A Song from Dead Lips features the groupies known as The Apple Scruffs. In this article originally written for Rolling Stone, I add a bit of background to the story of the legendary 60s pop fans.
She came in through the bathroom window.
No. Really. She did. Emma Eldredge, a 63-year-old retired nurse from Gloucester, England, is remembering the time she broke into Paul McCartney‘s London house in early 1969 and stole a pair of the great man’s trousers. “I just did it to have a look,” she says, matter of factly.
There are Beliebers, One Directioners, Miley Cyrus’s Smilers and Beyoncés Beyhive. There have been Blockheads and Duranies. But there will never, ever be any group of fans as legendary and as sweetly original as the Beatles‘ most devoted admirers, the Apple Scruffs.
Because not only did the Apple Scruffs follow the most celebrated and innovative musical foursome that pop music has produced, they helped keep the band sane. During the sad last days of the Beatles, there was always the constant, devoted enthusiasm of the Scruffs, lurking outside the band’s doors. “In some strange way,” recalled Beatles press officer Derek Tayor before his death in 1997, “the Scruffs helped the Beatles by becoming a sort of daily interface between them and the world.”
The Apple Scruffs were a tiny but intense group of (mostly) young women who gained their name from the thick coats and sweaters they wore against the London cold, and from hanging around the Georgian doorstep of 3, Savile Row, London, the address of the Beatles’ Apple headquarters. This was their meeting place, from the late sixties up to the Beatle’s disintegration and even beyond. Even their names have become semi-legendary over the years: among the circle were the ringleader Margo who later became the Apple tea-girl, Sue-John, the Lennon fan, so called to distinguish herself from other Scruff Sues, Tommy – the gay Brooklynite – who loved the band, but, he told his fellow Scruffs, “not in that way.”
In my novel, She’s Leaving Home, I re-imagine the Scruffs as part of a murder investigation. In real life, the worst crime they were involved with was petty burglary. The 20 or so members had a more prosaic existence that revolved around a strict routine. Each day they would congregate at Savile Row, try and figure out what the day’s schedule for the Beatles were and then head off to wherever they thought the Beatles would be. In the words Carol Bedford, a Scruff who wrote a 1984 memoir Waiting For The Beatles, “And they did this all year, not just a couple of weeks while on holiday.”
Remember, this was long before Facebook and cellphones. The best, fastest method of communication they could hope for was London’s expensive and unreliable red phone booths.
From their gathering point at Savile Row, the Scruffs would jump on a tube train or the 159 bus that took them towards Abbey Road Studios, in search of their prey.
There the studio’s technicians often only discovered that the band were about to arrive when the Scruffs started congregating, waiting for the foursome to knock off so they could wave at them, photograph them, share the news. “We would stay out till four or five in the morning,” recalls Eldredge. “It would be so cold. . .”
“What fascinated me most was how they got their information,” Derek Taylor once said. “Often they knew more about where the boys were they we did. It was often a process of abstraction and deduction with them. Sherlock Scruffs they were. They’d use some infallible female intuition to work out whether the boys were recording at Olympic or at Trident, AIR or Abbey Road. Very clever.”
“Sometimes the Apple office workers would tell us what was going on and we”d take it from there,” recalls Eldredge, at the time scrimping together a living as an 18-year-old nanny. As a working girl, she was the exception. Most had quit their jobs so they could devote all their time to chasing the Beatles.
“Oh hello girls, busy day?” Ringo would quip, sarcastically as he walked up the stairs to the Apple office.
The American fans, who had flown over to live in London, were richer, had better clothes and cameras and were naturally resented. “We didn’t like the Americans much,” Eldredge admits. “And of course, Linda Eastman was an American, and we didn’t like her.”
Because for most, Paul McCartney was The One. A few were George girls. Sue John, the Lennon fan, was the exception. “Although all the girls liked John, they were also frightened of him,” wrote Bedford, recalling that Lennon was usually the most brusque of the four. “He never really knew how to deal with the girls. Or thought he didn’t.” When news broke that McCartney married Linda, the Scruffs gathered outside his Cavendish Avenue house, weeping profusely.
The most famous single moment of Scruff history occurred that day when several of them went to hang out at the McCartney’s house. Discovering Paul wasn’t in, they played, for a while, on the Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes McCartney had installed in his garden, until one of them – possibly a girl called Chris – spotted a ladder and an open window.
McCartney would later immortalise the break-in with an Abbey Road song, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”
Once they were in, the Scruffs ransacked the house. Apart from the pants which Eldredge purloined, and which the Scruffs took turns wearing. Eldredge also recalls one stealing a tape of the song “The End.” Other girls took Linda’s photographs. The fans were shocked when an infuriated McCartney demanded the more precious items back. When the girls asked how they knew it was them, McCartney answered, “A real burglar would have taken more expensive things.”
That was a rare moment of crossing the line. For the most part, the Beatles were curiously fond of these oddball, intense, misfit fans. In 1970s the Scruffs formalised their existence by creating what they called “a freemasonry” with their own membership cards. For a while they produced their own magazine. Like the Beatles they had created their own world. Derek Taylor described them as “very Zen.” When the rain poured down outside, he would invite them in. But the Scruffs preferred to stay outside, in their own world. “The strange thing was they were happy there. They didn’t want to be on the inside.”
Most of all, they acted as a kind of balm for the Beatles during their most punishing days as the four most famous people on the planet.
On his 1970 solo breakthrough All Things Must Pass, George Harrison, in some ways the most bruised of all during the break up, wrote a sweet little song, called simple enough, “Apple Scruffs,” in which he explained how much the presence of these extraordinary fans meant to the Beatles.
You’ve been stood around for years / Seen my smiles and touched my tears/ How it’s been a long, long time/ And how you’ve been on my mind, my Apple Scruffs
In the fog and in the rain / Through the pleasures and the pain /On the step outside you stand /With your flowers in your hand, my Apple Scruffs.