Les Anthony: Former soldier who became chauffeur to The Beatles

Kenneth Shenton
Anthony stands next to John Lennon's custom-built Rolls-Royce Phantom V in 1967: Getty
Anthony stands next to John Lennon's custom-built Rolls-Royce Phantom V in 1967: Getty

Les Anthony was a former Welsh Guardsman who, after a chance encounter with Brian Epstein in 1964, landed the job of becoming The Beatles’ chauffeur. In reality he became so much more. Amid a shared sense of humour, he was soon a friend and confidant, the group’s go-to Mr Fixit and a member of the Fab Four’s trusted inner circle. In addition, at 6ft 4in and weighing 18 stone, this gentle giant’s imposing presence and military bearing helped provide the pop stars with a much-needed extra layer of security just as Beatlemania was spreading like wildfire throughout the world.

The eldest son of a south Wales coal miner, born in the village of Abertysswg, William Lesley Anthony was educated locally before enrolling as a soldier in the Welsh Guards. Having served in Germany, he was later stationed at the army training centre at Pirbright in Surrey. Enjoying a lifetime’s passion for motoring, on leaving the forces he was taken on as a chauffeur. It was while valeting a Rolls-Royce on the drive of a house in the exclusive St George’s enclave at Weybridge in Surrey that he was noticed by Epstein, the manager of The Beatles. Invited into John Lennon’s neighbouring house to meet the group, he was hired on the spot. His wages were £36 per week.

He initially teamed up with fellow chauffeur Alf Bicknell. While Bicknell was content to adopt an increasingly bohemian approach to life, Anthony kept his eyes on the road and his mouth shut. He remained totally discreet about the many drug-fuelled and sexual excesses he would subsequently witness.

The former soldier was increasingly designated to work for Lennon, who had then only recently moved to Kenwood, the extensive and lavish mock-Tudor Surrey mansion, complete with suits of armour and medieval altar pieces. While always respectful, Anthony was soon growing more accustomed to being considered a friend rather than an employee. Lennon also had a Mini Coupe, which the chauffeur hated because he could barely squeeze himself into the driving seat. One important task was keeping the Rolls on standby, ready to make a quick getaway after a concert or recording session. Just occasionally, when shaking off fans, he found himself in court for speeding.

In late 1966, Anthony ordered Lennon a second Rolls-Royce from RS Mead and Sons in Chelsea. This was a custom-built Phantom V that took six months to construct and was the first to have tinted windows. Measuring 19ft 10in in length and 6ft 7in wide, it weighed three tons and was powered by a 6.23 litre V2 engine. Internally, it had black leather upholstery, a cocktail cabinet, reading lamps, a portable television, refrigerator, record player and a modified back seat that doubled up as a bed. Externally, it was sprayed in electric yellow and bedecked with colourful Romany scrolls, Zodiac symbols and floral tendrils. Driven by Anthony, it was soon playing host to all the pop royalty of the day.

By then, Lennon was in Spain, starring alongside Michael Crawford and Roy Kinnear in Richard Lester’s film How I Won The War. However, growing bored with the technicalities of filming, the Beatle summoned Anthony to make the 1,400-mile drive south to Almeria to collect him in the older Rolls-Royce. While there, Anthony met a middle-aged local teacher, Juan Carrion, who used the words of The Beatles’ songs to teach his pupils English. Intrigued by this, Lennon made contact with Carrion and after correcting many of his notebooks, later supplied him with copious recordings and lyric sheets as resource material for his teaching.

After being honoured with an MBE in 1965, Lennon dispatched Anthony four years later to return his insignia to Buckingham Palace, as a protest against the Vietnam War. By then, the singer’s marriage to Cynthia Powell was over, the Beatle involved with Yoko Ono. After their move to New York in 1971, Anthony received a brief scribbled note that stated, “You’ve been a good lad over the years and faithful – for which I thank you.” Twelve months later, Anthony faced possible legal action following a series of features in the News of the World. There, he had claimed, “It took about three weeks to start the breakup of The Beatles. They were the three weeks from the day when Yoko Ono bumped into John Lennon until the night she climbed into his bed.”

After leaving the world of pop music, Anthony was taken on by George Dobry, the maverick barrister and judge. He also enjoyed a long and hugely enjoyable working relationship with another lawyer, the Conservative MP Geoffrey Rippon. When Rippon was in the process of negotiating the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community, Anthony would chauffeur him around many of Europe’s capital cities. Describing it as “a job in a million”, he also claimed that it was no less entertaining than his previous employment.

Marrying Joyce Rowles in 1954, she predeceased him, as did a daughter. He is survived by a son and daughter.

Les Anthony, soldier and chauffeur, born 30 April 1933, died 21 May 2020

Read more

Dame Vera Lynn: Wartime singer who spoke to the heart of a nation