The Long and Winding Road for Customs Officers: The Beatles Gold Disc Scandal

27 September 2019

Cultural Studies | History

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the last-recorded album of The Beatles, Abbey Road. To mark this occasion I decided to delve into our abundance of Beatlemania sources in Popular Culture in Britain and America 1950-1975. Alongside some fantastically visual documents on the fan frenzy faced by the fab four in their heyday, I came across an unexpected government file tracing the dramatic history of a case of Beatles “gold discs” presented to the group in 1964.

One case of gold records, “framed by light wood and glass fronted,” to commemorate the sale of more than one million dollars’ worth of sales of the albums Something New and A Hard Day’s Night, was imported into Victoria Docks on 6th December 1964. The group’s management company, Nems Enterprises, failed to pay the import duty and dispute within the department about how to resolve this continued for the next four years.

Image © The National Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The regular process for officers allows for goods unclaimed upon import to be destroyed, either by sale or destruction. Due to the high-profile nature of these items, the correspondence in this file shows the reluctance to decide on either of these two options. Initially when faced with duty for these awards Nems were not interested in paying, however when officials mentioned the possibility of the discs being sold “there was a rapid change of attitude.” Despite the assumption following this that payment would be complete, this was not achieved after Nems “suddenly moved their business elsewhere.”

Image © The National Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Image © The National Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Some in the department were keen to make a speedy sale of the awards as “when the Beatle craze has ended, the discs will be valueless", another also took it upon himself to investigate the future of the band’s success resulting in the opinion that “the "Beatles" are on the "way out" (results of quick market research on teenage neighbours!)". Others were reluctant to decide, sensibly weighing up the pros and cons of a decision that could put the department in an embarrassing situation with unwelcomed publicity. It was discussed that “the sale could best be dealt with by inviting tenders from a suitable number of traders dealing in musical goods” to avoid being “swamped in enquiries from teenagers looking for souvenirs of their idols.”

Image © The National Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Image © The National Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


This reluctance to decide resulted in repeat attempts at contacting Nems, but this matter was “taking up a considerable amount of office time”. When a last-ditch attempt went unanswered in November 1967 officials finally understood that they were not interested: “They probably have more golden discs than they know what to do with and have no wish to pay duty just to add to the collection.”

A conclusion finally came in 1968 when a suggestion was made that aligns with our work here at Adam Matthew quite nicely: “could we not transfer them to the library or somewhere as an exhibit related to one of the phenomena of our times?" This man obviously knows the value of primary source material for teaching and research!

Following this suggestion, the awards were deposited with Customs and Excise Departmental Library and the final page of this file proves that until at least 1978 the golden discs were still in the library’s possession. Today two of these discs are on display at Border Force National Museum in Liverpool.

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About the Author

Alice Hone

Alice Hone

I joined the team at Adam Matthew in 2018 as a Development Assistant. Since starting my role I have enjoyed working on a variety of upcoming projects and look forward to seeing them become published collections. My academic interest lies in film and television studies, with particular interest in the history of commemoration broadcasting.

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