John Lennon and Paul McCartney travel to Paris

John Lennon was given £100 ahead of his 21st birthday on 9 October 1961. He and Paul McCartney decided to travel to Spain for a holiday. In the end they went no further than Paris.

John and I went on a trip for his twenty-first birthday. John was from a very middle-class family, which really impressed me because everyone else was from working-class families. To us John was upper class. His relatives were teachers, dentists, even someone up in Edinburgh in the BBC. It’s ironic, he was always very ‘fuck you!’ and he wrote the song ‘Working Class Hero’ – in fact, he wasn’t at all working class. Anyway, one of John’s relatives gave him £100 for his birthday. A hundred smackers in your hand! That was a real windfall. None of us could believe it. To this day if you gave me £100 I would be impressed. And I was his mate, enough said? ‘Let’s go on holiday.’ – ‘You mean me too? With the hundred quid? Great! I’m part of this windfall.’
Paul McCartney

The pair had intended to hitchhike all the way to Spain, and wore bowler hats to help attract the attention of drivers. They also travelled by train for parts of the journey.

We planned to hitchhike to Spain. I had done a spot of hitchhiking with George and we knew you had to have a gimmick; we had been turned down so often and we’d seen that guys that had a gimmick (like a Union Jack round them) had always got the lifts. So I said to John, ‘Let’s get a couple of bowler hats.’ It was showbiz creeping in. We still had our leather jackets and drainpipes – we were too proud of them not to wear them, in case we met a girl; and if we did meet a girl, off would come the bowlers. But for lifts we would put the bowlers on. Two guys in bowler hats – a lorry would stop! Sense of Humour. This, and the train, is how we got to Paris.
Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney also abandoned bookings which The Beatles had, which led the others to believe that the band may have split up.

Last night I heard that John and Paul have gone to Paris to play together – in other words, the band has broken up! It sounds mad to me, I don’t believe it…
Stuart Sutcliffe, 1961

Despite intending to travel to Spain, Lennon and McCartney decided to remain in France.

We’d never been there before. We were a bit tired so we checked into a little hotel for the night, intending to go off hitchhiking the next morning. Of course, it was too nice a bed after having hitched so we said, ‘We’ll stay a little longer,’ then we thought, ‘God, Spain is a long way, and we’d have to work to get down there.’ We ended up staying the week in Paris – John was funding it all with his hundred quid.

We would walk miles from our hotel; you do in Paris. We’d go to a place near the Avenue des Anglais and we’d sit in the bars, looking good. I still have some classic photos from there. Linda loves one where I am sitting in a gendarme’s mac as a cape and John has got his glasses on askew and his trousers down revealing a bit of Y-front. The photographs are so beautiful, we’re really hamming it up. We’re looking at the camera like, ‘Hey, we are artsy guys, in a café: this is us in Paris,’ and we felt like that.

We went up to Montmartre because of all the artists, and the Folies Bergères, and we saw guys walking around in short leather jackets and very wide pantaloons. Talk about fashion! This was going to kill them when we got back. This was totally happening. They were tight to the knee and then they flared out; they must have been about fifty inches around the bottom and our drainpipe trousers were something like fifteen or sixteen inches. We saw these trousers and said, ‘Excusez-moi, Monsieur, où did you get them?’ It was a cheap little rack down the street so we bought a pair each, went back to the hotel, put them on, went out on the street – and we couldn’t handle it: ‘Do your feet feel like they are flapping? Feel more comfortable in me drainies, don’t you?’ So it was back to the hotel at a run, needle and cotton out and we took them in to a nice sixteen with which we were quite happy. And then we met Jürgen Vollmer on the street. He was still taking pictures.

Paul McCartney

Jürgen Vollmer was a friend from Hamburg who had moved to France to study photography. He wore his hair brushed forward, in a style Astrid Kirchherr had encouraged Stuart Sutcliffe to adopt.

Paul McCartney and Jurgen Vollmer in Paris, September 1961

Jürgen had a flattened-down hairstyle with a fringe in the front, which we rather took to. We went over to his place and there and then he cut – hacked would be a better word – our hair into the same style.
John Lennon, 1963

Kirchherr had taken the style from Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau’s 1959 film Le Testament d’Orphée. Vollmer cut Lennon and McCartney’s hair in his hotel room on the Left Bank.

He had his hair Mod-style. We said, ‘Would you do our hair like yours?’ We’re on holiday – what the hell! We’re buying capes and pantaloons, throwing caution to the wind. He said, ‘No, boys, no. I like you as Rocker; you look great.’ But we begged him enough so he said ‘all right’. He didn’t do it quite the same as his.

His was actually more coming over to one side. A kind of long-haired Hitler thing, and we’d wanted that, so it was really a bit of an accident. We sat down in his hotel and he just got it – the ‘Beatle’ cut!

For the rest of that week we were like Paris Existentialists. Jean Paul Sartre had nothing on us. This was it. ‘Sod them all – I could write a novel from what I learnt this week.’ It was all inside me. I could do anything now.

When we got back to Liverpool it was all, ‘Eh, your hair’s gone funny.’ – ‘No, this is the new style.’

We nearly tried to change it back but it wouldn’t go, it kept flapping forward. And that just caught on. We weren’t really into the coiffure. It was like Mo’s out of the Three Stooges. It fell forward in a fringe. But it was great for us because we never had to style it or anything – wash it, towel it, turn upside down and give it a shake, and that was it. Everyone thought we had started it, so it became ‘the Beatle hairdo’.

Paul McCartney

Lennon and McCartney’s Parisian trip inspired the 1977 Wings song ‘Café On The Left Bank’.

Last updated: 30 June 2023
The Beatles live: Knotty Ash Village Hall, Liverpool
John Lennon celebrates his 21st birthday with Paul McCartney in Paris
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