Saturday, July 12, 2008

At The Apple's Core: The Beatles From The Inside

by Denis O'Dell with Bob Neaverson

‘A few days after Brian Epstein's death I was having lunch with Richard Lester at Isleworth Studios, London, when I received a telephone call that was to have an enormous impact on my life for the next three years. It was John and Paul.
"Denis, it's us! Can you come and meet us in the next few days?"
"Sure. What about?"
"We've been thinking. We want you to come and run us."’

These are the memoirs of Denis O'Dell, one of the four original non-Beatle directors of Apple Corps, head of Apple Films and a close friend of the Beatles from the early days of Beatlemania through to the group’s demise and beyond. He is the last remaining senior Apple executive likely to publish a record of his experiences.

Heavily illustrated with fascinating and previously unpublished photographs — including ones of Paul, George and other celebrities at the Maharishi's ashram in India — it contains a plethora of stories and anecdotes untold until now. O'Dell’s position as a key figure in the Beatles’ history enables him to provide genuine insights into the group's personal, commercial and artistic motivations which few other books can touch.

At the Apple's Core is by turns an amusing, moving, controversial and revealing dissection of the Fab Four’s experience as perceived by a genuine insider. It is essential reading for any true fan of the group and an indispensable addition to any Beatles library.

‘Denis O'Dell was a valuable friend during some of the craziness that happened in our Apple years, a man with a heart as big as his smile. I remember our association with great pleasure.’ - Sir Paul McCartney

'An entertaining first-hand account of the pain and the pleasure of working at the core of Apple Corps in those heady years . . . O'Dell gives a vivid account of the disparate and conflicting strands within Apple . . . puts flesh on the bones of Lennon's famous remark that Apple's business ventures were "like playing Monopoly with real money" . . . A must buy if only for O'Dell's previously unpublished photographs. Its strength lies in its portrayal of a day in the lives of the biggest band that ever was.' - Variety (USA)

' . . . gives fans exactly what they crave — an insider's view of the fab Four at the height of their careers . . . An invaluable edition to the Beatles' ever-growing library.' — Film Review

'With 64 pages of unpublished photos, At the Apple's Core is a sure winner for any Beatles fan.' — The Latest

DENIS O'DELL was already an established film producer when he first became involved with the Beatles in 1964. He was central to the production of such Beatles-related films as A Hard Day’s Night, How I Won the War, Magical Mystery Tour, Let It Be and The Magic Christian. Throughout a long and illustrious career as a writer, producer and assistant director from the 1940s to the 1990s, he has also worked closely with many of the greatest directors and actors of the twentieth century.

BOB NEAVERSON is a writer and lecturer in film and media studies. His first book, The Beatles Movies, was published in 1996, and he has contributed to a number of publications about the group.

Denis O'Dell is interviewed on the film trailer of the Miramax re-release on DVD of A Hard Day's Night.


From Chapter 8
Another Day at the Office

Thirty years after the Beatles’ split I am still responding to a steady stream of questions about the group by friends and fans. I thought that the interest in the group would eventually wane, but, if anything, it has grown. The fascination that the Beatles generate is, it seems, destined to continue forever. Many of the queries I receive are so general or banal that they are virtually impossible to answer. Here, together with my usual responses, are some of the most common.

Question: ‘Who was the most talented Beatle?’
Rather weary reply: ‘All of them. They were all incredibly talented in their own ways.’

Question: ‘Which one did you like the most?’
Weary reply: ‘I liked them all very much, in different ways.’

Question: ‘What were they like?’
Weary reply: ‘They were great.’

Question: ‘Yes, but what about John. What was he like?’
Very weary reply: ‘He was a great guy.’

Question: ‘And Paul? What was he like?’
Very, very weary reply: ‘He was great, too.’

Question: ‘What about Ringo?’

