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The Beatles and the MBE that was returned

By Ahmet Abdulaziz….

26th October 2021. The importance of this date is not that 3 days later I will be celebrating my 66th birthday, but the fact that 56 years ago, on this particular date the Beatles were awarded the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). That was the time when I had not even started listening to their music. In fact, I had started listening to the Beatles when the band was nearing disbanding.

Getting this award was something special for the Beatles, as it had certified their official recognition from Her Majesty. But it was not just that only. It was the first time that this award was given to someone from the field of music. Previously it was reserved for the veterans of war.

It was reported that Harold Wilson, the then British Prime Minister, had lobbied for the Beatles, in order to increase the popularity of his Labour party among the youth. However, ultimately he met a big backlash on this issue. There was a strong reaction from some parts of the society. A number of ex-holders of this award, felt disgusted, by finding themselves at par with the pop musicians. At that time, in fact, Rock’n’ roll music was still not fully accepted by society.

The result was obvious. Some previous honourees returned their medals, to mark their protest. One man, Col. Frederick Wagg, went a step ahead and sent back 12 medals which he had earned for bravery in World Wars. He also resigned from the Labour Party. Later on, John Lennon was quoted as saying, “They got them for killing people. We got ours for entertaining. I’d say we deserve ours more.”

In music circles too, some had appreciated the decision of honouring the Beatles, but on the contrary, some had thought that it was too early. For the Beatles, however, no doubt this particular award had added a lot to their value and had helped in further strengthening their position in the world of music.

John was later quoted as saying that they were so nervous at that time, that they went into the bathroom of the palace and smoked marijuana. However, later on, this statement was refuted by George Harrison, saying that it was not Marijuana, but a regular cigarette.

Much was written about that particular ceremony held at the Buckingham Palace, in the press at that time, mostly because the Beatles were the most popular at that time. They were the celebrity, and their every action, move, or statement was finding major space in the newspapers the next morning.

However, some 4 years later, the music world was shocked when John Lennon returned his award of an MBE. That particular incident had become the most sensational news at that time. Being a peace activist, John had decided to return  his medal by way of a protest for the British Involvement in Nigeria – Biafra war.

John was the only musician who had returned the medal after receiving it. There were some other notable persons who had refused to receive the award, but John had so far been the only one who had kept the award for 4 years and then returned it. The medal is still in the vault of the British Government.

So that was the story of what happened on 26th October 1965. It was an important event in the lives of Paul, John, George, and Ringo. The group became disbanded, and the four Beatles parted their ways. John and George are no more, but still after 56 years the fans of the group still remember them and this date.

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