Two years after the Summer of Love, the Sixties dream had perished on the vine. By 1969, violence and vindictiveness had replaced the Beatles’ own mantra of peace and love, and Vietnam and the Cold War had supplanted hope and optimism. And just as the decade foundered on the altar of a cold, harsh reality, so too did the Beatles.

In the midst of this rancour, however, emerged the disharmony of Let It Be and the ragged genius of Abbey Road, their farewell love letter to the world. Lifelong Beatles fan Ken McNab reconstructs the seismic events of 1969 in a new book, And in the End: The Last Days of the Beatles. In this edited extract he recalls this month, exactly fifty years ago, and the period immediately after the Lennons’ wedding on Gibraltar and bizarre honeymoon in Amsterdam.

After their wedding, the Lennons had remained in Paris, hanging out with the likes of surrealist painter Salvador Dali and enjoying a degree of anonymity not afforded them in London or New York. Another sixteen years would pass before they would experience this inconspicuousness again.

Lennon was mulling over the idea of turning their nuptials into a song, The Ballad Of John And Yoko. It was, as he freely admitted, more rock ’n’ roll journalism than rock ’n’ roll music. But from now on that was how he planned to live his life with her. And to do that they would need to place themselves at the heart of the world’s media coverage. Their lives would become an open book for everyone to read. But how to do it . . . and for what purpose?

Lennon had long been identified as the maverick Beatle, a hero of the rapidly growing counterculture. The Cold War stand-off between America and Russia continued to stoke global tensions, but it was the Vietnam War and the burgeoning peace movement that would give the Lennons their most influential platform. The Beatles had long opposed the war between the Communist-backed Vietcong and the pro-Western Vietnamese Army, in the process trampling over former manager Brian Epstein’s diktat to avoid all things political.

"We didn’t like the war and we told Brian that," he recalled. In 1968, students had rioted on the streets of Washington, Belgrade, Berlin, Boston and Paris in protest at the war. There had been violent clashes between police and demonstrators at that year’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The world’s youth – or at least those in the West – were searching for a leader who could rally them together against political repression.

British film director Peter Watkins had urged the Lennons to use their fame for something more meaningful than selling records. Lennon had been further spurred by an encounter in Paris with a Dutchman called Hans Boskamp, who worked for a record company and who talked him into holding a peace protest in Amsterdam. Boskamp recalled: ‘He was incredibly preoccupied with the Vietnam War. When he said to me, “I want to do something, demonstrate against the war,” I said, “Then you should go to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, the Flower Power movement is in full swing.”

And so early in the morning of Tuesday, 25 March, having a few days earlier summoned chauffeur Les Anthony to bring the white Rolls-Royce from London to the French capital, John and Yoko checked out of their hotel and drove to Amsterdam, a city Lennon had not been in since 1964. Apple had already sent an advance notice to the hotel telling them to expect a VIP and requesting the presidential suite on the fifth floor for a week. But they were completely unprepared for the day the Lennon circus hit town. Within minutes of their arrival, the Lennons had sent postcards to the local and international media inviting them to come the next day with the promise of ‘a happening’. The press quickly joined the dots: John and Yoko in bed on honeymoon. It could only add up to one thing, couldn’t it? After all, they had already appeared naked on the front of their first album. And this was Amsterdam, the anything-goes permissive capital of Europe.

John was shrewdly aware of how the ‘bed-in’ concept might titillate a voyeuristic media with its implicit promise of sexual exhibitionism. It guaranteed one thing – an audience. The next day dozens of journalists and photographers laid siege to room 902 in the hope of seeing the newly-weds taking Yoko’s concept of performance art to a salacious new level. What they found were two people with beatific smiles dressed in neatly pressed pyjamas, each clenching a rose and announcing that they would be staying in bed for a week to promote world peace. In case they missed the point, crude hand-drawn posters with the words Bed Peace and Hair Peace were tacked onto the windows. Lennon’s conversion from cynical rock star to St John the Peace Evangelist raised plenty of eyebrows within his inner circle, but his altered image seemed real enough to those who had noticed a change in him despite the borderline warfare at Apple. Peter Brown said, "We hoped that John’s pacifist stand would deflect some of the hostility that John and Yoko were experiencing in the press but characteristically John made peace a holy crusade and turned his honeymoon into a side show."