I’ve usually dropped off to sleep by this point. (For the record, both Ringo and George were ‘great’, too.)
I say this not to criticize those earnest fans who are genuinely intrigued by what was, after all, a fascinating phenomenon. I simply mention it to illustrate the fact that one is most often asked questions that are fundamentally unanswerable. I suppose I should take a lesson from the Beatles and come up with witty or cutting responses, but I would rather avoid offending the fans and keep my friends.
I was recently asked one question, however, that I don’t think I had ever been asked before. It was a simple one, but it made me stop and think. It was: ‘Can you describe a typical day at Apple?’ My immediate response was: ‘No, there was always something different happening’, and in a way that is God’s honest truth. But in a way the ‘typical’ or ‘ordinary’ was paradoxically the untypical, the extraordinary or the just plain fantastic. There was no typical, ordinary day working for the Beatles at Apple, but, for what it’s worth, here’s a recollection of a day in 1968 that summarizes the ‘ordinary’ extraordinariness of it all, one that demonstrates all the hassle, frustrations, happiness and exhilaration rolled into the space of less than twenty-four hours.

One summer morning, shortly before Apple relocated to its Savile Row offices, I was wading through a pile of scripts when Paul walked into my office.
‘Denis, we’re going to a wedding this morning.’
‘Oh,’ I responded nonchalantly. ‘Anyone I know?’
‘Yeah, Magic Alex.’
‘Very nice.’
‘The only thing is,’ Paul continued, ‘we’ve got to sort out a wedding party for him.’
‘When for?’
‘Today. Straight after the service. For about fifty people.’
My heart sank, knowing that the ‘we’ in Paul’s plans really meant me. ‘You must be joking,’ I said. ‘We’ll never sort out anything at this short notice.’ I explained to him that you cannot organize a dinner for fifty guests ten minutes before you want to arrive; it simply wasn’t a realistic request.
‘See what you can do,’ he said and made his exit.

This was typical of them. They had no real perspective on the planning that was needed to arrange something like this. This attitude was not born out of arrogance and, as I’ve mentioned, Paul in particular made a concerted effort to lead as normal a life as possible under the circumstances. Rather, it was a product of celebrity conditioning. They were simply out of touch with the workings of the real world and were not used to organizing anything for themselves. They just assumed that you could say the magic word ‘Beatles’ and any doors would simply be charmed open. However, Paul was, as I was about to find out, absolutely right.
The only place I could think of where I felt I might be able to pull any sort of rank was the exclusive Arethusa Club, which I had frequented many times and which was an occasional haunt of the Beatles. I phoned them without much hope, asked for the manager and relayed my request, making no reference to the Fab Four. I suppose I wanted to see how far I could get without resorting to celebrity name- dropping or grovelling, two things I have always hated.
‘I’m very sorry, sir,’ the Arethusa’s manager told me evenly, although he obviously thought I was barking mad or had been living in a mud hut for the past ten years. ‘These things have to be booked months in advance.’
‘Is there nothing you can do?’ I implored, with all the desperation I could muster.
‘Absolutely not,’ came the predictable and rather smug reply. ‘We’re completely, totally, fully booked.’
There are times when you simply have to put any principles of fairness and decency to one side and blatantly exploit the few genuine privileges celebrity brings. ‘There will be some very important guests,’ I continued, moving in for the kill.
‘Oh yes?’ was the rather non-committal response. He had obviously heard this sort of thing a thousand times before.
‘It’s for the Beatles,’ I told him, stooping to conquer.
There was a brief pause while the word worked its magic and the manager’s personality was transformed from detached jobsworth to flattering toady of the first division.
‘One moment please, sir,’ he gushed. Another brief silence was followed by some distant muttering in the background. ‘We would be most happy indeed to fit you in for lunch this afternoon.’
‘That’s very kind,’ I replied, barely bothering to conceal my own insincerity.
Paul and the other Beatles were delighted with the news and, after Alex’s Greek Orthodox wedding, at which John was best man, a superb party was had by all.
After the celebrations Paul and I drove back to Apple’s offices and drank whisky and coke.
‘Come and listen to this, Denis,’ he said, ushering me into a side office. Setting up a tape recorder in the room, he played me a demo of a new song that he had just recorded. It was a long, powerful track, beautifully structured with an irresistible sing-along refrain, perhaps the prototype of what DJs now refer to as a ‘power ballad’. It had a melody to die for, with a melancholic quality that was somehow simultaneously uplifting. Desperate yet assured, forlorn yet optimistic, the song had an emotional resonance that went far beyond anything I’d heard before on a pop record. It had a magic that only a Beatle could conjure. I felt then, and still feel today, that Hey Jude was the apotheosis, the pinnacle of Paul’s songwriting as a Beatle and one of the most glorious pieces of music of the past century.
As the song came to a close, Paul’s voice brought me back down to earth. ‘Do you think it could be a single?’ he asked. Although not finished, the song was pretty long and he was concerned that EMI would reject it on these grounds.
‘It’s a wonderful song, Paul. I’m sure they’ll make an exception.’
And that, believe it or not, was just another day at the office!

