THE WALRUS WAS PAUL
You're a genius all the time
Magical Mystery Tour
WITH SGT. PEPPER FINISHED, PAUL DECIDED TOPAY A SURPRISE VISIT to Jane on her twenty-first birthday on 5 April. She was touring the USA with the Bristol Old Vic playing Romeo and Juliet. On 3 April 1967, two Air France officials arrived at Cavendish Avenue to pick up Paul and Mal Evans, and not long afterwards they touched down at Orly Airport, Paris. From there they took a direct flight to Los Angeles. Paul had intended to bring a copy of the photograph for the sleeve of Sgt. Pepper to show Jane but he forgot. He also forgot to check if his American visa was still valid so it took a half-hour to get him through immigration in Los Angeles. Travelling in style, they hired Frank Sinatra's private Lear jet to fly to San Francisco, which was experiencing its first snow in forty-two years. Here they showed up unannounced at the Fillmore Auditorium, where the Jefferson Airplane happened to be rehearsing. Paul accompanied Marty Balin and Jack Casady to the apartment on Oak Street they shared with their road manager Bill Thompson. Paul played them the acetate of Sgt. Pepper he was bringing for Jane and told them about a wonderful new guitarist called Jimi Hendrix. They attempted a jam session, but Paul, being left-handed, found it hard to play Casady's bass upside down. The members of the Airplane toked up on DMT mixed with pot, which Paul decided to forgo. Jack Casady drove them back to their hotel and next day Paul and Mal flew on to Denver.
Paul had his movie camera with him and it was two days later, while filming in a Denver park, that he came up with using a mystery tour as the basis for a television special. Ideas fell quickly into place and it became a magical mystery tour: a typical Beatles combination of northern working-class culture and taking the fans on an acid trip. On 9 April, the Old Vic company flew out to continue their tour of America, and Paul and Mal took Frank Sinatra's Lear jet back to Los Angeles.
PAUL: I used to do a lot of amateur filming and from my interest in that it was a very small step for me to say, 'Well, if we hired a film cameraman and we told him where to shoot, then we're starting to film, aren't we? As long as we know that we want to go over Westminster Bridge backwards, he'll be able to do that. I can convey it to him.' So, the idea tumbled together that we'd hire a bus, take a bunch of people out and start trying to make up something about a magical mystery tour.
It used to just be called a mystery tour, up north. When we were kids, you'd get on a bus, and you didn't know where you were going, but nearly always it was Blackpool. From Liverpool, it was inevitably Blackpool and everyone would go, 'Oooo, it was Blackpool after all!' Everyone would spend time guessing where they were going, and this was part of the thrill. And we remembered those. So much of the Beatles' stuff was a slight switch on a memory; in 'Penny Lane', the nurse and the barber and the fireman were just people we saw on a bus route, but this time they'd be with us. So we'd always just heighten the reality to make a little bit of surreality. That we were interested in.
There was also an element of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the idea. In 1964 Kesey and his cohorts had painted a 1939 International Harvester school bus in psychedelic colours and taken it on a transcontinental tour of the USA, dispensing LSD along the way and filming and recording every dramatic encounter, intending to make a movie called The Merry Pranksters Search for a Cool Place. The film never materialised but the bus trip became the stuff of legend, eventually being written up by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Paul picked up the idea again on the overnight flight back to England on 11 April with Mal. He borrowed a notepad from a stewardess and made notes for the lyrics of the title song; then he began to plan out the film, using a circle to represent the sixty minutes of a television special and slotting in various ideas for events.
John later complained that Paul took over and led the Beatles after Brian died, but no doubt if John had come up with some suggestions of his own instead of drifting in a haze of heroin and LSD, then the others would have been equally responsive. As it was, even before Brian's death, virtually everything the Beatles did from Sgt. Pepper onwards was initially proposed by Paul, though Beatles democracy never faltered and all projects had to have approval from all four members of the group.
In the Rolling Stone interviews with Jann Wenner, John spoke about Magical Mystery Tour as very much Paul's idea. 'He set it up and he had worked it out with Mal and then he came and showed me what his idea was and this is how it went, it went around like this, the story and how he had it all, the production and everything. He said, "Well, here's the segment, you write a little piece for that." And I thought, fuckin' Ada, I've never made a film, what's he mean, write a script?'
In fact Paul discussed the project in some detail in April 1967 with Brian Epstein before Sgt. Pepper was even released. Sitting next to Paul on the big settee in Paul's living room, Brian went over all aspects of the project, pausing every few minutes to make a note on a pad of paper. Paul had now reworked his original notes to show the whole sixty-minute film as a pie chart divided into segments. Brian could translate this, as he could all Beatles commands, into specific timetables of booked studios, rehearsal halls, rented equipment, tea for forty-five people and everything else they needed, without the Beatles even suspecting what degree of organisation was actually called for to satisfy their often obscure and demanding requests.
Occasionally Brian would interrupt to say that one of the other Beatles could add something to a scene. He was very concerned that they all had an equal part of the action - 'We must find more for Ringo to do,' 'George could do a song here' - and appeared very enthusiastic and excited about the plan. The Beatles were no longer touring and their latest album had not yet been released so Brian had very little to do on their behalf. He was clearly pleased to be involved in a new major project which would utilise his skills. Had Brian not died, his management skills would have made Magical Mystery Tour a great deal easier to make; he would have booked film studios, dealt with unions, hired catering facilities and hotels just as if the Beatles were on tour. He did some preliminary work on the project; for instance, the cinematographer Peter Theobald, who worked on the film as technical director, was recommended by the film critic Peter Wollen after Brian Epstein telephoned the British Film Institute to ask for their recommendations.
It is probably because Brian assumed that he would be producing the film that his American company, Beatles USA Ltd, was registered as the owner of the copyright. Though Brian's percentages, and the way he had cut himself in for 25 per cent of their record royalties for seven years after his management contract would expire, left much to be desired, the title registration of Magical Mystery Tour was probably legitimate, given that he was expecting to have some heavy expenses in setting up the project.
It was very simple idea - to get on a bus with a few friends, drive around, improvise a few scenes and film everything that happened -but it would bring the Beatles before their hungry public again and it would also provide the vehicle for some new songs. It was not as good as a full-length film but it was a good structure for a television special. Brian liked it and John was quickly converted to the idea, which had many similarities to the initial concept of Sgt. Pepper. John and Paul spent an afternoon at Cavendish Avenue writing the title tune. Though they were still putting the finishing touches to Sgt. Pepper, beginning 25 April the Beatles spent five sessions recording and mixing the Magical Mystery Tour title track, complete with trumpets.
PAUL: 'Magical Mystery Tour' was co-written by John and I, very much in our fairground period. One of our great inspirations was always the barker. 'Roll up! Roll up!' The promise of something: the newspaper ad that says 'guaranteed not to crack', the 'high class' butcher, 'satisfaction guaranteed' from 'Sgt. Pepper'. 'Come inside,' 'Step inside, Love'; you'll find that pervades a lot of my songs. If you look at all the Lennon-McCartney things, it's a thing we do a lot.
I used to go to the fairgrounds as a kid, the waltzers and the dodgems, but what interested me was the freak shows: the boxing booths, the bearded lady and the sheep with five legs, which actually was a four-legged sheep with one leg sewn on its side. When I touched it, the fellow said, 'Hey, leave that alone!' These were the great things of your youth. So much of your writing comes from this period; your golden memories. If I'm stuck for an idea, I can always think of a great summer, think of a time when I went to the seaside. Okay, sand sun waves donkeys laughter. That's a pretty good scenario for a song.
John and I remembered mystery tours, and we always thought this was a fascinating idea: getting on a bus and not knowing where you were going. Rather romantic and slightly surreal! All these old dears with the blue rinses going off to mysterious places. Generally there's a crate of ale in the boot of the coach and you sing lots of songs. It's a charabanc trip. So we took that idea and used it as a basis for a song and the film.
Because those were psychedelic times it had to become a magical mystery tour, a little bit more surreal than the real ones to give us a licence to do it. But it employs all the circus and fairground barkers, 'Roll up! Roll up!', which was also a reference to rolling up a joint. We were always sticking those little things in that we knew our friends would get; veiled references to drugs and to trips. 'Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away,' so that's a kind of drug, 'it's dying to take you away' so that's a Tibetan Book of the Dead reference. We put all these words in and if you were just an ordinary person, it's a nice bus that's waiting to take you away, but if you're tripping, it's dying, it's the real tour, the real magical mystery tour. We stuck all that stuff in for our 'in group' of friends really.
Magical Mystery Tour was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that. 'That'll be good, a far-out mystery tour. Nobody quite knows where they're going. We can take 'em anywhere we want, man!' Which was the feeling of the period. 'They can go in the sky. It can take off!' In fact, in the early script, which was just a few fireside chats more than a script, the bus was going to actually take off and fly up to the magicians in the clouds, which was us all dressed in red magicians' costumes, and we'd mess around in a little laboratory being silly for a while.
The Beatles were in no real hurry to begin filming and intended to finish off one or two other little projects and have their summer holidays before turning their attention to Magical Mystery Tour. One of these was a live television broadcast to a potential viewing audience estimated at half a billion. The BBC had come up with the idea of using the newly installed satellite relays to connect the national television networks of countries all around the world. As the BBC put it, 'for the first time ever, linking five continents and bringing man face to face with mankind, in places as far apart as Canberra and Cape Kennedy, Moscow and Montreal, Samarkand and Soderfors, Takamatsu and Tunis'. The Beatles were chosen to represent Britain in the show, which was to be called Our World. Rather than play one of their existing hits, or something off Sgt. Pepper, they composed a new single specially for the programme.
