If you’re familiar with the work of the author and researcher, David McGowan you’ll almost certainly be aware of his theory that America’s counter-culture of the 1960s was actually a creation of the so-called ‘Powers That Be’ and not born in San Francisco as is widely peddled by the mainstream but, instead, Laurel Canyon, the LA neighbourhood which was not only home to a covert military installation but also a significant majority of the music-stars who became voices of that scene, and who themselves were almost all linked intimately in one way or another either to the US intelligence-services, armed-forces, upper echelons of Government, politics and banking as well as some of the country’s wealthiest, most powerful families.
If such a plot did indeed exist and did take place then I’m of the view that it probably happened in Britain too. I mean, over in London at the very same time, there were folk immersing themselves in and influencing the UK’s equivalent of the counter-culture who, also, were connected in one way or another to notoriously malevolent organisations such as the Tavistock Institute or Cambridge University and the LSE (‘London School of Economics‘), and/or had links to the British military and defence industry, banking, top-tier government and old moneyed families, such as the Guinness brewing dynasty whose heir in the 1960s was Irish-born Tara Browne, a regular fixture on the London scene and a friend of The Beatles. He’s the guy who gave McCartney his first Acid Trip. “Tara was taking Acid on blotting-paper in the toilet. He invited me to have some,” Paul has claimed, adding that, “I’d not wanted to do it, I’d held off like a lot of people were trying to, but there was massive peer pressure. And that night I thought, ‘well, this is as good a time as any,’ so I said, ‘go on then, fine.’” That was in 1966. Months later, in June 1967, just days after the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ and at the height of the Acid-drenched ‘Summer of Love,’ the musician was extolling the virtues of the drug to the mainstream mass-media and, as a result, to millions of his fans and admirers. “After I took it, it opened my eyes,” he said at the time. “We only use one-tenth of our brain. Just think what we could accomplish if we could only tap that hidden part! It would mean a whole new world. If the politicians would take LSD, there wouldn’t be any more war, or poverty, or famine.” Tara, by then, was dead. He’d been killed, aged just 21, in a car-crash in December ‘66, a tragedy that was immortalised in the line, “he blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed” on ‘A Day in the Life,’ the closing track on the Sgt. Pepper album. A new book charting his colourful yet short life has just been released. Titled, ’I Read the News Today, Oh Boy,’ it’s written by award-winning journalist, author and comedy-writer, Paul Howard. He’s also composed a short article for the newspaper/wesbite, ‘MailOnline’ in conjunction with the publishing of the biography. Here’s some excerpts…
Just after midnight on December 18th 1966, in a London festooned with Christmas lights, 21-year-old Tara Browne, a Dublin-born brewery heir, music lover, style icon, racing car driver and sometime ‘Vogue’ model, lost control of his light-blue Lotus Elan in South Kensington, London and collided with a black van. His passenger girlfriend, Suki Potier, later claimed that Browne wasn’t going particularly fast – although that would have been wildly out of character for the speed-obsessed young aristocrat. In her version of events, a white car – either a Volvo or an E-Type Jaguar, never traced – emerged unexpectedly from a side street and forced Tara to swerve.
A month after that fatal crash – and the day after Browne’s mother, Oonagh, won custody of her late son’s two small children in the High Court – John Lennon, suffering from writer’s block during the making of The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album, propped a copy of the ‘Daily Mail’ (newspaper) on his piano music-stand and turned over the front page. There, in the middle of page three, was an article headlined: ‘Guinness Heir Babies Stay with Grandmother.’
John had heard about Tara’s death, though unlike McCartney, he hadn’t known him well. The two Beatles had just been discussing whether or not Browne, son of Lord Oranmore and Browne, would have inherited his father’s seat in the House of Lords had he lived.
Lennon touched the piano-keys and out came the opening line of the song:
‘I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade…’
Fifty years on, Tara Browne is familiar to many as the man in the first verse of The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life,’ who ‘blew his mind out in a car’ and then drew a curious crowd of onlookers who wondered whether he was ‘from the House of Lords.’
Rich, handsome and effortlessly cool, Tara was the living, breathing quintessence of Swinging London – a dandy with the air of a young prince, always right on the heartbeat of the moment in everything he did, whether introducing Paul McCartney to the mind-expanding possibilities of LSD in his Belgravia mews, turning heads in his psychedelic AC Cobra or gadding about London’s West End with Peter Sellers or Roman Polanski.
