Alf Bicknell 1928-2004. Chauffeur to the Beatles

Alf Bicknell was Chauffeur to the Beatles who entitled his memoirs ‘Baby, You Can Drive My Car!’

Alf Bicknell, with chauffeur’s cap and spectacles, with Ringo Starr in 1964.

Obituary in The Independent newspaper, London, Thursday 11 March 2004. Alfred George Bicknell, chauffeur: born Haslemere, Surrey 28 October 1928; married (one son); died Banbury, Oxfordshire 9 March 2004.

“The qualities of a chauffeur are to be a good driver, to be discreet, to be honest and not to get carried away with the people in the back of your car,” said Alf Bicknell, chauffeur to the Beatles during their glory years. “The important thing is just to do your job. Whatever goes around you is private business that has nothing to do with you. It can be summed up in one word, loyalty.”

Alf Bicknell was born in Haslemere, Surrey, in 1928 and became an accomplished driver. In the 1950s he was working as a chauffeur, often for foreign embassies, and he had a partnership in a private hire firm, often working for show-business personalities such as James Stewart. In October 1964, recommended to Brian Epstein, he became the Beatles’ chauffeur and he ferried them to and from concert dates. He had to ensure a quick and clean getaway, although he did once run over a policeman’s foot. “When they came off stage, they were wrecked,” he recalled, and I would have the towels ready for them in the car. I would make sure the ciggies were there, the door would slam and away we would go.

He took them to the set for their second film, Help! (1965), and attended the sessions for their albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, where he would arrange the delivery of food. “I used to play chess with their road manager Neil Aspinall, but I don’t think we ever completed a game as there was always something to do, he once told me. John asked me to hold up the lyrics of a song he had written on an open envelope and they were all laughing because I was so nervous about the whole thing.”

On another occasion, Lennon threw his chauffeur’s hat out of the window with the phrase, “You’re one of us now.”

Bicknell was proud of his appearance on their 1966 single “Yellow Submarine”. “I did some of the sound effects and sang in the chorus. You can hear the anchor going down just before a voice says, “Full steam ahead, Mr Bo’sun.” That was me with an old tin bath and a piece of chain.”

Accompanying the Beatles around America, Bicknell was one of the privileged few at their one and only meeting with Elvis Presley at his Bel-Air home in August 1965. “Elvis Presley called everybody “sir”. He said, “You are welcome to my home, sir.” It impressed me to see how many people he had working for him. With the Beatles, there was only Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and me and I used to drive them around on my own. His workers felt that they were stars themselves but I never felt that.”

On another occasion, he met Bob Dylan.”I drove the Beatles to the Mayfair Hotel to see a film that Bob Dylan had made and he showed me a copy of Life magazine. He said, “Alfie, there’s a picture of you running across the stage at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.”

Bicknell lived in a flat owned by Lennon about a mile from his Weybridge mansion so he was often recruited for individual jobs, taking Lennon out for the evening. He advised the Beatles on the cars they should drive. In August 1966 Alf Bicknell left their employment and started working with captains of industry including Sir Robert, later Lord, McAlpine and he spent some years at Tilbury Construction. His most treasured possessions from his Beatle years had been five tapes of the Beatles rehearsing “If I Fell” and reading from the Bible in comic voices, but he sold privately after they failed to reach their reserve at Sotheby’s.

His 1989 autobiography, “Baby, You Can Drive My Car!”, written with the Beatles expert Garry Marsh, and with a foreword from George Harrison, is very unsatisfactory. It was written in the form of a diary (although Bicknell had not kept one) and he sounds more like a 12-year-old schoolgirl than the dignified chauffeur he was. The authors fell out, leading to legal action, and the book was reworked as Alf Bicknell’s Beatles Diary in a book and video package in 1995, and again, with Alasdair Ferguson, as Ticket to Ride: the ultimate Beatles tour diary! (1999).

Bicknell, now looking like one of the Dubliners, became a favourite at Beatle conventions, particularly at Liverpool events, as he lived close by at the time in Ruthin. He had a stall selling his books, cassettes and memorabilia. Whenever he spoke at conventions, he was respectful and never gave any salacious details of what he must have witnessed with the Beatles.

He always described the Beatles as real gents and he was one himself.

Spencer Leigh