Norman Pilcher – The Copper Who Loved to Nick Pop Stars in the 60’s.

Written by Simon Wells
  • font size decrease font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email

The seemingly ravenous Pilcher would score again with a raid on jazz musician Tubby Hayes in the summer of 1968.

Like Brian Jones before him, Hayes had also taken up residence in Chelsea, and was in all probability unaware of Sgt. Pilcher’s abnormal interest in musicians. On August 19th 1968, Pilcher and his team would raid Hayes’ flat. Following a systematic search, traces of diamorphine and a heroin tablet were found. According to testimony presented to court, Hayes would ask Pilcher for assistance with his habit, the result being that Pilcher would drive the musician over to Charing Cross Hospital to register his arrestee as a heroin addict.

Within weeks of Tubby Hayes arrest, a further raid was planned at the top of pop’s royalty – John Lennon. With Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein deceased for over a year, any veil of protection he’d managed to engineer for his charges had dissolved into the ether. In the process of destroying any trace of his mop top persona, Lennon – freshly estranged from his wife Cynthia and shacked up with Japanese left-field artist Yoko Ono - was evidently fair game for opportunists such as sergeant Pilcher.

Pilcher’s team had evidently heard about Lennon and Ono’s rootless existence. Without a dedicated base, the couple had taken to living in a succession of properties around London. With a need to embed their relationship, Lennon was offered possession of a Ringo Starr’s pied-à-terre at 34, Montague Square, west London. While Starr had long vacated the property, he had kept the apartment on for his and his friends’ occasional use. In 1968, guitar hero Jimi Hendrix would take up temporary residence before moving on.

Lennon had maintained a superficial contact with the Daily Mirror’s Don Short a reporter who’d accompanied the Beatles and Stones on their jaunts around the globe. Short had been privy to pop stars after-hours behaviour, but had turned a blind eye, favouring chirpy copy over scandal. With the drug busts occurring across London, Short was privy to the fevered chatter occurring around the watering holes of Fleet Street. Here, the convergence of writers, informants and off-duty police was almost indivisible, allowing various nuggets of information to occasionally surface.

In late September 1968, Don Short heard tell that Pilcher’s mob was sizing up Lennon’s Montague Square flat. It appears that others too were also in the loop of this knowledge, and were on standby for a possible raid. With Short communicating this information over to Lennon, he took immediate action to rid the flat of any incriminating substances. Aware that Jimi Hendrix and his revolving pleasure crew had only just vacated the apartment, Lennon took to personally vacuuming the flat to ensure nothing questionable could be found. Confident Pete Shotton was also in on this meticulous clean-up, removing the vacuum cleaner bag and disposing of it elsewhere.

At 11:55am on Friday 18th October, John and Yoko were in the throes of waking up; rock star behaviour rarely assuming a coherency before midday. As the couple chatted quietly to each other, a tapping was heard on their front door. This became more incessant, and with their curiosity pricked, the pair went to the door.

“All of a sudden,” recalled Lennon. “There was this knock on the door and a woman's voice outside. She said: ‘I've got a message for you.’ We said: ‘Who is it? You're not the postman.’ And she said: ‘No, it's very personal,”’ and suddenly this woman starts pushing the door….I look around and there is a policeman standing in the window, waiting to be let it. We'd been in bed and our lower regions were uncovered. Yoko ran into the bathroom to get dressed with her head poking out, so they wouldn't think she was hiding anything. Then I said: ‘Ring the lawyer, quick.’”

Lennon would manage to lock the door and retire to the lounge. With the window facing the street, John could see the extent of the planned raid. Outside were eight police personal, all primed to gain entry with force if necessary. If Lennon had a less obstructed view, he’d have also seen the presence of a Daily Express cameraman, evidently tipped off that a raid would take place.

Yoko decided it would be more advantageous to call Apple Records executive Peter Brown than their lawyer. While Yoko was on the phone, John - leaning out of a window - would insist that Pilcher produce and read aloud the search warrant. While perfectly within Lennon’s rights, Pilcher would see this as a stalling tactic. With police threatening to gain entry by the ground floor window, Lennon unlocked the front door and allowed the police in. The mainly verbal struggle lasted eight minutes

With no evidence found on the police’s initial sortie, two sniffer dogs, Boo Boo and Yogi, were called in. Despite Lennon’s strenuous efforts to rid any narcotics in the flat, police still managed to locate 219 grains of cannabis resin. Pilcher would charge Lennon on possession and for obstructing the police in his duty. John would later claim that the sergeant offered him a deal whereby if he admitted possession to the drugs, he’d drop the obstruction charge and any action on Yoko. At 1:20pm, Lennon and Ono were transported over to Paddington Police Station. Following the formalities, Pilcher - ever the opportunist - would turn on his trademark charm, getting Lennon to sign a couple of Beatles’ albums for his children. This would, somewhat hilariously, include a copy of Lennon’s infamous Two Virgins album depicting Lennon and Ono in the nude. Pilcher’s actions that morning would ensure that Lennon’s movements would be dogged for the rest of his life.

News of Lennon’s arrest would be swiftly filtered out, and much like the Redlands’ scandal of early 1967, it would enrage and energise those close enough to feel its impact. For those in Pilcher’s target area – namely, anyone in the music industry - an even greater sense of fear would occupy their movements. With numerous rock stars now fleeing London for the relative safety of the country, the spectre of a bust by similarly ambitious police detectives would still remain a very real possibility.

Pilcher would add another Beatle scalp to his CV - raiding George Harrison’s home on March 12th 1969 – ironically on the night Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman. The raid at Harrison’s Esher property was questionable on many levels, not least that it was well outside Pilcher’s London manor. While Harrison freely admitted to having a small stash of marijuana in his home, the size and location of what Pilcher uncovered way outstripped Harrison’s own estimation. “I'm a tidy man,” said Harrison to Pilcher on being shown an enormous stash of marijuana hidden in a shoe. “I keep my socks in the sock drawer and stash in the stash box. It's not mine.”

Harrison’s questionable bust brought to a close Pilcher’s activities on musicians during the 1960s. Either scared off by the accumulating press or the demands of other work, he’d continue playing a leading role in London’s narcotic control. Pilcher would finally be brought to book -somewhat belatedly - in November 1973. Surprisingly not related to musicians, Pilcher was convicted of perjury following a long running drug’s case. Resigning the force before the trial came to court, Pilcher attempted to relocate to Australia. With the charges issued against him the week of his departure, Pilcher was detained on his arrival in Freemantle. Extradition order approved, he was brought back to Britain to face justice. Following an eight-week trial at the Old Bailey, Justice Melford Stevenson told Pilcher: ‘You poisoned the wells of criminal justice and set about it deliberately… What you have done is to provide material for the crooks, cranks and do-gooders who united to blacken the police whenever the opportunity offers.’ Defeated, Pilcher was sentenced to four years imprisonment, although this would in turn would do nothing but embellish his past exploits with the community of musicians he tried so desperately to destroy.

Nonetheless, Pilcher’s legacy continues – maintained largely by the artist community he sort to destroy. Released from jail in the mid – 1970s, and with many believing that rock’s most controversial cop had passed away, he’s reportedly buried himself away in suburbia. In his mid-70s and with his catalogue of scalps behind him, Pilcher’s legend is as active as the characters he attempted to bring to book. Of little surprise, his name has been referenced in a variety of satirical ways. Monty Python’s Flying Circus would canonise his notorious celebrity as ‘Spiny Norman’ in their Piranha Brothers skit. In 1978, Eric Idle’s Beatle pastiche, The Rutles, would canonise the sergeant as ‘Brian Plant’. In 1993 the American band Primus would release the track “Pilcher’s Squad”, its lyrics overtly describing several of the sergeant’s raids. In the early 1990s, two of the albums signed by Lennon to Pilcher surfaced at a London auction house

Eric Burdon, one musician who’d escaped the attentions of Pilcher during the 1960s, is nonetheless aware of the sergeant’s enduring notoriety.

‘There should be a stone statue erected in memory of Sgt. Norman Pilcher,’ recalls Burdon today. ‘I’m sure it would be an interesting road show attraction. Not all cops in England were snoops like Sgt Pilcher. Back then most were good ol’ boys. A race apart of course, but if you didn’t get too far out of line, they got on with the job of protecting the public and did their policing with out fire arms… Also most of them had a sense of humour. I was no angel, but I never had trouble with the law in the UK.

So here’s to you Sgt. Norman Pilcher, you will always be remembered as the great spoil-sport.’

Excerpt from Simon Well’s Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust – Used by Kind Permission and Thanks

Read 10196 times Last modified on Saturday, 13 February 2021 14:20
Rate this item
(4 votes)
Simon Wells

Simon Wells

About Us

ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


What We Do

ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.