Paul: '"All You Need Is Love" was John's song. I threw in a few ideas, as did the other members of the group, but it was largely ad libs like singing "She Loves You" or "Greensleeves" or silly little things at the end and we made those up on the spot.' Knowing that millions of the viewers would not understand English, John kept the chorus as simple as possible. It was the philosophy of Sgt. Pepper and the era reduced to five words. Paul: 'The chorus "All you need is love" is simple, but the verse is quite complex, in fact I never really understood it, the message is rather complex. It was a good song that we had handy that had an anthemic chorus.'
It took five days of recording and mixing to get the song right but Paul's bass, John's vocal, George's solo and Ringo's drums, as well as the orchestra, were all broadcast live during the event. The Beatles invited Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick and Marianne and dozens of other friends to the session, which was staged as a party in Studio One at Abbey Road. The single was released two weeks later and became a hit all around the world.
Other events conspired to delay work on the Magical Mystery Tour film: Sgt. Pepper was released, the Beatles started Apple and met the Maharishi, and Brian Epstein died, all in a matter of months. On 1 September 1967, four days after Brian Epstein's death, the Beatles met at Cavendish Avenue to plan their future. They put their trip to the Maharishi's ashram in India on hold, but decided to continue with the various Apple projects and keep working on Magical Mystery Tour. Alistair Taylor and his wife were dispatched for a weekend at the seaside in Eastbourne to make sure that mystery tours still existed, otherwise no one would know what they were talking about. It turned out that they did, so Alistair's next task was to go back to Eastbourne and find a gaudily painted seaside coach. Recording sessions were booked at Abbey Road for the next week and plans made to begin filming in two weeks' time.
Not much work had been done on the film in the five months since they recorded the title track, except for recording one more song for the soundtrack, Paul's 'Your Mother Should Know', made on 22 and 23 August. It was recorded at Chappell Recording Studios on Maddox Street, presumably because Abbey Road was not available at short notice. The second night marked Brian Epstein's last-ever visit to a Beatles recording session.
PAUL: I dreamed up 'Your Mother Should Know' as a production number. I thought, Well, okay, at least we'll sing one or two songs for real. I wrote it in Cavendish Avenue on the harmonium I have in the dining room there. My Aunty Jin and Uncle Harry and a couple of relatives were staying and they were in the living room just across the hall, so I just went to the dining room and spent a few hours with the door open with them listening. And I suppose because of the family atmosphere 'Your Mother Should Know' came in. It's a very music-hall kind of thing, probably influenced by the fact that my Aunty Jin was in the house.
I've always hated generation gaps. I always feel sorry for a parent or a child that doesn't understand each other. A mother not being understood by her child is particularly sad because the mother went through pain to have that child, and so there is this incredible bond of motherly love, like an animal bond between them, but because we mess things up so readily they have one argument and hate each other for the rest of their lives. So I was advocating peace between the generations. In 'Your Mother Should Know' I was basically trying to say your mother might know more than you think she does. Give her credit.
When it came time to film 'Your Mother Should Know', they decided to pull out all the stops.
PAUL: The big prop was that great big staircase that we danced down, that was where all the money went: in that particular shot on that big staircase. I said, 'Sod it, you've got to have the Busby Berkeley ending,' and it is a good sequence. Just the fact of John dancing; which he did readily. You can see by the fun expression on his face that he wasn't forced into anything.
People read significance into the fact that I had a black carnation on. The truth of the matter was they'd only brought three red ones. There'd been a mistake, as there often is with film crews, and they'd brought three red ones and a few black ones, and for some reason, I said, 'Well, you have them.' I wasn't trying to make a special point or anything, but it became part of the 'Paul is dead' legacy afterwards. We choreographed the whole thing, we organised it all. We got local scouts and RAF cadets and just said, 'You march across here,' we just did it, we just made it up as we went along. And the best thing I remember, the day we did all that, was doing a thing with the crowd at the end of it, which hardly made it into the movie but was a great shot. I got right up on the crane, miles above all these people, and the whole frame was filled with people looking up at you. It was like an audience looking up at you. We called it 'the sea of faces' when we were editing it. It comes in a very quick shot a couple of times. There was no edge to the frame; you could only see people in the camera. That was my fond memory of that day.
Aside from the two songs ready for the soundtrack, the Beatles had little else prepared. John had spent an afternoon in his swimming pool thinking up ideas for the script. He thought it might be fun to get everyone blind drunk, including himself, naturally, and film that. He came up with a quiz game but it was too corny an idea and he rejected it, along with an idea of playing Candid Camera in an out-of-the-way village, pretending to be the Beatles.
John could only think of one person he would like to see on the bus, and that was Nat Jackley, who had always been a hero of the Beatles. He did funny walks, which in music hall are officially known as Eccentric Dancing. He worked in the tradition of the music-hall stars Wilson, Keppel and Betty, Billy Dainty and Max Wall. Paul: 'There's all sorts of swings they can do. It looks very gawky, very funny, and it's very hard to do well. It's a great skill. So we thought, Ah, Nat Jackley. He's great. He just looks funny. He's got a little Hitler moustache, little cloth cap and he's a beanpole of a man. John particularly admired him.' Nat Jackley was hired to play the Rubber Man.
They knew from their first two films that they needed to record the songs for the film in order to be able to mime to them. The recording of John's 'I Am the Walrus' began on 5 September.
PAUL: John worked with George Martin on the orchestration and did some very exciting things with the Mike Sammes Singers, the likes of which they've never done before or since, like getting them to chant, 'Everybody's got one, everybody's got one ...', which they loved. It was a session to be remembered. Most of the time they got asked to do 'Sing Something Simple' and all the old songs, but John got them doing all sorts of swoops and phonetic noises. It was a fascinating session. That was John's baby, great one, a really good one.
Recorded only nine days after Brian Epstein's death, John sounds in real pain: 'I'm crying!' Far from being light-hearted nonsense verse, John's lyrics are a desperate howl of frustration. (The 'Eggman' in the lyrics is almost certainly Eric Burdon, who was known to his friends as 'Eggs' because he was fond of breaking eggs over naked girls during sex. In Eric's autobiography he describes an orgy in Mayfair, following an evening at the Scotch of St James, in which John Lennon watches him break amyl nitrate capsules under the noses of two half-naked girls and follow this up with two raw eggs. John is quoted as encouraging him, 'Go on, go get it, Eggman. Go for it. I've been there already, it's nice.')
The next session began with Paul recording a demo version of 'The Fool on the Hill' and laying down basic rhythm tracks for George's 'Blue Jay Way', written when he had a couple of hours to kill because Derek Taylor had become lost in the canyons in a Los Angeles fog trying to find Blue Jay Way, where George was staying. In the film George sits cross-legged on the floor, his expensive cars behind him, playing a keyboard chalked on the concrete floor like a pavement artist or an Indian beggar, while the camera does various clever tricks using prisms, still used today in rock videos.
The fourth track was an instrumental, their first, called 'Flying', recorded on 8 September, which shows that they had an inkling of what they were intending to shoot. So far they had recorded tracks written by John, Paul and George. 'Flying' was democratically credited to all four of them, including Ringo, making the film, at least at this stage, very much a joint project.
PAUL: 'Flying' was an instrumental that we needed for Magical Mystery Tour so in the studio one night I suggested to the guys that we made something up. I said, 'We can keep it very very simple, we can make it a twelve-bar blues. We need a little bit of a theme and a little bit of a backing.' I wrote the melody. The only thing to warrant it as a song is basically the melody, otherwise it's just a nice twelve-bar backing thing. It's played on the Mellotron, on a trombone setting. It's credited to all four, which is how you would credit a non-song.
With the title track and 'Your Mother Should Know', they now had six songs, enough to begin filming.
Paul was always very involved in the sequencing of tracks on albums and in the running order of radio and television shows. He would plan them like a pie chart, cutting up slices of the cake. 'I would say, "that first five minutes is yours, you can do that, we'll have a song here, then I'll do the next five minutes and I'll do a sort of funny thing, then we'll have a number here ..."' He had planned Magical Mystery Tour in much the same way with the same diagram that he and Brian Epstein had worked on months before: a single sheet of paper with a circle divided into eight numbered segments:
1. Commercial introduction. Get on the coach. Courier introduces.
2. Coach people meet each other / (Song, Fool On The Hill?)
3. marathon - laboratory sequence.
4. smiling face. LUNCH, mangoes, tropical, (magician)
5. and 6: Dreams.
7. Stripper & band.
There was a cast list: 'People on coach: Courier, driver, Busty hostess, Nat Jackley, Fat woman, small man, lads & lasses.' There was one further note: 'Hire a coach, yellow!' There was no plot, no dialogue and no organisation.
PAUL: We got Neil and Mal, our trusty roadies, to hire a driver and coach and paint our logo on the side: 'Magical Mystery Tour'. We hired a bus full of passengers, some of which were actors. I got a copy of Spotlight and selected all the actors from there. I said, 'There's a fat lady. What's her name? Jessie Robbins. Look up her agent. Book her.' 'There's a guy, Derek Royle, looks like he could do Jolly Jimmy Johnson, the courier.' Derek Royle was a good actor who could do athletics, he could do somersaults and stuff, so I knew there would be a bit of mileage in that, we could get him to do some somersaults. Then there was the pretty stewardess, Mandy Weet, who was a bit busty. I must admit, in casting those busty girls there was always a little bit of ulterior motive. It's just the thrill of being able to say, 'Oh, could you stand up please? Could you turn round?' It was just pure libertine casting there. They were all from a copy of Spotlight.
