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Did You Know Paul McCartney Was Once Arrested for Arson?

June Steele
Photo Credit: Images Press / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Images Press / Getty Images

To many, Paul McCartney is one of the deities of popular music. His time with the Beatles permanently cemented his place in entertainment history, but it hasn’t always been fun and games for the talented musician. There was once a time when he felt nothing was going his way, which led him to (accidentally) set fire to the dingy room he was staying at in Hamburg. The result was he and Pete Best both getting arrested and deported back to the United Kingdom. Keep reading to learn more!

Less-than-desirable living conditions

Portrait of the Beatles
The Beatles with Pete Best, 1962. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

The blaze occurred on November 29, 1960. The band was upset over losing George Harrison to an earlier deportation when local authorities discovered the musician was just 17 years old and too young to be playing in bars after the local 10:00 PM curfew. At the time, the Beatles were playing in the Indra and the Kaiserkeller, which belonged to Bruno Koschmider.

Paul McCartney was tangling with Koschmider, who’d canceled the band’s contract. They had to move their belongings out of the building they’d been staying at, as the club owner also owned it. Their living conditions hadn’t been too great at the location. The lodging consisted of gloomy, unheated and windowless rooms located next to the toilet, and only one wash basin was available to them.

McCartney said in a later interview, “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them. The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint; and two sets of bunk beds, with not very much covers. We were frozen.”

Setting the room ablaze

Portrait of the Beatles
The Beatles with Pete Best, 1961. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe had already moved to their new lodgings, a room in the attic above the Top Ten Club. However, Paul McCartney and Pete Best opted to move their stuff after hours.

They lit a condom on fire to better see what they were doing and nailed it to a wall, which the flames wound up burning. Aside from a burn mark, there was no serious damage, and the fire eventually extinguished itself. However, when he saw the damage, Bruno Koschmider was so furious he went to the police.

“He’d told them that we’d tried to burn his place down and they said, ‘Leave, please. Thank you very much but we don’t want you to burn our German houses,'” McCartney recounted in Many Years From Now. “Funny, really, because we couldn’t have burned the place even if we had gallons of petrol – it was made of stone.”

Paul McCartney and Pete Best were deported

The Beatles performing on stage
The Beatles performing at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962. (Photo Credit: K & K Ulf Kruger OHG / Redferns / Getty Images)

When Paul McCartney and Pete Best were let out of jail, they went to their new lodgings and collapsed, exhausted. However, a banging on the door awoke them just a few hours later. Two plainclothes policemen stood in the doorway and told the pair they had to leave the country by midnight.

Given they spoke very little German, McCartney and Best weren’t entirely sure why they’d been deported. Their request to call the British Consul was also refused. John Lennon, stuck behind in Hamburg, later found his way back to the United Kingdom, too.

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After George Harrison turned 18, the band went back to Germany. Their standing among the many groups playing in Hamburg rose and they were booked at the Star-Club in November 1962. For the first time, the band could stay in proper hotel rooms. The tapes of the performance were released as Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962.

The rest, as they say, is history.

June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News