What John Winston Ono Lennon did next
Tittenhurst Park, in the parish of Sunninghill near Ascot, was a large Georgian house set in 72 acres of beautiful countryside. John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived there for two years between the Augusts of 1969 and 1971. On 5 January 1970 – at the height of the Allen Klein wars – Lennon announced to a room full of journalists: “The people around us made more money than The Beatles ever did… None of The Beatles are millionaires.” Which may or may not have been true. Lennon, who lived in opulence regardless, had Tittenhurst extensively redesigned to suit his and Yoko’s requirements. The ground floor was knocked through and painted white; a darkroom and offices were installed; and construction began on a recording studio (Ascot Sound).
“It was an interesting period because John and Yoko were kicking heroin, which was very tough for them, and they both used methadone for quite a long time,” comments Dan Richter, an American actor who lived at Tittenhurst as an assistant to the Lennons. “Of course, John was so famous that he couldn’t go out in public. He was a man who spent a lot of his life in bed, strumming his guitar, watching television, smoking dope and reading magazines.” When Lennon did engage with the outside world, the reaction ranged from bewilderment to anger. He and Yoko were portrayed in the press as a freakish duo, hirsute and increasingly tiresome, fond of inexplicable stunts in the name of ‘peace’. The once-loved Beatle caused an outcry in November 1969 by sending his MBE back to the Queen as an anti-war protest. The writer Tariq Ali, a New Left activist who befriended Lennon that year, remembers “a lot of racist attacks on Yoko in the tabloids, really unpleasant, calling her an ugly Nip. John said to me, ‘We can’t stand it here, it’s so provincial.’”
The truth was, the father and mother of the Peace Campaign led far from serene lives behind the scenes, and were often troubled and depressed. Yoko had suffered two miscarriages in 1968–9 (and in August 1970 would have a third), while, as Dan Richter notes, she also faced an uphill battle with her ex-husband, the conceptual artist Tony Cox. Richter: “Tony had custody of their daughter Kyoko, and Yoko wanted to see her, and the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Plus at the same time, John and Paul (McCartney) were going through a divorce. And as if that wasn’t enough, there was a political revolution going on that John was at the forefront of.”
For the Lennons, 1970 – like 1969 and 1968 – would be a composite of public controversies and private dramas. Their hearts must have sunk when, on 16 January, an exhibition of John’s erotic lithographs was raided by police in London, who’d been tipped off that the works were ‘indecent’. (In April, a magistrate dismissed the charges.) Lennon himself had been in Denmark with Yoko since the end of December, staying – in what could easily have been a frosty scenario – with Tony Cox and his partner Melinda at their home in Aalborg. They hoped to persuade Cox to agree to a shared custody arrangement for the six-year-old Kyoko. The visit went surprisingly well, and the Lennons remained in Denmark for three weeks before returning to England via France. A team of reporters caught up with them in Paris (26 January), intrigued to find them with short haircuts.
Q: “Mr Lennon, why did you decide to cut your hair?”
A: “Because I felt like it, y’know.”
Q: “So there was no special reason?”
A: “No. I mean, why do you cut yours?”
Q: “When are you going to London?”
Q: “And what will you do when you get there?”
A: “Go home.”
Q: “I understand The Beatles have just recorded a new record.”
A: “A new single, ‘Let It Be’, folks.”
Q: “What’s the record about?”
A: “It’s about letting it be.”