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Neil Aspinall

If anyone beyond Brian Epstein and George Martin deserved to be called ‘the fifth Beatle‘ it was probably Neil Stanley Aspinall.

While other aides, such as Derek Taylor and Mal Evans, attracted open affection from Fabs fans, ‘Nell’ remained more elusive. From 1961 to 2007, however, he was an irreplaceable figure in the Beatles organisation.

Taylor described him as “the one steadfast figure in their lives with a complete understanding of their needs; the only true Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom”.

Trusted implicitly by the naturally sceptical Beatles, Aspinall moved seamlessly from road manager to right-hand-man to Managing Director of Apple Corps, a role he occupied until 2007.

It was Aspinall who drove The Beatles to their 1962 audition at Decca, accompanied Pete Best to the meeting at which he was sacked, and then stood alongside them through the mayhem of Beatlemania.

After bequeathing the amplifier-lugging role to Mal Evans, Aspinall became the man responsible for keeping The Beatles‘ show on the road. At first, that entailed battling hotel managers and ejecting interlopers.

Later, it involved safeguarding their financial and creative interests with the loyalty of a Labrador and the aggression of a bull terrier.

Of all The Beatles, Aspinall was closest to John Lennon, though he remained professionally impartial. It was his bitter task to inform the others of Lennon’s murder in 1980.

In person, he often echoed Lennon’s wit and dry worldview. He needed to be that tough to survive more than four decades in The Beatles‘ service.

Rarely glimpsed by the public until the Anthology project (which he masterminded) he devoted himself to hunting down missing royalties, pursuing anyone who seemed to be threatening the group’s copyrights, and balancing the often competing interests of his four employers.

It was a role that took a serious toll on his health. Aspinall suffered a series of heart attacks during his time at Apple, not helped by the necessity of working a full London day and then waiting for another eight hours of calls to come in from California.

Insiders noted that although the individual Beatles respected him, they still essentially regarded him as their roadie, even when he was heading a billion-pound empire.

The importance of his early qualifications as an accountant was soon outweighed by his experience at the helm. He had been present at every Beatles landmark since the Cavern days, sharing their acid trips, contributing crucial words to their songs, surviving the madness of Apple’s launch, and then steering the company from vinyl and video to the digital age.

Fans often blamed him for stalling archive projects, forgetting that The Beatles were effectively employing him to say “no”.

Neil died of lung cancer on 24 March 2008. He was 66.