We got those people, then we got Ivor Cutler. I knew Ivor, I'd seen him on telly with his very dour Scottish accent, which I like very much, and he used to play this little Indian hand harmonium. He had a song I liked called 'I'm Going in a Field', just a lovely little song. I used to want to record that with him. How I got to know him was, I looked him up in the phone book and rang him up one night. I said, 'Hello, Mr Cutler. My name's Paul McCartney. I'm one of the Beatles. I'm a great admirer of yours. Would you like to come out to dinner?' 'This is very surprising, why are you asking me out?' 'Because I like you.' 'Oh, oh. Oh, very well then. Yes, I wouldn't mind.' He's very precise-spoken Scottish fella, very quiet but real entertaining, real nice bloke. Very sensitive. We went out to dinner. It was very nice. So in the film he became Buster Bloodvessel and he was very good and very helpful. He made that name up. 'Buster, Buster, I could be Buster Bloodvessel.' 'Yes, that's brilliant, got that!' The big fat guy in a band called Bad Manners later used the name.
There were four cameramen and a sound man, a technical adviser and various technical assistants, many of them friends, such as Gavrik Losey, the son of the film director Joseph Losey. Like Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, it was, literally, made on the run; and in its very freedom of form it reflects the improvisational tradition of John Cassavetes's 1959 Shadows, where much of the dialogue was improvised on camera. Magical Mystery Tour belongs in its openness to chance and experiment to the time in which it was made; it shows an appreciation - albeit undigested - of the French New Wave, particularly the films of Godard, and a familiarity with the underground movies of Bruce Connor, Kenneth Anger, Antony Balch, Stan Brakhage and others, which Paul had seen at Robert Fraser's flat and at the UFO Club.
PAUL: We literally made it up as we went. I felt this would be a very bold and a very challenging thing to do. I felt it would be the best thing for us, because we'd had a couple of film scripts and it wasn't that easy to get a perfect writer who could just come up with a Hard Day's Night thing, so in the spirit of the times, I thought, Well, we could just go places and arrange people on hills and just film them - 'Do this,' 'Run through there' - and cobble together some sort of story as you went along, because, after all, the theme of a mystery tour is just that: that you don't know where you're going anyway. So we thought we'd take this to the extreme and literally not know what film we were making. And that was part of the buzz.
So we headed off down to Cornwall. We paired a couple of people together: 'Okay. You're the love interest, you two. So whenever we get off the bus, you hold her hand, or be loving. Just develop your little thing.' Personally I just tried to keep an eye on it and tried to be very solicitous, as I thought a director ought to be, with all the actors. I tried to soothe any sort of doubts they had, and believe me they had millions, because I don't think they'd been on a film like this before.
For the actors, as for the symphony orchestra playing without music notation to guide them on 'A Day in the Life', this was relatively new territory, but to the Beatles, veterans of thousands of live performances where improvisation in response to audience reaction was the key to survival, it held no fears. From their first two films they knew something of the techniques required; from countless press conferences, interviews and television shows they had confidence in the spontaneous wit which had contributed greatly to their reputation.
Typically, the film got off to a late start. In the early sixties, when the Beatles toured the country with Helen Shapiro, Tommy Roe and Chris Montez, it was traditional for the tour bus to set out from Allsop Place, a service road of garages and back entrances to the huge Chiltern Court apartment building behind Baker Street tube station. Paul decided to start the Magical Mystery Tour from there, just like a rock 'n' roll touring show. Unfortunately the coach was still being painted in its new livery and, on 11 September 1967, it arrived two hours late for its 10.45 a.m. departure. Thirty-three passengers climbed aboard, plus a film crew, and set out for the West Country, picking up John, George and Ringo in Virginia Water on the way. It was not until they were on the coach that most of the actors realised that they were expected to improvise. Paul: 'I explained to them on the coach what we were trying to do. I went round them all ...'
The filming was not as chaotic as has sometimes been made out. They had already recorded the six soundtrack songs so they knew they had to film sequences to go with them and that alone would account for a substantial portion of the film.
PAUL: We had to have a beginning, so I'd shot it with that in mind. I knew that we had to have Ringo shuffling up the street with his old mum, the fat lady, and getting on the bus and that would start us off. That was an opening. Once we got on the bus we could let the bus take off and then all sorts could happen. And we knew we had to have something to finish, so 'Your Mother Should Know', being the big production number, seemed an okay way to finish, and looking back on it, I am pretty proud of that.
It was mainly John and I doing it. We were the main forces, pretty much as usual, I suppose. I think it was generally considered I was directing it. For instance, I'd hold all the meetings in the evening with Peter Theobald and the cameraman. 'What did you get today?' 'Did you end-slate it?' and all this. I became used to the way of doing it. I enjoyed the organisational thing of it all, and it was fairly easy-going. Obviously it wasn't as tough as directing a major feature.
The first overnight stop was at the Royal Hotel in Teignmouth, Devon, almost 200 miles from London. The next day they made numerous short stops to film before arriving at the Atlantic Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, where they abandoned the idea of moving to a different location each day and booked themselves in for three nights. There, on 13 September, they filmed Nat Jackley.
PAUL: We were down in Cornwall, so I said, 'Well, how about you do the Nat Jackley thing now, John? When it's done, we can get rid of him.' But John didn't really prepare anything and hadn't thought up much for him to do. Nat just walked from person to person and it wasn't very funny and I think he quite resented it. He was never going to understand what we were doing; we were drug-children and he was an old-school music-hall, vaudeville performer. Nat did not like how he came out in the film. He was amongst our most vociferous critics when they all came looking for us. And I can't blame him really because it didn't exactly enhance his career.
First John had Nat Jackley chase young women in bikinis around the Atlantic Hotel's swimming pool, then chase them along the cliffs at nearby Holywell. Both of these sequences were lost on the cutting-room floor.
John had more luck with his other dramatic scene. Paul: 'I remember him telling me one morning, "God, I had the strangest dream." I said, "Come on then. Remember it and we'll film it." He said, "Oh, okay. I was a waiter, and I'm shovelling spaghetti on this person." I said, "Fantastic, that's on!'"
John found a perfect crimson waiter's jacket and a small black bow tie and slicked his hair back with Brylcreem with long bushy sidies and a pencil moustache, transforming himself into an obsequious waiter complete with flashing smile over clenched teeth. Paul: 'He allowed himself to make some fun of his stepfather Alfred Dygens, who we unkindly called "Twitchy" Dykans, who was a waiter. I sensed a little transference of thought there. We did talk about that hair and the little moustache.' In the film John uses a shovel to pile spaghetti on the Fat Lady's plate until the table is filled to overflowing. It is one of the most successful non-musical scenes in the film.
One musical interlude which unfortunately was not filmed occurred in a small pub in the Cornish fishing village of Perranporth. Spencer Davis and his family happened to be on holiday there when they saw a news item on the television showing the tour bus stuck on a narrow bridge outside Widecombe on their way to Cornwall. The AA and local police all had to help push and pull, among rising tempers, before the trapped vehicle was freed. Spencer Davis telephoned the Atlantic Hotel and the next day Paul, Ringo, Neil Aspinall and others drove over from Newquay to visit him in Perranporth. Spencer Davis reports in Blinds and Shutters: 'I invited some of them back to the pub in the evening ... There was a piano in the corner and Paul stuck a pint of beer on the top and started playing. People hadn't even noticed that he was in there. There was one girl who looked and said, "The piano player, look who it is!" It was so funny to see the reaction on their faces.' Paul led the pub sing-along until past 2 a.m., working his way through every pub standard in the book except 'Yellow Submarine', which he refused to play.
No one had thought to book time at Shepperton or any of the large film studios so much of the film was shot at West Mailing Air Station, near Maidstone, Kent, the only large stage the Beatles were able to get at short notice. It was here that John's 'Aunt Jessie's Dream' sequence with the spaghetti was filmed, as were most of the songs. The aerodrome was originally built during World War II as a US Army Airforce base and still had thirty-two enormous concrete blast-deflecting shields designed to protect parked bombers from anything but a direct hit. They proved to be useful in filming 'I Am the Walrus'.
PAUL: They were big tall concrete structures that we could get people up on the top of, waving their arms. We gave people rubber egg-head skull caps, and we had a walrus. It was all directly from Alice in Wonderland, the walrus, the carpenter and all that surrealist stuff. John had just written 'I Am the Walrus' and it was decided therefore it should go in the film. It is one of John's great songs and it is very Lennon.
Even now I'm a bit shy to say I was the director of Magical Mystery Tour although it was the fact: it was me that was first up in the morning, me that virtually directed the whole thing. So being the de facto director, I would go and say good night to everyone. Just to check on the team. I was saying good night to John in the hotel in Cornwall and saying thanks for doing the Nat Jackley thing. I was standing at the door and he was in bed, and we were talking about the lyrics of 'I Am the Walrus', and I remember feeling he was a little frail at that time, maybe not going through one of the best periods in life, probably breaking up with his wife. He was going through a very fragile period. You've only got to look at his lyrics - 'sitting on a cornflake waiting for the van to come'. They were very disturbed lyrics.
For the instrumental 'Flying', they decided that the music demanded a sequence of aerial shots: clouds and landscapes seen from the air. The film producer Denis O'Dell, who was to become the head of Apple Films, was already working for the inchoate Apple at the time. He had been part of the production team on Stanley Kubrick's 1963 Dr Strangelove, and remembered that they had hours of aerial shots taken while flying over the Arctic to get the final scenes where B-52S cross the pole to drop their nuclear bombs on Russia. He told Paul, 'I can get you some out-takes,' and did. They edited them together and tinted them to make it look unlike Strangelove.
Unfortunately the colour filters over the black and white originals turned the grey cloud shots even more grey and formless when the film was broadcast in monochrome on British television, so the 'Flying' section proved very boring viewing and contributed greatly to the adverse reception that Magical Mystery Tour ultimately received.
Paul edited the film with Roy Benson, one of the film editors on A Hard Day's Night. Paul: 'He and I got our heads together and I said, "Well, look, we've shot all this, and we've got clapper boards on some of it." He said, "Not on everything?" I said, "No, no. No, some of it we just shot, but I'm sure it synchs."' But not all of it did, and the biggest problem came with the musical segment 'Fool on the Hill', one of the major scenes in the film.
Paul, Mal Evans and the cameraman Aubrey Dewar had flown to Nice, on the Cote d'Azur, to film it on 30 October. Paul forgot to take a passport or any money but still managed to get through customs. 'I told them, "You know who I am so why do you need to see a photograph of me in a passport?'" They checked into a hotel and hired a taxi driver, who woke them up at 3.30 in the morning.
PAUL: We just asked the local taxi driver, 'Where is a good place to see the sunrise from?' Nice was fairly easily accessible. It had good mountain scenery and I figured we might get a good clear sunrise down there. It was the right time of the year. We all piled in the taxi and drove up into the mountains behind Nice. It took us about an hour and sunrise was in about half an hour. We unpacked the stuff from the boot, loaded up his camera, set up the tripod where we knew the sun would rise, and waited in the freezing cold. I had a big long black coat on and we just waited until the the sun arose. And I just danced around and he filmed it.
I just ad-libbed the whole thing. I went, 'Right, get over there: Let me dance. Let me jump from this rock to this rock. Get a lot of the sun rising. Get a perfect shot and let me stand in front of it.' I just had a little Philips cassette to mime to and roughly get the feeling of the song. There was no clapper because there was no sound. Just my cassette. I said, 'We'll lay in the sound of "Fool on the Hill" afterwards.' I'm miming sometimes, but of course it should be in synch, that's what clappers are for. I didn't know these small technicalities, and also I wasn't that interested in being that precise.
We stayed until the sun went down. As the day went on, the light got worse. It got to be harsh daylight, so we got less material in the daytime. We basically used all the dawn stuff. And that was it. It was very spontaneous, as was the whole of Magical Mystery Tour. Later, when we came to try to edit it all, it was very difficult because I hadn't sung it to synch.
We shouldn't have really had just one cameraman, it was anti-union. That was another reason to go to France. The unions wouldn't have allowed it in Britain, nor probably in France, but they didn't know we were doing it. It was just the four of us; there was none of this grips, best boy, gaffer, none of that. In fact, our biggest danger was that the film didn't conform with one union rule.
'Fool on the Hill' was mine and I think I was writing about someone like Maharishi. His detractors called him a fool. Because of his giggle he wasn't taken too seriously. It was this idea of a fool on the hill, a guru in a cave, I was attracted to. I remember once hearing about a hermit who missed the Second World War because he'd been in a cave in Italy, and that always appealed to me.
I was sitting at the piano in at my father's house in Liverpool hitting a D 6th chord and I made up 'Fool on the Hill'. There were some good words in it, 'perfectly still', I liked that, and the idea that everyone thinks he's stupid appealed to me, because they still do. Saviours or gurus are generally spat upon, so I thought for my generation I'd suggest that they weren't as stupid as they looked.
It was written before or during the Sgt. Pepper sessions the year before, because he first played it to John at Cavendish Avenue in March 1967 when they were working on 'With a Little Help from My Friends'. John told him to write it down but Paul assured him that he wouldn't forget it.
Paul had set aside two weeks to edit the film. It took eleven. Paul: 'So I got started with Roy but of course I now realised it was a nightmare for him. Without the clapper boards to synch it, it was murder!' They hired an editing suite from Norman's Film Productions on the corner of Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, on the second floor above a shop. Paul: 'The guys were dropping in and out, and someone was making a blue movie in the back room, and we'd go in and say, 'How's it going?' Just like being film-makers. I mean, once you were doing it day after day for eleven weeks, that was exactly what you were. Very boring.'
There was ten hours of material to choose from, which meant that the majority of scenes did not get used in the 53-minute film. However, this 10-1 ratio was quite reasonable considering that the average was 8-1. In comparison, Howard Brookner's film William Burroughs, which was shot in more or less the same way, had a 40-1 shooting ratio, so the Beatles were in fact more organised than many critics have alleged.
Paul took the film to the BBC because he wanted it to be screened nationwide, rather than selling it to all the separate commercial channels and possibly not having it shown in some parts of the country. Because of this, the BBC had him at a negotiating disadvantage. 'I went down to see Paul Fox, who was head of that department,' Paul remembered. 'We talked and he seemed to want to show it, such was our popularity and so on. He said, "Pretty strange film", and I said, "Well, it is, but you know, people like that." ' Fox offered him the derisory sum of £9,000.
PAUL: I said, 'Well, that's not an awful lot. I think you'll probably get more viewers than will warrant that as a fee,' but I thought, Well, sod it, that's not really the important thing. Then he said, 'But there's one thing I want taken out.' I said, 'What?' thinking, Oh, what have we done? Some drug reference or something a little bit naughty in there? What Paul Fox wanted out of the final edit was a scene with Ivor Cutler and the fat lady, Jessie, running around on the beach to the sound of some schmaltzy orchestral version of 'All My Loving', which he thought was insulting to old people. I thought it was a very romantic scene: Ivor running in circles around Jessie Robbins so that his footprints drew a heart shape in the sand around her and it was a little love scene. It was a completely innocent little romantic scene where they were just running on the beach somewhere down Cornwall. We just stopped the coach and I just said, 'Right, everyone, go and have lunch and we'll just do a little scene down here. Come on, Ivor, Jessie, camera,' and we went down on the beach and just made up this little scene. There was no groping or grappling or anything, but he wanted that out.
This was a typical piece of BBC prudery of the time. They had already banned 'I Am the Walrus' because of the reference to a girl taking her knickers down, but to censor a sequence of Ivor Cutler and Jessie Robbins kissing was the BBC at its worst - an act that would now be regarded as discriminatory towards both fat people and older people. The kiss itself was done with great taste, though perhaps with not enough build-up, in a sequence that lightly parodied Louis Malle's overhead shots in Les Amants (1958), which also included a Brahms string sextet. Paul Fox's delicate sensitivities were ultimately overruled within the BBC, because when the programme was repeated in 1979 the offending sequence was reinstated. The 1989 video version is also uncensored.
PAUL: I thought, as I still do, that the Beeb can give big viewing coverage to something. So their big viewing figures were on Boxing Day, which was when we wanted to do it. We wanted to take over the Bruce Forsyth slot. He was always on: 'Hello, everyone, happy Christmas! Had enough Christmas dinner?' We thought we'd had enough of all of that. We wanted to make a change, so we wanted that same big audience slot, which we got. We walked into the jaws of the lion with that, quite naively, quite willingly. It was probably a mistake really in retrospect because those people probably wanted Bruce Forsyth: everybody's had too much turkey and sherry and they're sitting back and they just want, 'Bring me sunshine ...' 'Oh, I like that,' 'Oh, they're funny.' They just want comedy, a few girls kicking their legs up and so on. But because we knew that was the peak time in Britain for people to watch telly, we wanted to have our thing shown then. The kids wanted us, so for the kids it was cool, but it got slated very heavily. It probably would have been wiser, in retrospect, to have it shown late on a Friday night and in colour.
We could have aimed it at the Bruce Forsyth thing; if we'd just gone on in our suits and played our songs and had a few guests. But we weren't into anything remotely like that and we'd made this little film of our own.
The BBC transmitted the film in black and white at 8.35 p.m. on 26 December 1967, Boxing Day evening. It was repeated in colour on 5 January 1968, but few people in Britain had colour sets, which had only been introduced six months before. It was very much a colour film and lost a great deal of its impact in monochrome. Viewers were also puzzled by the lack of a proper narrative or sequence of events since it was, literally, a mystery tour.
The critics, particularly on the tabloids like the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, used it as an excuse to savage the Beatles for what they saw as the Beatles advocating LSD, for signing the legalise-pot advertisement, and for their promotion of underground, psychedelic and hippie culture in general, which Fleet Street found immensely threatening. They knew on an instinctive level that a culture is something you live in, not just write about, and were scared of the changes they saw coming. 'If they were not the Beatles, the BBC would not have fallen for it,' said the Daily Mirror. 'Blatant rubbish,' said the right-wing Daily Express. Only the Guardian understood what the Beatles were trying to do, reviewing the film in glowing terms:'... the whole was an inspired freewheeling achievement and "I Am the Walrus" has a desperate poetry by which we will be remembered, just as an earlier desperation is remembered through Chaplin.' The following day the Guardian journalist Keith Dewhurst defended the Beatles' position after the rest of Fleet Street erupted in fury: 'My amazement is for the way in which the film has been dismissed as pretentious rubbish with no attempt to analyse content.'
PAUL: They were all looking for the plum-pudding special. That's what they were expecting, and they very much didn't get it! This very much wasn't that, loves, we weren't even intending giving you that. We were giving it to the young kids. We figured there would be young kids looking on Boxing Day. Why shouldn't they see something far out? I understand that Steven Spielberg and some of the guys in film school thought it was really cool and it was quite influential on their early stuff. Probably just the fact that it was so free. You get people like that appreciating and analysing it. Just the fact that we had the balls to go out there and had the sheer determination and perseverance to go and make it, I think validates it all now.
So vociferous was the criticism at the time that Paul went on The David Frost Show before a live television audience the day after it was shown to defend the film against his critics and told the London Evening Standard: 'I suppose if you look at it from the point of view of good Boxing Day entertainment, we goofed really.'
The American Daily Variety in its inimitable style headlined: 'Critics and Viewers Boo: Beatles Produce First Hop with Yule Film.' But was it a flop? The film cost £40,000 to make and, as Time magazine reported, it grossed $2,000,000 in rentals to American colleges alone, quite apart from the soundtrack album grossing $8,000,000 in its first ten days of release. Television companies in dozens of countries around the world bought the rights to show it. In America, where it was seen in cinemas in glorious colour rather than on black and white television, it had a much more favourable reception among its largely younger audience.
Paul: 'I put a lot of work into the film but it was credited as directed by the Beatles. In actual fact, like it, love it or hate it, it was me that directed it so I really had to carry the can when it got bad reviews, but by the same argument, I can now take the credit for the cool little film that I still think that it is.'
The film had six songs, too many for an EP but too few for an album. In Britain, EMI opted for a curious compromise and issued a double EP as a small book of stills from the film with the records in a pocket on each cover. In the USA, where EPs were virtually unknown, Capitol released the songs as an album, padding it with the Beatles' most recent singles: 'Hello Goodbye', 'Strawberry Fields Forever', 'Penny Lane', 'Baby, You're a Rich Man' and 'All You Need Is Love'. This was in turn imported back into Britain by EMI, who eventually gave in to public demand and released it themselves.
Added to the soundtrack album was the Beatles' latest single, 'Hello Goodbye', the end chorus of which was used over the closing credits of the film.
PAUL: 'Hello Goodbye' was one of my songs. There are Geminian influences here I think: the twins. It's such a deep theme in the universe, duality - man woman, black white, ebony ivory, high low, right wrong, up down, hello goodbye - that it was a very easy song to write. It's just a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive. You say goodbye, I say hello. You say stop, I say go. I was advocating the more positive side of the duality, and I still do to this day.
In his book Yesterday, Alistair Taylor says he was present at Cavendish Avenue when Paul got the first idea for 'Hello Goodbye'. He had asked Paul to explain exactly how he wrote songs:
Paul marched me into the dining room, where he had a marvellous old hand-carved harmonium. 'Come and sit at the other end of the harmonium. You hit any note you like on the keyboard. Just hit it and I'll do the same. Now whenever I shout out a word, you shout the opposite and I'll make up a tune. You watch, it'll make music' ...
'Black,' he started. 'White,' I replied. 'Yes.' 'No.' 'Good.' 'Bad.' 'Hello.' 'Goodbye.'
John had wanted 'I Am the Walrus' to be the A side of the Beatles' next single, but it was not as commercial as 'Hello Goodbye' and was relegated to the Â side. 'Hello Goodbye' became the Beatles' best-selling single since 'She Loves You', with seven weeks at the top of the English charts.
The other single included on the soundtrack album was 'Baby, You're a Rich Man', the Â side of 'All You Need Is Love'. John had an incomplete song called 'One of the the Beautiful People', based on the press articles about the emerging hippies, who had not yet been given that sobriquet. Paul already had the chorus, 'Baby, you're a rich man ...', so the two were joined together, much as they had fitted the two parts of 'A Day in the Life'.
PAUL: 'Baby, You're a Rich Man' was co-written by John and me at Cavendish Avenue. 'Tuned to a natural E' is a line I remember us writing, a slight pun on the word 'naturally' -'natural E'. There was a lot of talk in the newspapers then about the beautiful people. That was what they called them, so we figured, well, the question then was, how does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?
We recorded it at a rather exciting recording session at Olympic, in Barnes, where Keith Grant mixed it, instantly, right there. He stood up at the console as he mixed it, so it was a very exciting mix, we were really quite buzzed. I always liked that track.
The late-night session was held on 11 May 1967 and ran from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. Some of the Rolling Stones were there at the session, and the Beatles' chronicler Mark Lewisohn reports that one of the tape boxes has '+ Mick Jagger?' written on it, suggesting that they joined in the chorus at the end.
Magical Mystery Tour has stood up remarkably well over the years and can now be seen as an influence on many strands in popular culture. It gave expression to many of the ideas that were current in the sixties, particularly in its freedom from formal convention and belief in the validity of random events. It was a sort of road movie, made two years before Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider popularised the genre. More significantly, it was the vehicle for a number of prototype rock videos, some of which, like 'Fool on the Hill', could be shown on MTV in the mid-nineties and look as if they were freshly made. This is an area where the Beatles have received little credit, but in which they were the undisputed ground-breakers. If nothing else, the musical scenes make Magical Mystery Tour a memorable film and justify the claim that the Beatles invented the pop video as a form.
It has long been said that Dick Lester's film sequence of the Beatles singing 'I Should Have Known Better' in the guard's van of the train in A Hard Day's Night was the prototype pop video. They followed this up with the surreal film clips for 'Strawberry Fields Forever', which came complete with colour superimpositions, and 'Penny Lane' with its disjointed cut-up editing. Magical Mystery Tour contains five hermetic film sequences (not counting 'Flying') which provide the template for virtually every pop video made since, from the camera-through-a-prism of 'Blue Jay Way' to the surreal clowning and jump cuts of 'I Am the Walrus'. The intercut costume changes in the film made to accompany the single 'Hello Goodbye' (on the album but not in the film) have also become standard fare for rock-video makers.
In this the Beatles can be seen as Post-Modernist artists of the avant-garde: appropriating the out-takes from Dr Strangelove; dispensing with script, conventional narrative, or even any clear idea of director; collaging variety songs with hard rock 'n' roll. Just as they freed themselves from the image of the Beatles by becoming Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, now they were transforming their entire background. All the popular-cultural symbols of working-class identity - fairground barkers, coach trips, couriers and holiday-camp hostesses (Mandy Weet as the stewardess was essentially playing a Redcoat; the bus became Butlins on wheels); standing jokes about fat ladies, army sergeants, crooners, Jack-the-lads at strip shows, pub sing-alongs - all were mind-bendingly metamorphosed into a psychedelic free-for-all, complete with dwarves, contortionists, starlets and the Beatles themselves. No wonder it gave the Boxing Day audience dyspepsia.
Paul: 'If we did have to justify it, I think "I Am the Walrus" alone makes it. It's the only time John ever sang "I Am the Walrus" on film, so right there it's historical. There's quite a few good little musical scenes: "Blue Jay Way", "Fool on the Hill", "Your Mother Should Know". This is a good start, isn't it?'
John agreed and is quoted in conversation with Paul by Anthony Fawcett in his book John Lennon, One Day at a Time, saying:
I don't regret Magical Mystery, I think it was great, I think it'll prove that in the end. I just think that it was a good piece of work and we were fucked up by cameramen, but that's not important because you probably think it was more fucked up than I do, because you like professionalism, y'know. But I enjoyed the fish-and-chip quality of Magical Mystery. The fact that we went out with a load of freaks and tried to make a film is great, you know?
An awful lot of strange people came into the Beatles' orbit. There was, for instance, the TV repair man who persuaded John Lennon that he could build him a flying saucer. As the Magical Mystery Tour bus meandered around Britain, all group shots showed a new addition to Beatles circles standing smiling and waving in the centre - a young Greek who came to be known as Magic Alex. He entered their lives via Indica and John Dunbar.
On 24 November 1966, a show opened at the Indica Gallery by the Greek sculptor Takis Vasilakis. He worked with magnetic elements: metal objects suspended on wires held in space at strange angles by electromagnetic fields, military compasses, flashing lights and tank antennas. Paul bought one of the Signals, two flashing lights on metal wands, and so did John and George. Ringo allegedly had his chauffeur knock one up in the garage. A frequent visitor to the show was Takis's ex-wife Liliane Lijn, who was also a sculptor. She and John Dunbar became friends and he went to see her work: large hinged metal panels that could be arranged in different configurations on the floor. He liked it and in March 1967 she too had a show at the Indica Gallery.
Liliane introduced John to a friend of hers, a 21-year-old Greek called John Alexis Mardas who had entered England as a student but now worked as a television repairer for Olympic Electronics. To the London lads at the TV repair shop he was known simply as Yanni Mardas. In his spare time he built a box with a group of small lights on the front that flashed on and off in a random pattern. It was just a fun object with no practical application but seemed incredibly amusing to someone on an acid trip. Despite his thick accent, Alexis could spin a tale and told John Dunbar about the fantastic ideas he had for new inventions. However, when he learned that John had studied science as well as art at Cambridge, he quickly toned down his suggestions to ideas that were practical.
