Paul McCartney’s car has an accident

Saturday, January 7, 1967


In February 1967, The Beatles Monthly reported that, on January 7, 1967, a rumour swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1. According to author Jim Yoakum, this rumour started with a real car crash involving Paul’s Austin Mini, which was driven by Mohammed Chtaibi, assistant of art dealer and Paul’s friend Robert Fraser.

This was the second rumour mentioning Paul’s dead. The first rumour emerged in October 1966, and was not grounded in any truth, and it’s not clear why it started.

If an era can be said to have a father, then London’s Swinging Sixties was the bastard child of Robert Hugh Fraser. Fraser was the son of a wealthy Scots banker, and a man who appeared to have everything going for him: looks, class, youth and money. Yet for all of his privileges, Fraser was a frustrated artist at heart who sublimated his creative longings into running one of the best art galleries in London. By 1964, the Robert Fraser Gallery at 69 Duke Street was recognized around the world as being the sharpest, hippest gallery, exhibiting the latest and most important artists of the period. Fraser was also accumulating friends more accustomed to the pop charts than Pop Art. Musicians like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Brian Jones and others were regular fixtures at both Fraser’s gallery, and at his Mount Street apartment. To the still scruffy rockers, Fraser represented all that swung about the Swinging Sixties: the money, the sex and (especially) the drugs. Fraser was where all of the razz-ma-tazz of the era sprang. Without him, smoking dope was just getting high.

Mohammed Chtaibi first met Robert Hugh Fraser in the early 1960s. He was a young Moroccan student, the ward of Mark Gilbey, the multimillionaire heir to the Gilbey liquor fortune, and it wasn’t long before Mohammed Chtaibi (then known as Mohammed Hadjij) and Robert Fraser became fast friends. Soon after he opened his gallery, Fraser asked Chtaibi to be his personal assistant and move into the adjoining penthouse on Mount Street, which Fraser watched for an aging movie star, who no longer bothered to drop by. Officially, Chtaibi’s job was to pick up and deliver painters and paintings to the gallery, but he soon realized his real job was to baby-sit the gallery while Fraser ran off with his famous friends. Sometimes Fraser would invite Chtaibi along with him (usually to cook, drive or carry the dope), and this is what he did on the first Saturday of January in the winter of 1967. They were going to Paul McCartney’s house to have a party.

Fraser and Chtaibi’s taxi pulls up to the gate at 7 Cavendish Avenue, McCartney’s London home located in the swank St. John’s Wood area, late in the afternoon. Twenty or so fans, mostly girls, were already camped outside hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive Beatle. When the slight, dark-haired Chtaibi gets out of the cab the girls all scream, thinking at first glance that he’s McCartney, but McCartney is already shuttered inside the three-story detached house, playing rock ‘n’ roll records. Fraser goes to the gate and presses the intercom button several times. It’s many full minutes before McCartney (thinking it’s the girls playing pranks again) answers with a laconic “Yeah?” After a brief exchange, the gate swings open just enough for Fraser and Chtaibi to squeeze through, and then clicks closed again.

Once safely ensconced inside the house, the trio retires to McCartney’s cluttered back-room lounge to relax. After a few minutes of chat, McCartney exits, but quickly returns with a large book, which he places on a table. Chtaibi watches as McCartney opens up the book. He’s surprised to learn it’s actually hollowed out in the middle, making the book a secret box, and the box is filled with all manner of hard and soft drugs, from hashish to cocaine, heroin and acid. This is the stash, the heart of the party. McCartney takes out a bag of hash and assigns Mohammed the task of rolling the “Benson & Hashish B-52 Bombers,” joints made from a mixture of dope and tobacco, while he and Fraser chat. A few Bombers later, the intercom buzzes again. Within moments, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and mutual hipster friend Christopher Gibbs (the nephew of a former British Governor of Rhodesia) are standing in the middle of the room. Now the party starts to get serious, and the Bombers are augmented by some of the harder drugs.

After a few hours of fun, and with darkness falling, the group decides to “make a weekender out of it.” Plans are made to drive to Redlands, Richards’ secluded thatched-roofed country mansion in West Wittering, Sussex, after a brief stop first at Jagger’s place in Hertfordshire. Laughing and joking, they spill out of McCartney’s door and shamble toward the cars. Even though three vehicles are parked in McCartney’s drive (McCartney’s Aston Martin and black Mini Cooper, and Jagger’s Mini Cooper), they all decide for some reason to try and cram into Jagger’s small car.

Crushed underneath the weight of Richards and Gibbs, Chtaibi suggests they take a second car. McCartney agrees, and tells Chtaibi to get out and follow them in his Mini. (Unlike Jagger’s Mini Cooper, McCartney’s was especially designed for him as an almost toy version of a Rolls-Royce complete with arm chairs, a wet bar, smoke-tinted glass, a racing-style steering wheel about 12-inches wide and oversized tires. The car was the only one of its kind in Great Britain and was easily recognized as being McCartney’s). As a special precaution against possible nosy cops, McCartney hands Chtaibi the book—the heart of the party—and says “meet you there.” Moments later, the front gates fly open and the crowd of girls let out a collective shriek of “Paul!!” as the two cars speed past them, bound for the privacy of their home counties.