The posters in the room were a play on words for Yoko’s own art shows such as the one titled Cut Piece, which invited members of the public to take a pair of scissors to her clothes. But Lennon knew he had tapped into the zeitgeist, and the charge was electrifying.

He had learned that when the mass media takes an idea, they will amplify and simplify it. So he and Yoko realised that a message needed to be uncomplicated, yet novel and provocative.

Hour after hour, day after day, they fielded any questions from reporters and, in so doing, they shifted the debate from what level of American bombing of Vietnam was acceptable to the broader issue of war versus peace.

Lennon explained: ‘We thought, the other side has war on TV every day, not only on the news but on the old John Wayne movies and every damn movie you see: war, war, war, war, war, kill, kill, kill, kill. We said: “Let’s get some peace, peace, peace, peace in the headlines, just for a change.” We thought it highly amusing that a lot of the world’s headlines on 25 March 1969 were “Honeymoon Couple In Bed”. Whoopee! Isn’t that great news? So we would sell OUR product, which we call peace. And to sell a product you need a gimmick, and the gimmick we thought was “bed”. And we thought “bed” because bed was the easiest way of doing it because we’re lazy.

‘It took us a long train of thought of hope to get the maximum publicity for what we sincerely believed in, which was peace.’

Keenly aware that they were being mocked worldwide, Lennon said, self-deprecatingly, ‘We are happy to be the world’s clowns . . . we stand a better chance under that guise, because all the serious people like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi got shot….’

Amidst all the earnestness, there were moments of levity. Scottish journalist Rick Wilson was working for a magazine in Amsterdam when he got the call to head to the Hilton. He recalled the scene before him in the Guardian in 2017: ‘To be honest, I didn’t understand then, and still don’t, what that now-legendary “bed-in” was all about. It was to do with spreading a message of peace, but there were also undertones of helping the world’s less fortunate, which didn’t gel with John and Yoko’s arrival in a white Rolls-Royce and their week-long stay in that citadel of American capitalism, the Hilton Hotel.

‘There were about thirty of us, reporters and cameramen, summoned up to room 902, which looked out on to the roofs of a less colourful residential part of Amsterdam. Both dressed in pyjamas, John and Yoko were sitting on a big bed looking remarkably like each other. The Dutch may be extremely good at languages, and particularly English, but they are shy about showing the level of their proficiency to each other. So I ended up asking many of the questions in an attempt to find out what this was all about.

‘“Why Amsterdam?” “It could have been anywhere really,” said John. “But this is just one of those cities, you know. The youth thing and all that. And the beds here aren’t bad at all . . .”

“Why not Saigon or Dallas if peace is the cause?” “Because I’m dead scared of Saigon or Dallas. There’s less chance of getting shot or crucified here.”

“Why the hair theme?” ‘We intend to grow our hair even longer for the peace cause. Everybody should do it, all over the world – if only to bring about more awareness. But we’re doing it with a sense of humour, too, because we think the world needs to laugh more.” “Yes, people should first take their pants down before they start fighting,” added Yoko.’

Although nothing was off limits, questions about The Beatles remained largely below the radar. Enquiries about their future were largely straight-batted by Lennon, who repeatedly gave the impression that his old gang were – clear business difficulties aside – still united under a common flag.

Three days into the bed-in, however, peace and love gave way to something darker. Lennon, a voracious newspaper reader, had ordered a number of British publications for his room every day. On 28 March, his eye was drawn to a Financial Times headline: ATV takes control of Northern Songs. Uncle Dick James had secretly sold his stake in the Lennon and McCartney songbook to British entertainment mogul Lew Grade.

Lennon was outraged at what he considered the worst kind of betrayal, perpetrated by two old men in suits. And it lit the fuse on a battle royale for the most lucrative music catalogue in history.

And in the End: The Last Days of the Beatles by Ken McNab (Birlinn Ltd, £16.99 hardback) is published on 20 March