'He was quite cunning in the way he pitched his thing,' John Dunbar remembered, 'because he knew that I knew all that kind of stuff. He wasn't a complete charlatan in the sense that he didn't know anything. He did. And he knew enough to know how to wind people up and to what extent. He was a fucking TV repairman: Yanni Mardas, none of this "Magic Alex" shit!'
At the time, however, John Dunbar was quite taken by Mardas and they became good friends. John was working with a number of kinetic artists and thought that it might be a good plan to combine some of his own artistic ideas with Alexis's inventions and knowledge of electronics. He suggested that he and Alexis form a partnership to exploit Alexis's ideas, with John setting up the jobs and getting publicity. Though Marianne Faithfull had by this time left John for Mick Jagger, John still saw her when he went to collect their son Nicholas for weekends, and in the course of these visits he inevitably saw a fair amount of Mick Jagger. The first job he arranged was for Alexis and himself to do the lights on a three-week Rolling Stones tour of Europe which began on 25 March 1967 in Orebro, Sweden, and took them all through Germany, Austria and Italy to finish at the Athens football stadium on 17 April.
Alexis and John's contribution was a system of spotlights that Alex had designed which not only would respond electronically to the rhythm of the music but would change colour with the pitch and tone. 'It didn't always work,' John recalls, 'but it worked quite a lot of the time.' The Stones, however, were not impressed and John began looking for other sponsors.
John Dunbar was still seeing a great deal of John Lennon, taking a lot of acid with him, so he was the most obvious person to approach for funds. After Marianne had left him, Dunbar moved first into Indica Gallery itself, then found himself a flat on Bentinck Street, across the road from his parents' flat. John Lennon would sometimes visit and Paul also stopped by. Around the fireplace the wall was covered with doodles and signatures to which both John Lennon and Paul had contributed - it was a very sixties pad. Dunbar recalls taking acid with both of them there. Not long after he moved in, Alexis Mardas joined him to share the rent, and consequently soon got to know Lennon. John Lennon was enormously taken by Alexis's ideas and gave him the sobriquet Magic Alex. Alex quickly ingratiated himself and moved to protect Lennon from any influence other than his own, including that of John Dunbar.
Paul remembers how Alexis joined the Beatles' circle:
We were all meeting one morning in my house before a recording session or something, and John showed up with Alex, like two little flower children with necklaces on and bouncing blond hair and John with his sporran, the little money-bag pouch he used to have. I remember John sitting on the floor in front of me saying, 'This is my new guru: Magic Alex.' That was how he arrived. John named him. And a little voice inside me went, 'Hrnmmm. Oh, wow, gosh! I hope that's right, John. That's a very sweeping statement, you know.' Okay, 'Guru in what way?' 'Oh, you know.' I think John wasn't all that keen on the idea of just automatically getting hooked with an Indian guru, a teacher, that would show you the path. But he saw the wisdom of such an idea, of such an apprenticeship. So he'd probably been talking to Alex, chatting about all these far-out things and suddenly thought, You're my new guru! This is the future! So we all got to meet Alex and he was fun, and Alex became part of the group.
Because John had introduced him as a guru, there was perhaps a little pressure on him to try and behave as a guru. I didn't treat him that way, I thought he was just some guy with interesting ideas: 'Alex, there you go, mate.' And let him do his guru stuff, whatever he wanted to do. We didn't really call anyone's bluff, it would have been a bit too aggressive. So we just let him get on with it.
Alex's original ideas were all theoretically possible given the existing technology, though the computing power needed at that time would have made them prohibitively expensive: they included a telephone that you told whom you wanted to call, which dialled the number using voice recognition, and one that displayed the telephone number of an incoming call before you answered, both of which were already in prototype at the Bell Telephone labs in New York, though the Beatles didn't know that. From these he moved on to greater flights of imagination: an X-ray camera that could see through walls, so you could see people in bed or in the shower. A force field that would surround a building with coloured air so that no one could see in. A force field of compressed air that would stop anyone rear-ending your car. A house that would hover in the air, suspended on an invisible beam like something out of a Flash Gordon movie - which may well have been where he got the idea.
George Harrison commented in his autobiography:
What Magic Alex did was pick up on the latest inventions, show them to us and we'd think he'd invented them. We were naive to the teeth ... I was going to give him the V12 engine out of my Ferrari Berlinetta and John was going to give him his, and Alex reckoned that with those two V12 engines he could make a flying saucer. But we'd have given them to him - 'Go on, go for it!' - daft buggers.
Paul: 'He would sit and tell us of how it would be possible to have wallpapers which were speakers, so you would wallpaper your room with some sort of substance and then it could be plugged into and the whole wall would vibrate and work as a loudspeaker - "loudpaper". And we said, "Well, if you could do that, we'd like one." It was always "We'd like one.'"
Most of the Beatles' friends were not impressed with Alexis. He did not like to discuss his ideas with anyone who knew anything about science or electronics, such as George Martin, because they might demonstrate to John why they wouldn't work. It seemed very much that Alexis had a subscription to Popular Science and the Beatles didn't. In retrospect Paul agreed:
It certainly could have been just that! I think, to give him his due, he knew a little more than that but I wouldn't put that past him because that was the kind of thing he was able to tell about. And we would say, 'But is it really possible, or is this just some sort of theory?' and he would insist that it was really possible. You would be able to have telephones that responded to voices, etcetera, and he said, 'It's possible now, the technology is around but nobody's really putting all this together.'
The Greek Islands
The technological future wasn't Alex's only passport to the group. One of John Lennon's big fantasies was that the Beatles, their friends and staff would all live in a protected compound on an island, free from outside interference. Derek Taylor described John's vision in his autobiography:
The four Beatles and Brian would have their network at the centre of the compound: a dome of glass and iron tracery not unlike the old Crystal Palace over the mutual creative/play area, from which arbours and avenues would lead off like spokes from a wheel to the four vast and incredibly beautiful separate living units. In the outer grounds, the houses of the inner clique: Neil, Mai, Terry and Derek, complete with partners, families and friends ...
Marianne Faithfull remembered Paul's reaction to the idea:
John wanted them all to live together on an island. I remember him talking about it, saying, 'What has to happen is that all of us, the Beatles ...' and of course for Paul this was a nightmare, the last thing Paul wanted to do was live on some fucking island, whether it was in Ireland or Greece, wherever it was, with John, George and Ringo and their wives and their roadies, and Mal and Neil, all on an island. This was John's vision and they all had to do this. And of course Paul was, 'Yeechhhhhh.' There were going to be a few other people, like John Dunbar. But it was just awful for Paul and I remember him talking about this and saying, 'Well, I guess they'll never get it together.' Paul was really much more sophisticated than John ever was.
Alex seized on John's dream as a way to get involved with the Beatles and their finances. He quickly sold the idea to John that the Beatles' compound should be on a Greek island. Greece had been taken over in April 1967 by a fascist military junta. Democracy had been suspended, anyone opposed to the junta was hunted down and tortured, the press was strictly censored and thousands of politicians, students and intellectuals were leaving the country. Long hair and rock 'n' roll had been banned. Naturally, the press of the Western democracies was unanimous in its denunciation of the imposition of military rule. To Alex it was obvious that having the Beatles buy a Greek island would help counter the negative press that the military regime was attracting.
Alex claimed that his father was a high-up member of the secret police, though this may have been another fantasy. His boasting about a connection to the military junta did little to endear him to the Beatles' other friends, who thought he was exploiting John Lennon's gullibility. But John wanted his Beatles commune, so Alistair Taylor from Brian Epstein's office flew out to look at real estate with Alexis. After several false starts, they found the perfect place: the island of Leslo, of about 80 acres, with four idyllic beaches and four smaller habitable islands surrounding it - one for each Beatle. The entire property was for sale for £90,000, including a small fishing village of traditional white-painted houses grouped around a harbour filled with brightly coloured fishing boats and 16 acres of olive groves.
Alistair Taylor reported back and on 20 July 1967, George and Patti, Ringo and Neil flew to Athens, followed two days later by Paul and Jane, John and Cynthia with Julian, and Patti's sixteen-year-old sister Paula, Alistair Taylor and Mal Evans. Maureen remained in Britain because she was in the last stages of pregnancy. They were welcomed with open arms by Alex's father. According to Peter Brown, Alex had done a deal with the Greek authorities that if the Beatles were given diplomatic immunity - that is to say, their bags would not be searched and their drugs would not be found - then the Beatles would pose for press photographs for the Ministry of Tourism.
PAUL: Alex invited John on a boat holiday in Greece, and we were all then invited. There was some story of buying a Greek island or something. It was all so sort of abstract but the first thing we had to do is go to Greece and see if we even liked it out there. The idea was get an island where you can just do what you want, a sort of hippie commune where nobody'd interfere with your lifestyle. I suppose the main motivation for that would probably be no one could stop you smoking. Drugs was probably the main reason for getting some island, and then all the other community things that were around then - 'Oh, we'll paint together. We'll do this. I'll chop wood.'
I think that if you're going to write a great symphony or you're going to rehearse the greatest string quartet in the world, it's fair enough to cut yourself off. It's just a practical matter; give yourself lots of time and if you're going to do that, then why shouldn't it be in Greece? It was a drug-induced ambition, we'd just be sitting around: 'Wouldn't it be great? The lapping water, sunshine, we'd be playing. We'd get a studio there. Well, it's possible these days with mobiles and ...' We had lots of ideas like that. The whole Apple enterprise was the result of those ideas.
