Who Was Semolina Pilchard??
Semolina Pilchard, climbing up the
Elementary penguin singing
Man, you should have seen them kicking
Edgar Allan Poe
from "I Am the Walrus" [Lennon/McCartney]
THE Scotland Yard drug squad detective who led a midnight raid on John Lennon's London flat privately explained to the home secretary that he needed a large number of police with him because he expected to find "an unusual party", involving large numbers of people, in full swing.
Detective Sergeant Norman "Nobby" Pilcher, who built his drug squad career targeting musicians, including Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Eric Clapton and Donovan, finally turned his attention to the biggest prize of all - a Beatle - in October 1968.
A confidential Scotland Yard file, which was released at the National Archives to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that Pilcher came under strong pressure from the then home secretary, James Callaghan, after the raid on the Marylebone flat.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono leave court after facing drug charges.
In his report, hand-delivered to the home secretary, Pilcher tried to explain why it had taken seven police officers and two dogs to raid Lennon's flat, and how it was that the press managed to arrive on the scene within minutes of the drug bust.
It was widely believed that Lennon had already immortalised Det Sgt Pilcher as "Semolina pilchard" in the Beatles song I Am the Walrus. The Beatle described him as a "head-hunting" cop: "He went round and bust every pop star he could get his hands on, and he got famous. Some of the pop stars had dope in their house and some of them didn't."
On this occasion Lennon was confident that he didn't. At the time he lived with Yoko Ono in the flat he rented from George Harrison at 34 Montague Square. The previous tenant had been Jimi Hendrix. Lennon had been tipped off three weeks earlier by Don Shorter, a Daily Mirror journalist, that Pilcher had him next on the list and he had the flat meticulously cleaned in the belief that Hendrix must have left some trace of drugs in the apartment.
Lennon always insisted he had been framed by Pilcher, who was subsequently jailed for corruption because of his practices in the drug squad. Lennon was fined £150 for possession but the conviction was to give him years of trouble and pain. It was enough to trigger a deportation order against him in the US in 1971, and a subsequent four-year battle against being thrown out. Ono said it also contributed to the couple losing custody of her daughter, Kyoko.
The Scotland Yard file shows that not only did the drug squad's only two sniffer dogs, named Yogi and Boo-Boo, find some cannabis, but that the police also claimed they had a battle getting into the flat.
Pilcher said the raid had been carried out after "information received" indicated there would be at least three people living on the premises and they were "in possession of a quantity of cannabis."
He said the flat had been difficult to enter because it occupied the ground floor and the basement, there was no rear entrance and there was an entryphone system to the front door.
Pilcher said two detective sergeants, three detective constables, one a woman, and two dog handlers — without dogs — turned up at the flat at 11.55pm on Friday, October 18 1968 armed with a search warrant, and hammered on the door.
Inside, John and Yoko were in bed. Yoko went to open the front door. "Upon being informed that we were police officers and the reason for our visit, she ran back along the passage into the flat and slammed and locked the door," Pilcher said.
The couple had been lying in bed dressed only in vests and feeling "very clean and drugless." Lennon was in no mood to cooperate and phoned his solicitors.
Pilcher reported: "An attempt was made to enter the premises by way of a rear ground floor window but this was prevented by Lennon who held the window closed." The detective sergeant claimed Lennon had said: "I don't care who you are, you're not bloody coming in here."
When the police started to force open the front door of the flat, Lennon decided to open it. The struggle had lasted eight minutes. Once the police had established that John and Yoko were alone they had to wait half an hour for the arrival of the dogs. In the meantime two of Lennon's lawyers had arrived and several press photographers had also made it to the scene.
The flat was searched with the dogs sniffing around the four large rooms. "Cannabis resin was found secreted in a leather binocular case and a suitcase. Both of these quantities were found by the dogs," Pilcher's official report said.
He claimed that "past experience proved that it is necessary to take at least six officers to carry out the execution of the search warrant, plus the dog handlers."
They had decided to take five officers plus the dog handlers this time because of the difficulty of getting into the flat and the fact that the rooms were "in a very untidy condition."
But Pilcher then told the home secretary that such a large number was needed because "it is not unusual when executing search warrants for premises occupied by members of the entertainment world to find that there are large numbers of people present taking part in unusual parties. In this case it was found that only two persons were present, and both were in a state of undress."
Pilcher also denied tipping off the press. The official Met report concluded: "One thing is certain as far as this incident is concerned, and that is the press was informed by somebody." The document suggested a neighbouring resident might have been responsible.
John sings "I Am The Walrus"
"The fact that police officers were attempting to effect an entry into the residence of Lennon and Cox [Ono] is of immense news value to the press and of likewise publicity value to Lennon himself. The police officers involved have been questioned and strongly deny being responsible for any leakage of information."
Pilcher had learned his lesson. The following year when he raided George Harrison's Esher estate he timed the bust to coincide with Paul McCartney's marriage to Linda Eastman, so he could be sure the Beatle would not be at home.
As the file reveals, after getting it in the neck from the home secretary he wanted to be sure the premises were empty when he arrived "mob-handed" at Harrison's home in March 1969.
This story was originally printed in the Guardian Unlimited.