Monday, June 02, 2008

Following the Beatles

Keeping up with the Beatles as they toured round the world through Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand was one of the toughest, but most enjoyable assignments, I've ever had.

Now, fasten your seat-belts and join John, Paul, George and Jimmy Nicol as they drove into London Airport on Thursday, 4th June with chauffeur, Bill, at the wheel of their Austin Princess. A quick stop for Customs and then straight on to the plane to embark before the other passengers.

They're immediately "raided" by members of the crew for autographs. The boys oblige. But the co-pilot doesn't seem to know Ringo is in hospital and keeps asking for his signature. Finally, he gets the idea that Paul is Ringo. George immediately steps in and urges Paul to sign; "Go on, Ringo", he tells Paul. "Give him your signature". The Beatles love this sort of situation and can never resist pulling somebody's leg.

The other passengers file aboard and the plane zooms off the runway and heads for Denmark.

Danish Welcome

At Copenhagen, they get a terrific reception from over 6,000 fans. But, there's something different here. Unlike most of the other welcomes that the boys have had, with girl fans leading the chorus, in Denmark, and later on in Holland, it is the Beatle boys who do all the yelling, while the girls stay shyly in the background. And the fans are wearing the latest styles which they have gleaned from the British newspapers. They all follow Britain very closely on the Mods and Rockers kick.

The boys book into the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, opposite the Tivoli Gardens, where they are appearing that evening. First thing they found was that they were staying in the same suite of rooms as Russia's Mr. Kruschev has booked for his visit two weeks later. George, in fact, is sleeping in the same bed, as will be used by the Russian leader. Says George: "Right, I'll be leaving a note for him under the pillow!"

Inside the Tivoli Gardens is the KB Hall--a sports arena owned by the local football team. The boys work out their programme, with "stand-in" drummer Jimmy Nicol paying particular attention. They've got a new way of "remembering" the order of songs: road-manager Mal writes out the titles on slips of paper and sticks them on the guitars with Sellotape.


The boys rehearse with Jimmy Nicol. Tell him when to speed up and when to slow down. Our photographer Leslie Bryce says: "I didn't realise how difficult it was to be a Beatle until you see a new man among them." He's right. The Beatles have a special way of saying things, of talking to police, people, politicians. Jimmy, understandably, found it hard to fit in. But he was obviously very excited, very proud.

The British Ambassador in Copenhagen visited the boys . . . and 4,400 fans packed the theatre for each of two performances. Riots, as ever, at the end of the second show--especially when the master of ceremonies announced that the boys would not be coming back on stage. One Danish lad picked up a pot of Delphiniums and threw it at him!

After-show note: Jimmy Nicol had gone outside to meet somebody . . . and stood there unmolested as he watched the crowds yelling for The Beatles.

Incidentally, Jimmy wore Ringo's stage suits--only the trousers were too short for him. Telegram sent to Ringo from Paul read: "Hurry up and get well Ringo, Jimmy is wearing out all your suits".

Back at the Royal Hotel, the boys ate smorrebrodsseddel, an exotic sort of "jam buttie". And a call came through from Brian Epstein, who reported that poor Ringo had a temperature of 103 but was improving.

Next day: on to Amsterdam. Girls presented the boys with bunches of flowers and traditional Dutch hats. Beatles went straight to a television rehearsal at the Tres Long restaurant in Hillegram some 26 miles from Amsterdam. And whatta show! Fantastic! The audience jumped up onto the stage and sang with the boys into the mikes. Again, it was mostly boys who showed the fanaticism. Mid-way, Neil Aspinall managed to get them off . . .

Canal Trip

On to Saturday--and a highly publicised hour long trip through the canals in a glass-topped boat. Huge, shouting crowds crammed every yard of the banks. And again we noticed the big banners saying, in English: "Ringo, Quick Recover". Some of the fans dived into the canal, which upset the Beatles because the police certainly weren't gentle in fishing them out again. Said John Lennon: "I've got to protest about this." And he did. He couldn't understand why the police were so tough on the teenagers.

Then they went to the Exhibition Hall, Blokker, about 36 miles from Amsterdam for two concerts they travelled in style in two white Cadillacs, with motor-cycle escort. The motor-cyclists had side-cars, which leaned over dangerously, as they roared round the corners . . . the Beatles thought it reminded them of Brands Hatch on a race day.

Into the hall. A positive battery of microphones. Malcolm reckoned there must have been eight at least. Seems that just about every radio station had tried to get in on the act. Most of the mikes were turned off eventually and the boys got down to work.

Local groups, usually with girl singers, made up the rest of the bill. The one just before the Beatles wore a startling stage garb like members of the Klu Klux Klan, complete with white hoods.

