate, his bandmate Paul McCartney was on the way to the church to marry his fiance, Linda, on the very same day.
The raid, which came shortly after John Lennon was also visited as part of a wide-scale attempt to indict as many high profile names as possible, was directed with the attempt to gain maximum media attention in an effort to spread an anti-drug message with the likes of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton also being targeted.
At the time of the drugs bust, Harrison was busy working at the Beatles’ Apple Corps headquarters. However, his wife at the time, Pattie Boyd, was home and remembered the visit vividly in her autobiography Wonderful Tonight: “Suddenly I heard a lot of cars on the gravel in the drive, far too many for it to be just George,” she wrote. “My first thought was that maybe Paul and Linda wanted to party after the wedding. Then the bell rang. I opened the door to find a policewoman and a dog standing outside. At that moment the back-doorbell rang and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is so scary!’ I’m surrounded by police.”
His then-wife contacted Harrison to tell him to return home and, by the time he arrived, the house had been checked from pillar to post by the drugs squad who, it is widely reported, many of whom were too starstruck to approach Harrison directly. Upon arriving home, Harrison supposedly told the officers: “You needn’t have turned the whole bloody place upside down. All you had to do was ask me and I would have shown you where I keep everything.”
Boyd also recounted how her former husband was rather more relaxed about the situation and, once he returned home, took the situation in his stride: “George was calm about it,” she continued. “George is always calm—he sometimes gets a grump, but he’s always calm—and he was extremely calm that night, and very, very indignant. He went into the house and looked around at all these men and one woman, and said something like. ‘Birds have nests and animals have holes, but man hath nowhere to lay his head.’ – ‘Oh, really, sir? Sorry to tell you we have to…’ and then into the police routine.”
The search was headed up by Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher who claimed to have found no less than 120 joints on their Esher estate as well as a generous portion of hasheesh inside one of Harrison’s shoes—the latter, coincidentally, was an aspect of the search that Harrison strongly denied.
Harrison’s relaxed mood was soon flipped when an altercation with a photographer boiled over. As the guitarist and his wife were being escorted to the station, a photographer began shooting pictures of the iconic couple which resulted in Harrison chasing him down the street with officers trailing behind. With a turn of speed, the photographer dropped his camera on the ground and Harrison had time to stamp on it before officers caught up with him. Despite being released on bail the same day, the couple missed McCartney’s wedding.
The Beatles man’s response to Pilcher’s claims remained on record, with Harrison vehemently saying: “They chose Paul’s wedding day to come and do a raid on me, and to this day I’m still having difficulty with my visa to America because of this fella. He came out to my house with about eight other policemen, a policewoman and a police dog, who happened to be called Yogi—because, I suppose, of the Beatle connection with Maharishi. They thought they’d have a bit of fun.” Harrison then continued: “They took us off, fingerprinted us and we were busted. It was written in the papers like a fashion show: ‘George was wearing a yellow suit and his wife Pattie had on…”
The details of where Pilcher claimed to have found the hasheesh was an aspect that made Harrison become increasingly suspicious, suggesting that the drugs had, in reality, been planted there: “I’m a tidy man. I keep my socks in the sock drawer and stash in the stash box. It’s not mine,” he said.
The next day saw the couple’s passports seized by representatives of the US Embassy and they subsequently stamped with a code to say they had a criminal record for drugs. After a preliminary hearing on 18th March 1969, the trial then took place on March 31st at Esher and Walton Magistrates’ Court.
The Harrisons were found guilty by the court of possession of cannabis and were each fined £250 plus 10 guineas each in costs. However, it was the couple losing their freedom of movement rather than the financial implications that proved the real punishment. As he left court George Harrison pleaded: “I hope the police will leave us alone now.”
Remarkably, the man behind the planned raids, Sergeant Pilcher, was later convicted of planting drugs in other cases and sentenced to jail in 1972.