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In 1965, Queen Elizabeth awarded The Beatles MBEs, and John Lennon found the whole situation baffling. By appointing each member of the band a Member of the British Empire (MBE), the queen honored the band’s contributions to British society. It caused some controversy, though, and even the members of the band weren’t sure why they were receiving the honor. Lennon explained that he found the whole thing “daft” and said he hadn’t been a fan of the ceremony.

Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison pose with medals after receiving their MBEs from the queen.
The Beatles | Fox Photos/Getty Images

The queen honored The Beatles’ cultural achievements

In 1965, the queen awarded the band MBEs, which rewarded their contributions to society. This decision sparked controversy; some believed that giving The Beatles the distinction cheapened it for other recipients. The band was just as surprised as everyone else.

“I didn’t think you got that sort of thing, just for playing rock ‘n’ roll music,” George Harrison said at a press conference, per the Liverpool Echo.

As with everywhere The Beatles went, a crowd of their fans gathered outside Buckingham Palace. Thousands of people stood outside chanting, “Long live the Queen, long live the Beatles!”

John Lennon found it baffling that the band received MBEs

The band’s manager, Brian Epstein, said they were happy to accept the honor, but Lennon said he seriously considered turning it down.

“We thought getting the MBE was as funny as everybody else thought it was. Why? What for? We didn’t believe it,” Lennon said, per The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies. “It was a part we didn’t want. We all met and agreed it was daft. What do you think, we all said. Let’s not. Then it all just seemed part of the game we’d agreed to play, like getting the Ivor Novello awards. We’d nothing to lose, except that bit of you which said you didn’t believe in it. We agreed in order to annoy even more the people who were annoyed, like John Gordon.”

Lennon said the band went along with everything they were supposed to do, but he didn’t believe in any of it. He also disliked everyone at the ceremony.

“I always hated all the social things,” he said. “All the horrible events and presentations we had to go to. All false. You could see right through them all and all the people there. I despised them. Perhaps it was partly from class. No, it wasn’t. It was because they really were all false.”

John Lennon later returned his MBE

Four years after receiving his MBE, Lennon returned it. Per The Guardian, Lennon wrote three identical letters to the queen, the prime minister, and the Central Chancery of the Orders of the Knighthood. He explained he was returning the honor “in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.”


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Lennon’s bandmates, not knowing that he was returning the honor until after he’d mailed the letters, opted to keep their MBEs.