Although Chtaibi has driven McCartney’s Mini many times, it’s mainly been short distances, usually local hash runs, and he’s a little uneasy with the car’s tight steering. He curses to himself as he realizes his suggestion has put him in the dangerous position of driving the car at night, down unfamiliar roads, with no clear idea of his ultimate destination. He’s also quite stoned and is having to concentrate hard just to keep the little car between the lines. Within minutes, the two Mini Coopers are well past the bright city lights of London, heading up the M1 into the country dark of Britain’s outer regions. Before long they’re traveling at speeds upward to 70 mph, dangerous indeed on such narrow black roads better suited for bicycles than automobiles. Chtaibi is having to push the Mini faster than he’s comfortable with in order to keep Jagger’s taillights in sight.

At about the halfway point in the journey, something crucial happens: Chtaibi runs out of cigarettes. Giving the car more gas, he succeeds in pulling McCartney’s Mini up beside Jagger’s car and motions to Fraser to toss him some ciggies. Amazingly, considering their speed, Fraser manages to land a few butts inside the car. Jagger and company then pull ahead and out of sight.

At this point, it should be mentioned that in his hurry to get into the Mini outside McCartney’s house, Chtaibi accidentally left about a 12-inch section of the car’s seat belt dragging on the ground. As he slows down to light his fag, another car comes up from behind him and begins to pass. As it does, the car’s tires run over the dangling seat belt. Unaware of the passing car, Chtaibi immediately feels the Mini being tugged to the right. He compensates by instinctively pulling the steering wheel in the opposite direction. At this exact moment, the passing car drives off of the belt. The next thing Chtaibi knows, the Mini is leaving the asphalt and is flying through the air at incredible speed toward a large metal streetlight sitting atop a massive concrete pylon. As the Mini smashes headlong into the pole, the jagged metal of the light shaves the car straight up the middle like a tin can, breaking the engine in two, and leaving Chtaibi unconscious and bleeding and hugging the monstrous lamp between his legs.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been unconscious. Perhaps just a few minutes, maybe longer or maybe less. But not too long after the crash, Chtaibi starts to awaken. The first thought that occurs to him is not the state of the car, or of his bloodied head and body—it’s of the box. The heart of the party. Realizing the dire implications should the police find a box full of drugs in Paul McCartney’s car, Mohammed manages to pull himself out of the wreckage, locate the box, hobble across the dark highway (scaling a high barrier fence and a traffic island in the process), throw the box as far down a ravine as he can, and still make it back to the accident site before the police arrive.

Hot on the heels of the police come the spectators. They immediately recognize the Mini Cooper as belonging to McCartney, and an audible buzz goes up after they see a slight, dark-haired man being pulled from the car and placed into an ambulance. Putting two and two together and coming up with three, the word quickly spreads that Paul McCartney’s been in a car accident.

Chtaibi is taken to a nearby hospital where he is treated for multiple cuts, bruises and other injuries. After the doctors remove all of the glass from his face and body, Mohammed (still bolstered from the drugs at McCartney’s) decides he’s okay, checks himself out and goes home. Once back at Mount Street he spends a few anxious hours waiting for the phone to ring. “Surely they’re going to call,” he thinks. “If only to know what happened to the drugs.” But, surprisingly, the phone never rings. He decides to go to a party instead. The next morning, hurting and hung-over, he gets a call from Robert Fraser demanding to know what happened. Fraser tells Chtaibi that McCartney and the others were plenty pissed off he never bothered to show up with the drugs, accusing him of giving them the slip and making his own party. Chtaibi tells Fraser the story of what happened and asks Fraser to ask McCartney if his insurance can cover his injuries. Fraser says he’ll relay the tale to McCartney.

On Monday, Chtaibi is somewhat surprised by an unusual visit from McCartney. But far from being pleased by—or even acknowledging—Chtaibi’s super-human efforts to get rid of the stash, McCartney lashes into the Moroccan for wrecking his prized car. Chtaibi pleads with McCartney for help, saying he doesn’t have enough money to go to the hospital and he’d like to collect on the insurance. McCartney is adamant. “That car’s only insured for me, my chauffeur, Jane [Asher, his fiancé at the time] and Jane’s mum,” he says. Chtaibi later complains to Fraser about McCartney’s lack of sympathy. Fraser tells Chtaibi to not worry about it, that things would be fixed. They never were.

So, the question is: was Mohammed Chtaibi’s unfortunate encounter with Paul McCartney’s Mini Cooper the inspiration behind the ensuing Paul Is Dead rumors? While there is no definitive proof that it was, there are an awful lot of coincidences between what did happen and what was rumored.

Jim Yoakum (author of The Man Who Killed Paul McCartney Gadfly Online. From Gadfly May/June 2000


Stories about the Beatles are always flying around Fleet Street. The 7th January was very icy, with dangerous conditions on the M1 motorway, linking London with the Midlands, and towards the end of the day, a rumour swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1. But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all, as the Beatles’ Press Officer found out when he telephoned Paul’s St. John’s Wood home and was answered by Paul himself who had been at home all day with his black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage.

From The Beatles Monthly Book – February 1967
From The Beatles Monthly Book – February 1967

Last updated on March 1, 2024

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