Browne thrilled to danger of any kind – experimenting with the newest drugs, shooting the breeze with the East End villains who popped into his motor repair shop in Chelsea, and tearing up the King’s Road in a low-slung sports-car, a record-player built into its dash, the needle skipping across the vinyl as he weaved through the traffic.
Born in 1945, Tara was the younger son of Dominick Browne, the fourth Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, a glamorous society beauty and member of the sixth generation of the brewing dynasty, whose surname was as famous as Ireland itself. His parents divorced when he was young, and Tara rarely saw the inside of a classroom, forming his personality at the feet of his mother’s coterie of writers, intellectuals and aristocratic black sheep, including the painter Lucian Freud, film director John Huston and writer Brendan Behan.
By the time he was 18, having already travelled the world with his vivacious mother, Browne was married with a child, but that didn’t stop the charming, well-connected young man finding his true purpose at the centre of a suddenly swing London.
He became a central character at a club near Leicester Square called the ‘Ad Lib,’ the hippest of London hotspots, where Britain’s once-sacred class structure was being shaken like a snow-globe, as Pop-stars and criminals mingled with debutantes, aristocrats and – it was rumoured – royalty, in the form of Princess Margaret.
“Tara was absolutely central to it,” remembered Sixties socialite Jane Ormsby-Gore. “We were meeting people from different walks of life, but we needed somebody in the middle saying, ‘oh, so-and-so, have you met such-and-such?’ and that was what Tara did.”
In the great social switchyard of the Ad Lib, it was inevitable that Tara and McCartney would meet. One had a ravenous curiosity about the world; the other, the assured air of a privileged young man who had seen and done it all. Introduced by McCartney’s brother Mike, they bonded over clothes, cars, music and drugs. From that moment on, Tara took Paul into his circle of high-born friends.
Tara and his wife Nicki’s mews house in Eaton Row, Belgravia, became the centre of an after-hours scene. Every Friday morning, Nicki bought five-dozen eggs to make breakfast for whichever guests had improvised beds for themselves on the living-room floor.
“The house was always strewn with bodies,” she remembered. “You never knew who was a Beatle, who was an Animal, who was a Trogg and who was a Pretty Thing.”
Tara didn’t impress both of the chief Beatles. Nicki remembered John Lennon being at Eaton Row, drunk, with (Peter) Sellers. Tara gave John a copy of ‘Pygmalion,’ George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play lampooning, of all things, Britain’s rigid class-system.
But John was still too class-conscious to ever warm to Tara, according to Nicki, “I think he really sneered at people from Tara’s background,” she said.
With Paul, it was a different matter, and the pair would share dangerous adventures that would alter the course of the band.
Tara quickly picked up on the arrival in London of psychedelic drugs. LSD changed the landscape of Swinging London utterly, and it was Browne who introduced McCartney to the drug.
Tara himself soon came to wider attention. In 1965, he appeared in the fashion-magazine ‘Gentleman’s Quarterly,’ and the following year posed with Brian Jones for a ‘Vogue’ spread on how men’s clothes had become informed by women’s fashion.
By the end of the year, however, Tara’s life was in chaos. His marriage was unspooling. And his two tiny children were in Ireland, where his mother had taken them, dismayed by how her son and daughter-in-law were behaving as parents.
“I said to him, ‘Tara, we need to go and get the children back right now. They’re our children – not hers,’ remembered Nicki, who died in 2012. “And that’s when he said the strangest thing to me. He said, ‘what’s the point? I’m not going to live very long anyway.’”
The night he died, he had a date with new girlfriend Suki, and they left a restaurant on Abingdon Road in South Kensington just before midnight, driving west just for the hell of it, with no particular place to go. Neither alcohol nor drugs were a factor – Tara had consumed less than one pint of beer – though speed may well have been a cause.
Several witnesses claimed he flew past them, accelerating and braking fast, while the car made a loud noise. Seconds later, there was a bang and the sound of the engine stopped.
Sixties London wasn’t one single scene – it was a collection of different ones. Yet, somehow, Tara Browne had seemed to be at the centre of most of them, a first-hand witness to the events and trends that shaped and coloured the decade.
You can read the article in full here (which also – incidentally – makes references to P.i.D.):
‘Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & The Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream.’ David McGowan.