As It Happens

Penny Lane sign returned 47 years after it was stolen by young, drunk Beatles fans

The Penny Lane street sign is back in Liverpool nearly five decades after a group of tipsy university students wrested it from its home beneath the city’s clear suburban skies.

'Because I am getting on a bit now, I want to return it to the Pool,' wrote the unnamed thief

A man and a woman wear white gloves and smile as they each hold up one side of a white Penny Lane street sign against the backdrop of an illustration of The Beatles.
Mary Chadwick, manager of the Beatles Story museum, and Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram pose with the Penny Lane street sign, which is now back on display in the British city 47 years after it was stolen. (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority/Beatles Story)

The Penny Lane street sign is back in Liverpool, England, nearly five decades after a group of tipsy university students wrested it from its home beneath the city's clear suburban skies.

The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool says a man emailed them out of the blue in March to confess that he and his friends nabbed the sign in 1976 while they were feeling "worse for wear" after a night of boozing. 

"Because I am getting on a bit now, I want to return it to the Pool, where I spent six very happy years as a student, undergrad then postgrad, including meeting my wife of 44 years," wrote the thief, who the museum has agreed not to name. 

"Obviously, Liverpool is where the sign should now spend the rest of its days."

Soccer victory inspired sign's return

When Mary Chadwick, the museum's manager, first read the email, she figured it was a prank. Nevertheless, she arranged to have the man mail them the sign.

"We thought we'd get something through the post that replicated the street sign," Chadwick told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

But the Liverpool City Council confirmed that it is, indeed the sign that went missing from Penny Lane in 1976, nine years after the picturesque street was made famous in a Beatles song of the same name.  

"It was just crazy," Chadwick said.

A white street sign, lightly scratched, with black text that reads: 'PENNY LANE L18"
The sign was from the Mossley Hill suburb of Liverpool by some university students who had had a bit too much to drink. (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority/Beatles Story)

And it's all thanks to a victory earlier this year by the Liverpool Football Club against its rival Manchester United, she said.

The win apparently filled the sign's keeper with so much pride and nostalgia for his old stomping grounds that it "basically made him come forward and give the street sign back," Chadwick said. 

Penny Lane is a street in the Liverpool suburb of Mossley Hill. It's also often used to refer to the surrounding neighbourhood, which was once home to an important bus terminal. 

The song Penny Lane was released as a double-A single in 1967 alongside Strawberry Fields Forever, and later appeared on the Magical Mystery Tour album. It was written by Paul McCartney, with contributions from John Lennon, both of whom grew up in Liverpool.

"It's where Paul and John used to take buses to and from school to each other's houses," Chadwick said. "[The song] is about Paul's childhood memories, really, of being in that area as a young child. And it's not changed very much. It's still very pretty."

Because of the Beatles connection, a number of Penny Lane street signs have been stolen over the years. But the museum says this is the oldest known sign ever returned.

"It was just the background of it being hidden away for 47 years," she said. "It's just amazing."

A smiling gray-haired man in a suit wears white gloves and holds up a Penny Lane street sign. Behind him is a picture of The Beatles.
Rotheram poses with the Penny Lane street sign. Chadwick says that when the mayor heard about the sign's return, 'he was like, "No way! Let me see it."' (Liverpool City Region Combined Authority/Beatles Story)

Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram — who Chadwick described as a "massive Beatles fan" — welcomed the sign's return, and came to the museum to see it for himself. 

"Penny Lane is so much more than a simple street that inspired a song all those years ago – it's a music time capsule immortalized by those four boys who shook the world," Rotheram said in a statement.

"That being said, it's great to see something which holds so much significance finally returned to its rightful home after nearly half a century. Penny Lane is in our ears and in our eyes — and this time it's for keeps."

The sign, which is municipal property, will remain on display at the Beatles Story museum, Chadwick said. 

As for the man who took it, he and and his friends won't face any repercussions for their youthful indiscretion. 

"The removal of street signs is a criminal offence which can lead to a prison sentence," Dan Barrington, Liverpool City Council's cabinet member for transport and connectivity, said in a city press release.

"However, given the history of this case and the fact this Penny Lane [sign] has got back to where it belongs after what looks like a long and winding journey, then I think we can all agree to just let it be."


Interview with Mary Chadwick produced by Leslie Amminson

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