The 21-year-old socialite Tara Browne, a friend to The Beatles and an heir to the Guinness empire, died on this day in a traffic accident. A report detailing the coroner’s verdict into his death inspired John Lennon when writing A Day In The Life.
Browne was a member of the Irish aristocratic family Oranmore & Browne, and was a member of the Swinging London scene in the mid 1960s. He was the son of Dominick Browne, the fourth Baron Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, heiress to the Guinness fortune.
Browne was in line to inherit a £1m fortune upon his 25th birthday, and died leaving the considerable sum of £56,069 in his estate.
On the night of 17 December 1966 he and his girlfriend, 19-year-old model Suki Potier, had spent the evening at a friend’s house in Earls Court. They left shortly before 1am on the following morning, in search of food.
Browne drove his Lotus Elan car through London’s South Kensington at high speed. He failed to notice a red traffic light and drove through the junction of Redcliffe Square and Redcliffe Gardens, colliding with a stationary van in Redcliffe Gardens after swerving to avoid an oncoming Volkswagen car.
Tara Browne died of his injuries the following day, and was survived by his wife Noreen, from whom he had separated, and their two sons. Potier later claimed that Browne swerved the car to absorb the impact of the crash to save her life. She was unharmed in the accident.
On 17 January 1967 John Lennon was writing A Day In The Life while reading a copy of that day’s Daily Mail newspaper. A brief news item reporting the coroner’s verdict into Browne’s death inspired the opening lines of the song.
I was writing A Day In The Life with the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their News in Brief, or Far and Near, whatever they call it. I noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash.
In Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorised biography of The Beatles, Lennon explained how the words of the song were indirectly inspired by the events.
I didn’t copy the accident. Tara didn’t blow his mind out. But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.
The Beatles, Hunter Davies
In his 1997 authorised biography Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney downplayed suggestions that the song was directly about Browne’s death.
The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as were were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles