"Tumbling Down George Harrison's Stairs," excerpted from BackStage with Bryan Rooney chapter "Working for The Beatles at Apple"
Tumbling Down George Harrison's Stairs
The first Beatle I met was George Harrison. Apple's Account Department gave me an envelope and a set of directions to George's house, Friar Park, which was about 60 miles west of London in a place called Henley on Thames. It's a beautiful river town, with rowing boats, swans, beautiful 14th-century bridges. Even the pubs are older than most dynasties.
I was to deliver the cash for the gardeners and the workmen, several thousand pounds. George was redoing the whole house, so there were a lot of workers. In those days people didn't get paid by check, they got paid cash. You'd get a little brown envelope with your name on it and your money tucked in it. You didn't have to deal with a bank. All the people who were working at George's house needed to be paid every Friday.
I get to George's house to a huge set of gates. I get through the gates, and take a long winding driveway up to this castle which is covered in scaffolding. There's work and dirt, and there's people everywhere.
I get out the car and say, "I'm lookin' for George."
Someone said, "Oh, you have to use the back, the servant's entrance."
So I get me payroll bag, go around the back, go through the kitchen entrance, and there's a couple of girls cookin' and ironing clothes and stuff. "Lookin' for George."
One girl goes, "Go over there to the East Tower, gonna be a big oak door, just go through the door, up the steps. At the top of the steps there's another oak door. Knock on the door, George'll be there because that's where he's living while they're doing all this renovation. He has an apartment up there."
Everything was torn apart. The castle's got about 20 bedrooms and a hallway you could dance in. It's very large. It's not a house, it's a mansion, castle. It's beautiful.
So I go "Okay, no problem. Thank you." The girl thought he was expecting me.
Toddle along, go down the hall, up the stairs, knock on the door. I hear water running and all that, maybe Pattie was making tea.
The door opens. George Harrison's standing there, and he goes, "Who the f--- are you?"
Boom: He hits me! And I roll down the tower, which is all flagstone from something like the 17th century, still clutching the bag of money, 'cause that's vital—I never let go of money! I hit the door at the bottom. I'm bruised to say the least.
He's at the top of the stairs goin', "YOU F---IN' IDIOT! Coming to my door!"
Well, I said, "That's crazy! See you!"
So I open the other door at the bottom and go out and there's this guy in jeans, with an afro. And he goes, "What's going—what's all the howlin'—what's the noise?"
I said, "Who are you?"
He said, "I'm Terry Doran, George's personal manager."
"Great! Give him that! And tell him to stick it while he's at it!"
"I went up there, I've got the payroll for all your goddamn gardeners and workers and glaziers and whoever you've got. I've got thousands of pounds. And he punches me! He just punched me down the stairs!"
He said, "No! Nobody's supposed to go up there."
"Well, the girls in the kitchen sent me up there to deliver the wages."
He said, "They're not supposed to! I get—I'm in charge! Come to my office." He's got his own little office where the whole operation's running from. "I'm so embarrassed."
He puts the money in a safe, and he goes, "Right! I'm so embarrassed! C'mon, out, let's go."
"Where're we goin'?"
"Pub." It's England, you know: Problem? Not a problem, we'll sort it out in the pub.
So we get in his BMW and he screams down the driveway like a Formula 1 driver.
Ducks and chickens and stuff are goin' everywhere. We go through the gates, down the hill, to the river. There's a beautiful pub called The Angel right on the Angel Bridge on the River Thames.
He says, "Let's go in here, we'll have lunch, you'll be all right." He's from Liverpool as well! We have a few drinks, and the food is fabulous. It's a very expensive pub, it's not like your local darts-and-mud. This one was exceptional, with carpets...a serious pub. You had to know the owner to get in.
He said, "What're we gonna do?"
I said, "I don't know. I've got to get back to Apple."
"You can't go back all injured like that!"
"What d'you mean?"
"No, no, I can't have that." So he picks up the phone on the bar and phones Apple.
He speaks to Gerald, who's in charge of petty cash. "Jerry! Right! I've got Bryan Rooney here. He's stayin' overnight. You don't need him? So he's with us for the time being.
Yeah, you know, had a little problem, but I'll take care of him."
"Oh, okay, that's all right," Jerry says. You know, it's whatever The Beatles want. If George wants Bryan, George gets Bryan. It's no big deal.
Terry says to me, "How's that, then? You're stayin' here!"
I says, "The place is a wreck!"
"Oh no, no! We've got some nice rooms."
We go back, and by this time George is actually dressed, with gorgeous Pattie Harrison, sittin' downstairs in the kitchen.
Terry goes, "What're you doin? You can't go around kickin' people down stairs! It's bad for business!"
They go, "What?"
"He works for us. He's our guy."
I said, "Look, nobody told me not to go up to your apartment. In fact, I was sent there. I wouldn't have gone near you if I'd have known I was gonna get kicked down a flight of bloody flagstone steps from the 17th century."
George stood up and said, "I'm really sorry, man. Obviously it won't happen again," and all that. He knew I was annoyed, and it's not in him to be violent. He'd only just woken up, and Pattie was still in her nightgown, and he didn't wanna know nothin'. And with all the noise and the construction and stuff going on, the last thing he needed was a stranger knockin' on his apartment door. Ordinarily nobody would even get that far, except I had the payroll bag and I was from Apple, and they knew it was wage day and I was perfectly legitimate.
I says, "Well, that's all right. That's cool. It's cool."
"Tell you what," George says. "We'll all go out for dinner tonight. Where're you gonna put him, Terry?"
"The Priest's Room."
"Okay, that's a good one." In the Revolution, when Cromwell was taking over England, they were slaughtering priests—Catholics, Protestants. They didn't want any priests in the country. So in the mansions and castles the priests always had their own room with a bolt hole in it, like a secret door, where they could go and hide.
Terry takes me along and says, "There, you can have that room." The room is made up immaculately, a fabulous room with a 4-poster bed. "This is your room while you're here. And later on we'll go for dinner."
Then Terry took me around the gardens, and introduced me to 2 Dobermans, Adolf and Göring. He says, "You'd better get to know them, 'cause they'll rip your throat out."
"Oh.... Nice doggies." I gave 'em a biscuit so they got to know me.
Some of the gardens were starting to come together. Friar Park was a real weird, brilliant place, that had been left to wrack and ruin. Sir Frank Crisp, the guy who built it, was a total lunatic. George refurbished it with the original plans. There was a lake, and tunnels that went underneath islands on the lake. In the tunnel, when you looked up, you'd see this glass-bottomed fish pond. It was like Disney. You could punt through the tunnel on little boats, row through an island, and above you were fish. There was a scale model of The Eiger, the mountain in Switzerland, behind the house. There was a main lake with islands and ponds around with koi fish and the sun shining through. And there were waterfalls forever. Incredible! Not many people have seen this place.
George never let anyone see it.
I ended up staying at Friar Park about 4 days. That was my introduction to George.
Haven't you always wanted to go BackStage? Englishman Bryan Rooney is your personal guide through the highs and lows of the music business as he experienced it. Bryan Rooney grew up in Liverpool England; became a roadie (road crew) by chance, and went off to a world wind adventure only few could imagine. In the book, he tells firsthand about life on and off the road - and all around the world - with bands like Procol Harum, Reinhard Mey, the Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Donna Summer and more. For more information on the book, or view video clips of Bryan telling his stories in person, go to: http://www.BackStageStory.com
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