Will The Rolling Stones keep rolling till they roll over? This seems likely, I think. And roll-over day might not be so very far in the future — an observation I make, as Dame Edna Everage would say, in the most caring way. Drummer Charlie Watts, as pictured recently on his 73rd birthday, looks already like one of the living dead. Mick Jagger at 70, meanwhile — however fit of body — has a face like a wrinkled old prune. What must his scrotum be like? — to borrow the question David Hockney once asked concerning W.H. Auden.

The enduring popularity of the group is a baffling phenomenon, given that they have not produced new work worth listening to since It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll fully 40 years ago. Some Girls, from 1978, was the last album I bought. I played my vinyl copy the other day. The songs haven’t worn well. Stones concerts are a celebration of the past; they are a band paying tribute to their former selves.

They are also notoriously, and unashamedly, a money-making machine. Their avaricious grasping after ‘bread’ — towards which they once affected rebellious indifference — makes me glad to recall one occasion when they were famously deprived of it.

My reference is to their now legendary visit to Oxford half a century ago — in June 1964 — to play at a Commemoration Ball at Magdalen College. The event had a special interest because the Stones were nobodies when they were booked to appear but very big stars indeed by the time of the gig 12 months later. The story was put out that they were obliged to interrupt a US tour and fly back to Britain to fulfil their contract. It cost them £1,500 in air fares to pick up a £100 fee.

Ian Lewty, one of the ball organisers, told the Daily Mirror at the time: “You can imagine they are a little mad about this. We had a phone call from their manager [Andrew Loog Oldham] asking if we can boost the fee a little, but we told him there was nothing doing. It’s the year’s bargain.”

Having the Stones at Magdalen — alongside Freddie and the Dreamers and the American blues legend Howlin’ Wolf — was certainly a coup for the students. The band had no hit at all when the booking was made in the summer of 1963. By the time of the ball, on June 22, 1964, they had charted with Come On, I Wanna Be Your Man (written by the rapidly rising songsmiths John Lennon and Paul McCartney) and Not Fade Away. Their first No. 1, It’s All Over Now, lay just a month in the future.

What happened at the ball, and before, was described by me in this column ten years ago. It might be again today, if there’s room. What I failed to reveal in 2004, though, was the contents of a letter I received a day or so after my article appeared. I found it in a dusty file in my desk last week. It contains interesting information about what prompted the students’ tough stance with Loog Oldham.

Vi Boorman, of Woodstock, wrote: “The band was indeed booked before they hit the big time. The commem organisers were guided by a guy called Churchill (real name? nickname? I never knew), the Magdalen guru of pop. His ambition in life was to be Phil Spector. He shared a flat on the Woodstock Road with some mates, whose quarters were all classical texts, beer bottles and decaying socks. Churchill, however, was established in elegant style in the old breakfast room, with a coal fire, armchairs and the biggest collection of LPs I have ever — to this day — seen “Just before the ball, the Stones’ agent let it be known they wouldn’t be able to perform for the agreed fee: indeed, they might well all turn out to have colds . . . Churchill left his lair and went with the dance committee to the then Professor of Jurisprudence, Prof H.L.A. Hart. Nothing like getting good advice. Heaven alone knows what he suggested they threatened the Stones with, but it worked. They did their stuff. How do I know this? I was friendly with one of Churchill’s flatmates. Did I get to the ball? No, dammit; we’d fallen out by then.”

What Vi missed was described by Philip Norman, in his 1984 biography of the Stones. His source was the writer John Heilpern, one of Oxford University’s few admirers of the band at the time. He said: “They were all deeply pissed off about having to play. They’d been booked to do an hour, so they managed to spend at least the first 40 minutes tuning up. Brian Jones already looked zonked out of his mind. There was a sense of vague leadership from Mick Jagger. When he started, everyone did. At first they didn’t try. They were hissed and booed, which obviously delighted them. Then, all of a sudden, they all snapped into it.”

But if the ballgoers themselves — representing Oxford’s ‘Gown’ — were largely indifferent to pop’s new ‘big thing’, this was certainly not the case with ‘Town’ in the shape of the fans waiting at the gate.

The Oxford Mail reported: “People going to the ball had to push their way through the teenagers, who were chanting ‘We want the Stones’ [interesting to hear the short form of their name in use almost from the start], alternating with screams.

“At one stage, as a police constable moved the crowd to allow people to get to the ball, the teenagers sang ‘We Love You, Policeman,’ followed by ‘We Love You, Sergeant’. The police appeared oblivious to the adulation. After trying to mob two lesser-known groups, including Oxford’s Falling Leaves, the teenagers missed the Rolling Stones who slipped past the crowd singly.”

The Oxford pop music historian Trevor Hayward writes in his book Rocking in Oxford (Chris Andrews Publications, 2009) that the Falling Leaves helped the Stones out in their performance that night. They lent one of their amplifiers to bass player Bill Wyman, who had a malfunction with his own.

Hayward writes of the Stones’ previous Oxford gig at the Town Hall, in January 1964, when Jagger scrounged a fag from the lad whose dad booked the bands.

Doesn’t surprise me.