Taxman Mr. Heath Dies...
by Martin Lewis
Written July 19, 2005

One of the few real-life people ever mentioned by name in a Beatles song has just died. Former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath - name-checked by George Harrison in his 1966 song "Taxman" - died in London on Sunday age 89. The song's lyrics castigated what Harrison regarded as Britain's draconian tax laws in the mid-sixties - that had a top-rate of 95% on the very highest earnings of multi-millionaires - a tax-bracket that the Beatles had recently entered. (Hence the lyrics "here's one for me - nineteen for you" and "should five per cent appear too small...")

The lyric of the song as heard on the "Revolver" album features the couplet "Taxman Mr. Wilson... Taxman Mr. Heath." In 1966, Britain's Prime Minister was Harold Wilson - leader of the left-of-center Labour Party. His political opposite at the time was Edward Heath - leader of the right-of-center Conservative Party. Heath defeated Wilson in the 1970 General Election and became prime minister for 3 1/2 years until he was beaten by Wilson in the next election.

When first writing the song Harrison had been looking for a few words to use as a counter-lyric after the first two lines of the third verse. His first choice to fill the gap (as evidenced by an early version heard on "Anthology 2") was the phrase "Anybody got a bit of money?" This was jettisoned - and replaced by the unusual mentions of Britain's two leading politicians - who in Harrison's song were put forward as representatives of the "Taxman" of the song's title. They were also the first-ever real-life people to be mentioned in a Beatles song.

Reportedly it was John Lennon who suggested the change in lyrics and who proposed the 'name-check' for the politicians. Though they were lumped together in the song as political Tweedledum and Tweedledee - Wilson and Heath were polar opposites. Notwithstanding George's frustration over British tax rates - the Beatles were generally much more sympathetic to Mr. Wilson than to Mr. Heath. John and Paul both identified themselves as Labour Party supporters. George and Ringo were less forthcoming - but during the 1980's both made clear their dislike of Heath's successor as leader of the Conservative Party - Margaret Thatcher.

"Taxman Mr. Wilson" (who represented a Liverpool constituency) forever endeared himself to Beatles fans in 1965 when he made the personal recommendation that the Beatles be decorated with the prestigious "MBE" award (Member of the British Empire) - an honor that is designated by the Prime Minister of the day - though always officially attributed to Her Majesty the Queen - who makes the formal presentation. Harold Wilson - who was ennobled by the Queen and became Lord Wilson in 1983 - died in 1995.

Sir Edward Heath (he was knighted in 1992) was an accomplished pianist and a lifelong lover of classical music. His comments on being mentioned in a Beatles song were never publicly recorded. In later life - Heath became a hero to moderate Conservatives and others in Britain when he single-handedly challenged his party's sharp veer to the right under his successor Margaret Thatcher. At the height of her popularity - before her cataclysmic downfall - he publicly denounced her as "rabid, bigoted and ignorant" - a belief that many in Britain held but that few had had the courage to publicly express.

Edward Heath even made a cameo in a Beatles promotional film The 1995 music video for "Free As A Bird" contained multiple subtle visual references to characters and situations in Beatles lyrics. So at one point there was a shot of Heath - together with Harold Wilson - walking on the streets of Liverpool...

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