At the age of 12, Aspinall gained a place at the Liverpool Institute, where he studied English and art alongside Paul McCartney. After leaving school in 1959 he studied accountancy, and went on to work as a trainee accountant for two years.
The Beatles first played Liverpool’s Casbah Club in August 1959. The club was in the cellar of Mona Best, mother of the band’s drummer Pete Best. Aspinall became good friends with Pete, and rented a room in Mona’s house. Aspinall entered a relationship with Mona, and fathered a child, Vincent ‘Roag’ Best, born in July 1962. Their relationship drew to a close when Pete Best was sacked from The Beatles, an incident which appalled the loyal Aspinall.
On the road
As The Beatles’ career took off in the early 1960s, they became in need of a driver. Aspinall was asked by Pete Best to be their part-time road manager, and bought a grey Commer van for £80. He charged each band member five shillings per concert.
When The Beatles returned from their second Hamburg trip in July 1961, Aspinall left his accountancy job to become their full-time road manager.
In 1963 he was joined by roadie and bodyguard Mal Evans, and Aspinall became more of a personal assistant to the band. He worked closely with Brian Epstein, and even stood in for an ill George Harrison during rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan Show on The Beatles’ first trip to America. He is also known to have signed sets of Beatles autographs for thousands of unsuspecting fans.
After the band withdrew from touring in 1966, Aspinall became more actively involved in creative decisions. He was charged with sourcing photographs for all the people shown on the Sgt Pepper cover, and played tambura on ‘Within You Without You’ and harmonica on ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!’.
After Brian Epstein died in August 1967, The Beatles asked Aspinall to manage Apple Corps, founded in April 1968. George Martin apparently opposed the idea, saying he was ill-suited to negotiating with the top-brass executives at EMI.
Aspinall was kept busy at Apple, which originally had five divisions: music, electronics, films, publishing and retail. He later said of the company’s business practices:
We did not have one single piece of paper. No contracts. The lawyer, the accountants and Brian, whoever, had that. The Beatles had been given copies of various contracts, maybe – I don’t know. I didn’t know what the contract was with EMI, or with the film people or the publishers or anything at all. So it was a case of building up a filing system, find out what was going on while we were trying to continue doing something.
Aspinall was reportedly unhappy at being kept at the Apple office at 3 Savile Row while the band recorded the White Album and Let It Be. He was briefly sacked by The Beatles’ new manager Allen Klein, though later reinstated.
After The Beatles’ break-up Aspinall was kept busy, dealing with lawsuits, licensing and trademark issues, and continuing the running of Apple Corps.
In the early 1990s he was appointed executive producer of the Anthology project, which had its roots in the 1970s as a film called The Long And Winding Road. However, legal issues and changing priorities ensured that the film was never finished.
By the 1990s Apple had resolved many of its legal issues with EMI. Work on the project resumed, and the scope was extended. As Aspinall said, “If it takes 10 hours to tell The Beatles’ story then make it 10 hours.” A new subsidiary company, Apple Productions, was set up to oversee it.
Aspinall played a key role in bringing Anthology to fruition, and continued to safeguard The Beatles’ legacy. However, on 10 April 2007 it was announced that he had “decided to move on”. He was reportedly unhappy with the band’s legacy being mined for money-making opportunities, although one of his final tasks at Apple is said to have been overseeing the remastering of the back catalogue for re-release.
Neil Aspinall died in New York City on 24 March 2008 while undergoing treatment for lung cancer.