I was not at all surprised to see Sir Paul McCartney appear as the finale to the concert at last weekend’s Jubilee celebrations. McCartney is one of only two surviving Beatles, and the only one who still records and performs on a regular basis. The Beatles were by far the most important group of the last 60 years, so it was entirely appropriate for McCartney, who turns 70 next week, to take top billing.
This conflation of the Beatles with our national story is nothing new. It confirms the findings of a Demos report published late last year, which explored the question of national pride. In a survey carried out for the report, members of the public were asked to judge how far different institutions or cultural icons made them proud to be British.
Top of the list was Shakespeare with 75% agreeing that they are proud of his role as a symbol of Britain, with the army (72%), the Union Jack (71%), the pound (70%) and the NHS (69%) following.
Interestingly the monarchy came seventh on the list, with 68% agreeing that they were proud of it as a symbol of Britain. I wonder if the results would be different if the survey had been repeated last week?
What was also striking about the research findings was that the National Trust came joint second, with 72% of people agreeing that it made them proud to be British. Meanwhile the Beatles scored a respectable 55%, more than Parliament (47%) and the legal system (51%).
The research begs the question, what is it about the National Trust and the Beatles that inspires such pride in the nation? Perhaps it is because both are in some way uniquely British achievements, cultural phenomenon that are forever associated with these shores. This is not to say that they are insular or parochial inventions. The creation of the National Trust in 1895 was directly inspired by the formation of the Massachusetts Trustees of Public Reservations in 1891, while the Beatles took rock and roll sounds from across the Atlantic and transformed them into a native beat sound.
Both the National Trust and the Beatles share the distinction of being much loved cultural assets, private creations that have been of enormous and long-lasting public significance.
This also led me to think about the connections between the two over the years. Here are just a few I was able to come up with:
- Most obviously, the Trust now owns and looks after the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon (As recently reported, one of the childhood homes of Ringo Starr does not look set to follow into this fold)
|Mendips, John Lennon's childhood home|
- The Beatles namechecked the National Trust in ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’
- The video for Strawberry Fields Forever was filmed at Knole in Kent (one of the Trust’s most important houses, though the park remains in family hands). The story goes that while the Beatles were in Kent that day, John Lennon went into a local Antique Shop and bought an old Circus Poster which featured the title ‘being for the benefit of Mr.Kite’…
|Beatles at Knole Park for the filming of Strawberry Fields Forever|
- When the future of Abbey Road studios was in question a few years ago, there was speculation about the National Trust taking it over (see also today’s Observer for an article by Jon Savage on the heritage significance of Abbey Road)
|Abbey Road Studios|
- Croome was the UK centre for the Hare Krishna movement, until they were donated a new home at Bhakti Vedanta Manor in Hertfordshire by George Harrison
- Sir George Martin, the 'fifth Beatle', lives in Coleshill near Swindon, a village largely owned by the National Trust
- Not strictly Beatles, but the famous front cover of Wings’ Band on the Run was shot at Osterley Park.
|Osterley was the location for this McCartney sleeve|
Anyone know of any other connections between these two uniquely British institutions?