London's Cliveden House: A Classic
Fifty Years after the Beatles filmed scenes there, this Buckingham Palace-Stand-in Still Draws Fans
By Janis Turk
A new documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years,” opening in US theaters in Fall 2016, is kindling a new fire of Beatlemania, causing even more fans to flock to famous places that
once served as backdrop for the band, like London’s Abbey Road album-cover crosswalk, Liverpool’s Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields and the Paris George V Hotel room where the Beatles had their famous pillow fight.
Today, director Ron Howard’s new upbeat Beatles film is getting good reviews and fanning the flame of the band’s matchless fame. But 51 years ago the Beatles were busy making their own movie, Help! a farcical romp about Ringo and a ring.
The Beatles second film following “A Hard Day’s Night,” Help! was a precursor to modern music videos and chronicled the fun of these early in the career of those loveable lads from Liverpool.
Scenes from Help!
Even now, more than a half-century after the Fabulous Four filmed scenes from Help! during a two-day stay at Cliveden House, a castle-like country house that is now a luxury hotel and spa, visitors are still making pilgrimages there.
Just outside London, near Windsor Castle, Cliveden’s 376 acre parkland estate, owned by the National Trust, dates back to the 1660s and is anchored by its palatial house, built in the 1850s.
Once the English country home of American billionaires Waldorf and (Lady) Nancy Astor, the film’s most lavish location is still a draw for today’s more mature Beatles fans, as well as those who simply love a five-star retreat.
There is nothing loud and long-haired about Cliveden, a posh place with a graceful air of aristocracy, so one may wonder why The Beatles were there frolicking in the garden, wandering in the woods and playing cards in one of the dining rooms.
“Cliveden served as a highly suitable stand-in for Buckingham Palace in the movie Help!,” explains house manager Michael Chaloner, “The French Dining Room with its rococo gilded millwork was perfect for palace scenes, while other scenes were filmed in the garden and in Bluebell Woods on the grounds of Cliveden, as well as down by the river where the hotel now offers sunset cruises aboard vintage wooden boats.”
There is also a scene where the Beatles lean out of an upstairs window, and guests can sit on the same steps where they were photographed during their May 1965 stay.
Last month, I spent the night at what was the Beatles’ royal residence during the filming of “Help!” Only 18 miles from London Heathrow, with quick access to London from the station at Taplow, Cliveden House is a castle-like 5-star hotel with its André Garrett fine dining restaurant in the main house and the more casual Astor Grill in what was once the horse stables.
High on a Chalk Cliff
Standing on a high chalk cliff overlooking a slender arm of the Thames, the Italianate style mansion looks like a cross between Downtown Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Surrounded by lush flower gardens, a water garden, towering woods, gravel walking paths, manicured hedges, boat houses, a park café, a visitors center and shop, swimming pools, tennis courts, a bathhouse, ornate
follies and paths leading to the river, the house was restored and opened as hotel in the 1980s, and its grounds are popular with local families who picnic and play there.
Just below the house, children still have foot races and roll down the grassy hill on the spot where The Beatles famously took part in a relay race with camera operators, carpenters, and electricians around the gardens between filming.
The band on the run won that race (an 8mm home movie of it remains) and according to an interview that day with Cliveden with Houston disc jockey Buddy McGregor, the Beatles also popped into a pub near Cliveden’s front gate: The Feathers, which still welcomes guests.
During our stay, my husband and I enjoyed afternoon tea by a window overlooking the parterre gardens and the river, dined by candlelight at Chef André Garrett’s remarkable restaurant, strolled by the water gardens in the afternoon, and enjoyed a champagne vintage motorboat cruise at sundown.
Lots of Gossip
We heard little about the Beatles, but there was a good deal of old gossip still swirling about an infamous 1960s British political affair which began at the Cliveden outdoor swimming pool and became the basis of the1989 movie “Scandal.” Flowers and a stone wall surround that same pool, where John Lennon was photographed holding a Cliveden life preserver.
Cliveden’s indoor pool, hot tub, dressing rooms, café and outdoor patio areas in the shadow of a gilded clock tower are a great place to relax after long walks in the woods where the Beatles once rambled, and a new spa will soon open on the property.
Staying in the second-floor Prince of Wales suite made us feel like rock stars—bigger than The Beatles—and we couldn’t help wonder if John or Paul slept there, too. A regal apartment with silk-lined walls, marble fireplaces, a foyer, sitting room, dressing room, an enormous bathroom awash in white Italian marble, and a canopied bed, the suite has wide windows overlooking the parterre and the river.
Downstairs, the French dining room, where the Beatles played cards, looks a room in the Palace of Versailles. My weekend at Cliveden was quiet and restful, but the two days the Beatles spent there were filled with laughter, as Paul McCartney later would recount in “The Beatles Anthology”:
“I remember one time at Cliveden (Lord Astor's place, where the Christine Keeler/Profumo scandal went on) we were filming the Buckingham Palace scene where we were all supposed to have our hands up. It was after lunch…We were all a bit merry and all had our backs to the camera and the giggles set in.
All we had to do was turn around and look amazed, or something, but every time we'd turn ‘round to the camera there were tears streaming down our faces. It's OK to get the giggles anywhere else but in films… – but we were having a great laugh.'"
Cliveden has also been a film location for Guy Ritche’s “Sherlock Holmes”, Alan Rickman’s “A Little Chaos” and for another farcical 1960s British film, “Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head.”
Although Cliveden may attract Beatles fans, movie buffs and Brits who love a good old fashioned scandal, the hotel is perhaps a more suited to Downtown Abbey fans, travelers who love a quiet, luxurious country house or anyone who needs help hiding in a palace, like The Beatles.
Want to make your own Beatles pilgrimage? Head to…
Liverpool: Start at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in Liverpool, the world’s only Beatles inspired hotel. Stop by the adjacent Cavern Club; take The Beatles Story & National Trust Tour of John & Paul's childhood homes; visit Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, and St. Peter’s Church where Lennon and McCartney first met.
London: Hit the street, barefoot, at Abbey Road Crossing, stop by Marylebone Station where “A Hard Days Night” was filmed, and live like a rock star at Cliveden House www.clivedenhouse.co.uk
Janis Turk is a travel writer, photographer, and author who has appeared in travel segments for CNN’s airport network. Her work appears in magazines and newspapers and popular travel websites. Her most recent book Frommer’s TEXAS (2017) is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.