The Beatles hired a luxury yacht to cruise among the islands but it was held up by a storm off Crete so they were delayed in Athens for a few days. Alex arranged a few sightseeing trips to keep them from being bored, but he also kept the Greek tourist authorities informed of their timetable so wherever they went there were crowds of people following. Alistair Taylor wrote: 'Once on a trip to a hill village, we came round a corner of the peaceful road only to find hundreds of photographers clicking away at us.' The Beatles accepted an invitation from the Oxford University Dramatic Society to attend a performance of Agamemnon by Aeschylus on 23 July at the theatre at Delphi, the ancient Greek shrine on the lower southern slopes of Parnassos overlooking the gulf of Corinth. It could have been a delightful trip, but once again, Alexis had given the tourist authorities advance notice and they broadcast their upcoming attendance at the performance on Athens Radio. Consequently, when they arrived in Delphi, they were assailed by crowds and persistent journalists. They retired to their Mercedes limousine and returned to Athens immediately without seeing the play.
The yacht, the MV Arvi, finally arrived. It had twenty-four berths and a crew of eight, including the captain, a chef and two stewards. First they went island-hopping, spending the days swimming, sunbathing, making music and taking drugs. Then they set sail to inspect the potential Beatles island commune. After a full day exploring the island, planning where the recording studio would be located and who would have which island for their dream houses, Alistair Taylor was told to fly straight back to London and arrange to buy the property. This was at a time when it was difficult to transfer money out of Britain and the Beatles had to apply to the government for permission to spend £90,000 abroad. Taylor eventually got the clearance but by then the Beatles' enthusiasm had cooled.
PAUL: We went on the boat and sat around and took acid. It was good fun being with everyone, with nippier moments. For me the pace was a bit wearing. I probably could have done with some straight windows occasionally, I'd have enjoyed it a bit more. But nothing came of that, because we went out there and thought, We've done it now. That was it for a couple of weeks. Great, wasn't it? Now we don't need it. Having been out there, I don't think we needed to go back. Probably the best way to not buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit.
In the meantime, the value of their £90,000 worth of property dollars had risen so when Alistair Taylor sold them back to the government, the Beatles made £11,400 profit on the deal.
Expanding the Field of Consciousness
'It's a good job we didn't do it,' Paul said, 'because anyone who tried those ideas realised eventually there would always be arguments, there would always be who has to do the washing-up and whose turn it is to clean out the latrines. I don't think any of us were thinking of that.'
Paul first took LSD in 1966 with his friend Tara Browne. Tara lived in Eaton Row, a quiet dead-end mews in Belgravia just off Eaton Square, and was often to be seen in Sibylla's and the Bag o'Nails with his girlfriend Suki Potier. At the end of an evening, Paul had gone back to Tara 's mews house with Patrick, a dancer on the Ready Steady Go! TV show; Viv Prince, drummer with the Pretty Things; and several girls.
PAUL: Tara was taking acid on blotting paper in the toilet. He invited me to have some. I said, 'I'm not sure, you know.' I was more ready for the drink or a little bit of pot or something. I'd not wanted to do it, I'd held off like a lot of people were trying to, but there was massive peer pressure. And within a band, it's more than peer pressure, it's fear pressure. It becomes trebled, more than just your mates, it's, 'Hey, man, this whole band's had acid, why are you holding out? What's the reason, what is it about you?' So I knew I would have to out of peer pressure alone. And that night I thought, well, this is as good a time as any, so I said, 'Go on then, fine.' So we all did it.
We stayed up all night. It was quite spacy. Everything becomes more sensitive. Later, I was to have some more pleasant trips with the guys and outdoors, which was nicer. I was never that in love with it all, but it was a thing you did. I remember John saying, 'You never are the same after it,' and I don't think any of us ever were. It was such a mind-expanding thing. I saw paisley shapes and weird things, and for a guy who wasn't that keen on getting that weird, there was a disturbing element to it. I remember looking at my shirtsleeves and seeing they were dirty and not being too pleased with that, whereas normally you wouldn't even notice. But you noticed and you heard. Everything was supersensitive.
We sat around all evening. Viv Prince was great fun. Someone said, 'Do you want a drink?' And every one would say, 'No thanks, don't need drink, this is plenty.' If anything, we might smoke a joint. But Viv demolished the drinks tray: 'Oh yeah, a drink!' Cockney drummer with the Pretty Things. 'Orrright, yeah! Nah, does anyone want a drink? I fink I'll 'ave one of them.' And he had the whisky and he had everything. He was having a trip but his was somehow a more wired version than anyone else's. In the morning we ended up sending him out for ciggies.
Then one of the serious secretaries from our office rang about an engagement I had; she had traced me to here. 'Um, can't talk now. Important business' or something. I just got out of it. 'But you're supposed to be at the office.' 'No. I've got 'flu.' Anything I could think. I got out of that one because there was no way I could go to the office after that.
Then I had it on a few of occasions after that and I always found it amazing. Sometimes it was a very very deeply emotional experience, making you want to cry, sometimes seeing God or sensing all the majesty and emotional depth of everything. And sometimes you were just plain knackered, because it would be like sitting up all night in a train station, and by the morning you've grown very stiff and it's not a party any more. It's like the end of an all-nighter but you haven't danced. You just sat. So your bum might be sore, just from sitting. I was often quite wiped out by it all but I always thought, Well, you know, everybody's doing it.
This is why I am always keen to warn people about peer pressure. I've certainly experienced it. It was quite freaky but I guess it was something I wouldn't want to have missed in many ways. I had mixed feelings about it, certainly, but we took it and in songs like 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', when we were talking about 'cellophane flowers' and 'kaleidoscope eyes' and 'grow so incredibly high!', we were talking about drug experiences, no doubt about it.
Paul took his second trip with John. On Tuesday 21 March 1967, during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, John, Paul and George were overdubbing vocals on to a track of 'Getting Better' in Studio Two at Abbey Road. John took out the little silver art nouveau pill box that he had bought from Liberty's and rummaged among his pep pills. Paul: 'He would open it up and choose very precisely: "Hmm, hmmm, hmmm. What shall I have now?" Well, by mistake this night he had acid, and he was on a trip.'
John went upstairs to the control room to tell George Martin that he was feeling unwell. George Martin reports the incident in Summer of Love; 'He suddenly looked up at me. "George," he said slowly, "I'm not feeling too good. I'm not focusing on me." "Come on, John," I said. "What you need is a breath of fresh air. I know the way up to the roof."' Just as John was explaining how amazing the stars were looking, Paul and George came rushing out on the flat roof. They knew that John was tripping and when they found out where George had taken him they ran anxiously to restrain him in case he thought he could fly off the unguarded parapet.
John told Rolling Stone: 'I never took it in the studio. Once I did, actually. I thought I was taking some uppers, and I was not in the state of handling it ... I suddenly got so scared on the mike. I said, "What is it? I feel ill..."'
The session was cancelled. For some reason John did not have his car there, and in any case did not want to travel while having a bad trip, so Paul took him back to Cavendish Avenue.
PAUL: I thought, Maybe this is the moment where I should take a trip with him. It's been coming for a long time. It's often the best way, without thinking about it too much, just slip into it. John's on it already, so I'll sort of catch up. It was my first trip with John, or with any of the guys. We stayed up all night, sat around and hallucinated a lot.
Me and John, we'd known each other for a long time. Along with George and Ringo, we were best mates. And we looked into each other's eyes, the eye contact thing we used to do, which is fairly mind-boggling. You dissolve into each other. But that's what we did, round about that time, that's what we did a lot. And it was amazing. You're looking into each other's eyes and you would want to look away, but you wouldn't, and you could see yourself in the other person. It was a very freaky experience and I was totally blown away.
There's something disturbing about it. You ask yourself, 'How do you come back from it? How do you then lead a normal life after that?' And the answer is, you don't. After that you've got to get trepanned or you've got to meditate for the rest of your life. You've got to make a decision which way you're going to go.
I would walk out into the garden - 'Oh no, I've got to go back in.' It was very tiring, walking made me very tired, wasted me, always wasted me. But 'I've got to do it, for my well-being.' In the meantime John had been sitting around very enigmatically and I had a big vision of him as a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity. It was a good trip. It was great but I wanted to go to bed after a while.
I'd just had enough after about four or five hours. John was quite amazed that it had struck me in that way. John said, 'Go to bed? You won't sleep!' 'I know that, I've still got to go to bed.' I thought, now that's enough fun and partying, now ... It's like with drink. That's enough. That was a lot of fun, now I gotta go and sleep this off. But of course you don't just sleep off an acid trip so I went to bed and hallucinated a lot in bed. I remember Mai coming up and checking that I was all right. 'Yeah, I think so.' I mean, I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all. It was quite strange. Of course he was just sitting there, very inscrutably.
Though Sgt. Pepper is always regarded as a drug album, the only member of the group really taking a lot of drugs was John. Paul probably only had two acid trips during the three months the album took to record and only took it about four or five times altogether. The others, too, rarely used anything stronger than pot. The one hard drug used during the making of Sgt. Pepper was cocaine, then not widely in circulation. It featured in old blues songs - 'Cocaine, goin' round my brain.' It had been fashionable in society circles in the twenties; Johnny Cash had sung about it; but outside of a few hip musicians and artists, it was not easily available until the end of the sixties.
