Jim Berkenstadt, author of “The Beatle Who Vanished,” told Beatles Examiner the story of one-time Beatle Jimmie Nicol took a new turn recently. It involved a watch owned by Nicol.
“As with many research projects, after my book, “The Beatle Who Vanished” was published, I started to hear from different people who had met up with Jimmie Nicol at one time or another,” Berkenstadt said. “A man who went to school with Nicol’s son Howie, and a gentleman in Adelaide who knew Jimmie’s father. They had bought my book and wanted to share new stories with me. But then one day, I was contacted by a radio journalist in London named Rick Fox.”
According to Berkenstadt, Fox had done research on The Beatles tour of Australia in 2005 and had acquired many rare interviews of their 1964 tour of Australia and New Zealand. “But he realized that the Jimmie Nicol angle was the one thing most people didn’t know much about. So he had approached Ten Alps, co-owned by Sir Bob Geldof at the time, which produced radio documentaries for BBC Radio 2. He pitched the idea and they liked it, only if Fox could get an interview with Jimmie Nicol!”
He said Fox had heard that Nicol did not want to talk to anyone from a MOJO magazine reporter and another newspaper that had tried and failed. “So he prepared a personal letter to Nicol, describing the purpose of the radio interview and stuck it in Nicol’s front door. A few days later Fox returned to Jimmie’s door to see if he would be interested in doing the interview.”
Fox describes the encounter to Berkenstadt. “Initially Jimmie, who asked me to call him James, was quite aggressive, accusing me of invading his privacy and was not at all interested in talking. He was offended that I hadn’t posted the letter via Royal Mail, so that approach had obviously backfired, but I doubt that it would have made any difference either way.” Fox said he assured Nicol that the people of England and Australia had warm memories of his time with The Beatles and would enjoy hearing him share his memories.
“I know what my story is worth,” Nicol replied. “I’ve been made lots of offers” But he refused to cooperate. Berkenstadt said that after about 20 minutes of conversation and effort by Fox, Nicol refused and wouldn't change his mind. “I have destroyed or thrown away any remnants or mementos of the tour and really have no desire to return to or discuss that period of my life,” Nicol said.
He offered no reason why he felt so strongly about it. In “The Beatle Who Vanished,” Berkenstadt wrote he believed Nicol’s bitterness, was tied to his perception that manager Brian Epstein had blacklisted him after the tour.
“I was never able to find any evidence that supported Nicol’s perception of blacklisting,” Berkenstadt said. “In my opinion, it was nothing more than blaming others for his own failures. In fact, Epstein even helped Jimmy Nicol & the Shubdubs by putting him on the same Concert Bill as The Beatles shortly after the World Tour ended!”
Nicol agreed to sign a book for Fox which contained a photo of Nicol with The Beatles. He wrote, “To Richard, somewhat unusual circumstances! But a pleasure, James (alias) Jimmie Nicol (2005).” Fox thanked Nicol and assured him he would never bother him again or reveal Nicol’s address to anyone. As he turned to leave, Nicol told him to wait at the door. He went inside his apartment and returned one minute later with an envelope and told Fox, 'Here, don’t open this letter until you have walked away.'"
Fox left Jimmie Nicol and walked away from his neighborhood before stopping to open the envelope. Inside, Fox found the almost gold Eternamatic watch given to Nicol and engraved by Brian Epstein and The Beatles 50 years ago this week. Fox believed this was the last, most valuable and treasured personal possession from Nicol’s time with The Beatles and Fox could not believe he now had it.
Berkenstadt says, “When Rick told me this story, I said, 'I bet you only have the back of the watch that is engraved and not the rest of the watch, right?'” Fox said, “How could you possibly know that?” “Because in writing 'The Beatle Who Vanished,' Nicol’s second ex-wife Julia told me about the time he had smashed the watch in anger, while blaming Brian Epstein for his career problems!,” Berkenstadt said.
“The front and guts of the watch could not be repaired and were thrown away. All that remains in the engraved watch back.” The watch was later sold in a private sale to an anonymous collector in 2013.
Is there any real hope that Jimmie is alive, we asked Berkenstadt? “In 2013, Jimmie’s son Howie attended a ceremony honoring his dad’s playing with The Beatles in Blokker. At the press conference there, he stated that he had not seen or heard from his dad in over 10 years. So, the question remains, is Jimmie Nicol dead or alive?”
Berkenstadt says Australian media has been in touch with him for the 50th anniversary there. “I have been doing radio interviews with Sydney and Adelaide stations and I recently filmed a TV documentary about the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ tour of Australia. The show will be broadcast across the entire country. It is called 'Today Tonight,' sort of like our ABC '20/20' program.” (Note: Berkenstadt told us later the show will air June 12. The Beatles were in Sydney 50 years ago on that date.)
Does he have any plans to travel and search for Jimmy Nicol again? "I don’t think so. I spent about eight to nine years looking for him. And even if he is alive, based upon other journalists’ efforts, I don’t think he would agree to talk to me.
"However, stay tuned, there is some buzz out in L.A. for a film version of “The Beatle Who Vanished.” Beatles Examiner will be the first to hear the news when it is announced!”