Hey Jude/Revolution was the first single by the group to be released on Apple Records and required promo clips to market it internationally. As head of Apple Films it was down to me to produce the clip. We never had any serious discussions on how to film the promos, but a couple of days before the shoot an instruction from Paul appeared on my desk. It was vague and non-constructive. I felt that since the A-side was essentially a sing-along this should be echoed visually in the promo clip, with a studio audience joining in live for the final extended refrain.
The problem, however, was that the Beatles didn’t want to have anything to do with a conventional live performance. By 1968 they were genuinely terrified of playing in front of an audience and had refused to undertake any live work for two years. Although their last concert performance had taken place at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the turning-point had come the month before, after a particularly bad experience in the Philippines. Following a misunderstanding with the palace in Manila, the Beatles were hounded out of the country after failing to appear at a dinner hosted by President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, and their terrifying exit from the country had been the final straw. Aside from the ever-present concerns over security, playing live had also become pointless artistically anyway, since most of their recordings after Rubber Soul involved far more than a four-piece ensemble. Looking back, it is genuinely surprising that they remained a live band for as long as they did, although of course the Beatles’ decision to become entirely a ‘studio band’ was itself unprecedented at the time.
That did not change the fact that I envisaged Hey Jude as a song that would lend itself visually to some kind of live concert footage. After serious consideration I hit on the idea of arranging the shoot at Twickenham Studios with the group performing to an invited audience. Michael Lindsay-Hogg was hired to direct the filming. To be honest, I had never been a particular fan of his work, but I reasoned that he was familiar with the form (he had already directed the Paperback Writer/Rain clips back in 1966) and was not the kind of director whose presence would invite clashes of ego.
My assistant, Tony Bramwell, was dispatched to invite an impromptu audience of fans literally from off the streets and to transport them in three or four coaches to the studio for the shoot. Leaflets were also handed out around Twickenham, and Mal rounded up a crowd of ‘Apple scruffs’ from outside the recently acquired Savile Row offices. Tony did a great job, and we ended up with a terrific range of ages and nationalities. With some trepidation we began shooting late in the afternoon, with David Frost taping an intro that would make the performance appear as if it had been specially arranged as part of London Weekend Television’s Frost on Sunday show. As a further precaution to ease the Beatles’ acute anxiety about being mobbed, I placed them on rostrums to keep them at arm’s length from the audience. As it turned out I needn’t have worried, and as the group’s anxiety abated they became less and less self-conscious, finally allowing the audience on to the rostrum with them for the final sing-along. My young son Kevan made it into the final cut of the video, smiling from behind Ringo’s drum kit. The intention was that we should finish filming early that evening. As it happened, everyone was having so much fun that the filming went on into the early hours of the next day.
Hey Jude became the Beatles’ biggest-selling single and was included in the Our First Four promotional box sets put together by Apple Records. Comprising the Beatles’ Hey Jude, Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days, the Black Dyke Mill’s Band’s Thingumybob (both produced by Paul) and the George Harrison-produced Jackie Lomax track Sour Milk Sea, the collection made an impressive package. For publicity purposes we sent copies to 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. I’m not sure what the Queen made of it all!

The Hey Jude promo is possibly more important than most fans realize. The Beatles’ unexpected enjoyment at performing for the clip was to be a key factor in the new direction that they were about to take. After shooting we ran the final edit of the tapes in the recording truck. They were absolutely delighted. Drinking a whisky and coke with them at four in the morning, we agreed that a good night had been had by all. In fact they had enjoyed it so much they suggested, there and then, that we should make another film. I was elated.
That was the start of Let It Be.

1 comment:

temmaharbour said...

Excellent... I cannot wait to get a copy...