The MBE medal that John Lennon famously rejected and returned to the Queen in 1969 has been found in the most unusual of places — a dusty old drawer in Buckingham Palace.
What’s more, fans of the Beatles believe that the iconic medal is an important part of Beatles memorabilia and are calling on none other than Yoko One to storm the palace gates and get back what once belonged to her famous husband.
Not that John Lennon would want it, of course. The British Honours system troubled Lennon immensely, because, like many, he grew to regard it as symbolic of the antiquated class, inherited privilege, and grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth which still exists in Britain to this day.
Not that any such trivia troubles his lesser talented Beatle bandmate, Sir Paul McCartney, who has accepted with glee and unfurrowed brow award after award from his “betters.”
Likewise, Sir Mick Jagger campaigned vigorously for the honour to become a knight, but fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards just dismissed his bandmate’s treasured ambition in one word: “ludicrous.”
To be fair, the old lush had a valid point. Jagger may have taken his place at Queen Elizabeth’s round table alongside such battled-hardened warriors as Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Bruce Forsyth, but let’s face it, if you were gong to war, would you want this sorry shower leading the way?
The thin white Duke that is David Bowie has turned down both a CBE and a knighthood, and summed it up perfectly by explaining, “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”
John Lennon, on the other hand, did initially accept a MBE in 1965 after the Fab Four were invested as Members of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1965, after topping record charts around the world. As the Beatles were little more than a bouncy little boy-band back then, we can forgive Lennon his eagerness to jump like an eager lap dog at the honor.
Four year later, and a Lennon who had longer hair, more sophisticated drugs, a radicalized soul, and the weight of worldwide fame behind him, decided that by accepting the MBE he had sold out to the establishment, and the only course of action left to him was to return the offending article forthwith.
So after collecting it from his Aunt Mimi’s mantelpiece, where it had taken pride of place for the previous four years, on November 25, 1969, Lennon finally returned his medal of honor to Her Majesty with an explanatory letter.
“Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon.”
It’s never been ascertained if the Queen of England is a Beatles fan or not, and if so, if her favourite mop top was Lennon or McCartney. We’ll never know for sure just how hard Her Highness took such a snub, but we do know that years after the event, Lennon remained very proud of his revolutionary gesture.
“Lots of people who complained about us getting the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war. They got them for killing people. We deserved ours for not killing people. In a way it was hypocritical of me to accept it. But I’m glad I did really, because it meant that four years later I was able to use it to make a gesture.”
Four decades later, and after a campaign to find Lennon’s returned MBE, Beatles fans have located it in a cabinet at the Chancery Department of the Royal Household, where it has lain untouched for years.
Purple Revolver reports that it is still in the presentation case bearing the name John Winston Lennon, and has been stored along with his protest letter. Beatles history experts regard it as one of the most important pieces of Beatles history and are calling for the medal to be put on permanent display at “Mendips”, the childhood home John shared with his Aunt Mimi in Woolton, now operated by The National Trust.
One Beatles fan in Liverpool was particularly vocal about where the medal belongs.
“Let’s hope Yoko will agree that John’s medal should be displayed in his home town. We completely respect John’s decision to return the MBE but we also believe that showing it to the public would be appropriate since it would raise awareness of John’s campaign for peace.
“We are urging Yoko to put in a request to Buckingham Palace for them to return the medal to her. What she then does is her decision, but we would be delighted to have it on display in Liverpool
“It would be fitting to return the medal to the mantelpiece at Mendips. The Royal Household is sitting on a unique piece of Beatles history and it should not be left to gather dust in a draw.
“The medal is a vital piece of Beatles memorabilia and should be exhibited for John’s fans to see.”
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman confirmed that the MBE has been located and that it remains the property of John Lennon’s estate.
“It has been retained since the day Mr Lennon returned it but a decision over whether the medal could go on display in a museum is not up to us. It would be up to Yoko Ono as she is the custodian of John Lennon’s estate.”
Beatles fans everywhere are delighted that the medal has not been melted or put in a box and re-cycled as previously thought, and although Lennon didn’t appear to think a lot about the medal, Beatles fans, who no doubt consider themselves “classless, clever, and free,” have a different viewpoint altogether.
“John’s memory will live on for ever in his music but this MBE is a very precious memento.”
Yet as the late Michael Winner, who famously rejoiced in snubbing an OBE, once said.
“I couldn’t give a sh*t about a CBE or a Knighthood so I just thought ‘stuff it’. If you look at the people who have turned down honours it makes for a wonderful list. I’d rather be in that group than the seedy lot who took the so-called honour, grovelled for it and carried it home like a prize possession to show off. The only prize possession to value in life is that of how we behave.”
[Photos via Getty Images]