The boys had a break between shows. Because of the crowds outside, they had to stay in their dressing-room and, feeling the strain more than a little, they tried to curl up and go to sleep, the screams still ringing in their ears.

John pulled off their suit covers, made himself a comfy little bed and went off to sleep without much difficulty at all. Jimmy Nicol slid under the table in the dressing-room and was undisturbed. This is a trick often used by travelling groups. Most dressing-rooms are tiny and barely furnished--and it is the only place you can avoid being trodden on by "invaders". George, too, found himself a handy little corner to catch a little kip.

No one told them

But this rare moment of rest actually caused the boys a lot of trouble. For it turned out the boys were expected to attend a civic reception at a big restaurant and were also to have gone to visit a traditional Dutch village. This was O.K. . . . except that nobody had told them about these arrangements. So while they were slumbering fitfully, the papers were preparing "knocking" stories about how the Beatles had let people down, which was completely unfair to the boys.

But this was the only black cloud in a tour which was a howling success from start to finish. The boys liked the countryside--and what they managed to see of the scenery. They liked the food--and they loved the reception given them by the fans. Said Paul: "Sometimes we thought they were going to get out of hand . . . but nobody ever started any real trouble."

Just shows how much the Beatles DO worry about their fans. And how much they like to show themselves as often as possible to their supporters.

Cynthia Lennon linked up with the boys in Amsterdam, returning with them from the fan-lined airport for their brief return to London. And at London was Aunt Mimi, that wonderful lady who was responsible for bringing up John Lennon--Both were going with the party to Hong Kong.

As the papers have already reported the plane back to London was held up by BOAC for an hour. But some of the comments about this were unkind because the aircraft company had notified passengers about the intended delay.

Hong Kong

Then right across the world by jet plane to Hong Kong. That isolated, bustling little island, and slice of the mainland, sitting there right on the edge of Communist China.

The Chinese promoter had decided to sky-rocket the price of seats for the two shows in the Princess Theatre. Result was that many of the local teenagers, who gave the boys a rapturous welcome at the Airport when they arrived, were unable to afford the money to see them perform. Lowest priced seats were £2 a time, which is a lot of money in low-wage Hong Kong. But still, the theatre was almost filled for both shows.

The busy streets were so congested with shopping housewives, street traders, beggars and all the other Hong Kong dwellers that John, Paul and George hardly ventured out.

It would have been too dangerous if they had been recognised. The city is notorious for its excited mobs rapidly getting out of control and the boys might have been torn to pieces. Only Mal went out to try a rickshaw ride.

Then back into a jet and on to Sydney, the biggest city in Australia.


The Beatles were all looking forward to that beautiful, hot sun for which Australia is so famous. So they got the shock of their lives when they landed at the Sydney Airport in one of the heaviest downpours they had ever seen. "We must have landed in the wrong country", said George. And to top it all they had to drive round the Airport in an open-top bus!

Everyone was absolutely soaked to the skin. It completely ruined the terrific welcome that the Sydney fans had lined up for the boys. Even so about 2,000 of them braved the drenching rain to say a very wet "Hello".

Into Sydney and the Sheridan Hotel. News had already got around that "they had arrived" and hundreds made their way to the hotel to catch a glimpse of the famous Beatles.

The boys wanted to wave to the crowd from their hotel window, but first of all they had to get out of their wet clothes. Their luggage was still at Sydney Airport so a frantic search was made for dry togs.

John and Paul managed to find some, but George couldn't get hold of any trousers so he finally ended up by wrapping a towel round his lower half and dancing out on to the balcony like that!

"I thought their winter was just like our summer", commented John, "but it's freezing. Come on, turn on all the electric fires". And the boys settled down to get the blood moving through their veins again.

They launched straight into a terrific round of press conferences, photo sessions and meetings with all the local big-wigs.

Ringo Better

In London, Ringo had finally been passed fit by the Doctors at the University College Hospital and was discharged on Thursday, 11th June. Everyone was a bit concerned that he should be flying straight off to Australia as he really should have had at least a week to convalesce. But, Ringo insisted that he must join up with the boys again. So, on the following day, he left with Brian Epstein, flying to Australia via San Francisco.

Back "Down Under", John, Paul, George and Jimmy Nicol started their Australian Tour with riotous concerts in Adelaide on 12th and 13th June. Then, across the great Australian desert to Melbourne where the four Beatles finally join up together again.

Ringo looked a bit worn after his long trip, but the very next day he seemed back on his usual top form. They stayed in Melbourne until 17th and then flew back to Sydney for appearances on 18th, 19th and 20th. The 21st June saw them in the air once again on they way to Auckland, New Zealand for a week's visit to "Kiwi Land" taking in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington. Following their last concert on 27th, they flew back to Australia for a further three days' stay and are due to arrive back at London Airport on 2nd July.

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