Inevitably it was Robert Fraser who introduced Paul to cocaine. Robert always had a selection of drugs with him when he came down to the Sgt. Pepper sessions. He usually had two test tubes, the sort used in chemistry labs, one containing cocaine and the other speedballs: a mixture of cocaine and heroin. He offered them around freely and though the Beatles stayed well clear of the speedballs, others of their visitors were happy to indulge.
PAUL: He walked in with a little phial of white powder. 'What's that?' 'Cocaine.' 'Shit, that smells just like what the dentist used to give us.' To this day, I swear as kids in Liverpool we were given cocaine to deaden the gums. People say no, that will have been Novocaine, but I think that was much later. I recognise the smell from the dentist; it's a medical smell coke can have. Anyway, that was my first thought about it.
I liked the paraphernalia. I liked the ritualistic end of it. I was particularly amused by rolling up a pound note. There was a lot of symbolism in that: sniffing it through money! For Sgt. Pepper I used to have a bit of coke and then smoke some grass to balance it out.
So Robert introduced me to it, and I know the other guys were a bit shocked at me and said, 'Hey, man, you know this is like, "now you're getting into drugs". This is more than pot.' I remember feeling a little bit superior and patting them on the head, symbolically, and saying, 'No. Don't worry, guys. I can handle it.' And as it happened, I could. What I enjoyed was the ritual of meeting someone and them saying, 'Have you seen the toilets in this place?' And you'd know what they meant. 'Oh no, are they particularly good?' And you'd wander out to the toilets and you'd snort a bit of stuff. Robert and I did that for a bit. It wasn't ever too crazy; eventually I just started to think - I think rightly now - that this doesn't work. You've got to put too much in to get too little high out it. I did it for about a year and I got off it.
I'd been in a club in London and somebody there had some and I'd snorted it. I remember going to the toilet, and I met Jimi Hendrix on the way. 'Jimi! Great, man,' because I love that guy. But then as I hit the toilet, it all wore off! And I started getting this dreadful melancholy. I remember walking back and asking, 'Have you got any more?' because the whole mood had just dropped, the bottom had dropped out, and I remember thinking then it was time to stop it.
I thought, this is not clever, for two reasons. Number one, you didn't stay high. The plunge after it was this melancholy plunge which I was not used to. I had quite a reasonable childhood so melancholy was not really much part of it, even though my mum dying was a very bad period, so for anything that put me in that kind of mood it was like, 'Huh, I'm not paying for this! Who needs that?' The other reason was just a physical thing with the scraunching round the back of the neck, when it would get down the back of your nose, and it would all go dead! This was what reminded me of the dentist. It was exactly the same feeling as the stuff to numb your teeth.
I remember when I stopped doing it. I went to America just after Pepper came out, and I was thinking of stopping it. And everyone there was taking it, all these music business people, and I thought, no.
Apart from John's accidental trip, the Beatles never took acid in the studio. Most of their recording, from Help! onwards, was assisted by cups of tea, fish and chips or Chinese take-aways, and maybe marijuana. Pot was illegal and though the police must have known that the Beatles used it, they had so far ignored the fact. Throughout the sixties, until the police corruption trials of the early and mid-seventies, the Drug Squad was itself involved with the sale of drugs and so it was selective about whom it brought to trial. If money was paid to the right people, it was also possible to avoid a trial, or for the evidence, which in many cases the police brought with them, mysteriously to transform itself into a bag of oregano or talcum powder. By the beginning of 1967, many thousands of people were smoking pot, not just in London but all across the country, encouraged by the spread of sixties attitudes through rock 'n' roll songs, magazine articles, psychedelic layouts in teen magazines, the underground press and the grim warnings issued by parents, police and teachers. The big outdoor rock festivals, which were to spread the word even more efficiently by example and sample, had not yet been invented. The first one, at Monterey in California, was in June 1967.
At the same time, people were going to prison for six months or a year for simple possession of a small quantity of the drug. The situation was similar to Prohibition in the USA, with such a large percentage of the population breaking the law that respect for the law itself was diminishing. The law against marijuana had been introduced as part of a general prohibition against hallucinogenic and addictive drugs at a time when its use was virtually unknown in Britain. Now that so many people were using it, the situation had obviously changed and needed reassessment. In 1964 for the first time more whites than blacks were arrested for pot and by 1967 it was no longer contained within the West Indian and jazz communities, but had become a white middle-class problem. The situation was exacerbated by the sleazy end of Fleet Street running stories about 'drug orgies', particularly ones that hadn't happened.
It was against this background that some of the most prominent members of British society committed themselves to a call for a change in the law. They declared themselves to an outraged establishment with the publication in The Times, on Monday 24 July 1967, of a full-page advertisement headed: 'The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.' The extensive text opened by presenting informed medical opinion that marijuana was not addictive and had no harmful effects; and it sparked a resounding public debate.
There are no long lasting ill-effects from the acute use of marijuana and no fatalities have ever been recorded ... there seems to be growing agreement within the medical community, at least, that marijuana does not directly cause criminal behaviour, juvenile delinquency, sexual excitement, or addiction. Dr J. H. Jaffe, The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. L. Goodman and A Gillman, eds. 3rd edn. 1965
The available evidence shows that marijuana is not a drug of addiction and has no harmful effects ... [the problem of marijuana] has been created by an ill-informed society rather than the drug itself. Guy's Hospital Gazette 17, 1967.
One of the three columns of text presented a petition which read:
The signatories to this petition suggest to the Home Secretary that he implement a five-point programme of cannabis law reform:
1. The government should permit and encourage research into all aspects of cannabis use, including its medical applications.
2. Allowing the smoking of cannabis on private premises should no longer constitute an offence.
3. Cannabis should be taken off the dangerous drugs list and controlled, rather than prohibited, by a new ad hoc instrument.
4. Possession of cannabis should either be legally permitted or at most be considered a misdemeanour, punishable by a fine of not more than £10 for a first offence and not more than £25 for any subsequent offence.
5. All persons now imprisoned for possession of cannabis or for allowing cannabis to be smoked on private premises should have their sentences commuted.
The petition was signed by sixty-five of the leading names in British society, including such luminaries as Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule and a Nobel laureate; the novelist Graham Greene; and Members of Parliament, as well as the photographer David Bailey, the theatre director Peter Brook, broadcaster David Dimbleby, Dr R. D. Laing, Dr Jonathan Miller, the critic Kenneth Tynan and scientist Francis Huxley. The list contained medical and psychological doctors, several well-known artists and four Members of the Order of the British Empire, and Brian Epstein. The media reacted with horror and outrage, and questions were asked in Parliament. Who was responsible? Clearly not the unknown organisation SOMA, who had placed the ad? A page in The Times then cost £1,800, twice the average annual wage. The finger of suspicion pointed towards the Members of the Order of the British Empire.
The year 1967 was marked by a police crackdown on drugs. Many premises were raided and people arrested; some were able to buy their way out, others not. The most celebrated raid was upon Keith Richards' house in West Wittering, Sussex, where Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Gibbs, Robert Fraser and others had gathered for a country weekend. Another guest was David 'Acid King' Schneiderman, also known as Dave Britton, who was later alleged to have been in the pay of the News of the World as a police informer.
The house was under surveillance by the police, acting on a tip-off that drugs were being used on the premises, and it is generally thought that they waited for George Harrison and Patti to leave before launching their raid. Though the News of the World predictably denied that they had paid someone in the Stones camp to act as informer, it was widely believed that Schneiderman was the culprit. In the course of the famous bust (during which Marianne, who had just taken a bath, was wearing only a fur rug, and Christopher Gibbs the Pakistani national dress), Robert was chased through the garden and rugby-tackled by two policewomen, found to be in possession of twenty-four jacks of heroin and arrested. The police threw away all the cocaine, not knowing what it was, but took for analysis the bottles of Ambre Solaire suntan lotion and, inexplicably, all the bars of complimentary soap that Keith had brought home from hotels around the world. They pointedly ignored David Schneiderman's large aluminium briefcase, which was packed to the seams with every conceivable illegal substance.
Robert Fraser had the most to lose because he was in possession of heroin. Mick only had four legally obtained amphetamine tablets; and while Keith was told he would be liable for allowing his premises to be used, the only drugs actually found on the premises were in the pockets of Schneiderman, who was carrying two types of hash and a bag of grass.
Robert was anxious to get help, and according to the entirely unreliable 'Spanish Tony', a drug-dealer friend of the Stones, £8,000 was handed to the police in a bar in Kilburn. Spanish Tony: 'Not one word of the raid had appeared in any newspaper; no summonses had been issued; it was as though the raid had never happened ..." In her autobiography Marianne Faithfull maintains that the story is 'a complete myth' and that no money changed hands.
The next weekend the News of the World ran a carefully worded article headed 'Drug Squad Raid Pop Stars' Party'. None of the other papers had the story because the police had not announced it and no charges had been brought. It was immediately picked up by the other Sunday newspapers for their later editions, and by the dailies on Monday.
On 10 May 1967, Mick, Keith and Robert appeared in court at Chichester in West Sussex, to be remanded on bail. That same day the police increased their pressure by raiding Brian Jones's flat at 1 Courtfield Road and arresting him for possession of pot. Now they had all three leading Rolling Stones.
The police crackdown on drugs and the underground continued when on 1 June 1967, John Hopkins, known to his friends as Hoppy, one of the founders of International Times, the organiser of the UFO Club, the famous 14 Hour Technicolour Dream and other underground events, was sentenced to nine months in Wormwood Scrubs for possession of a small quantity of pot. He had been arrested on 30 December 1966, during a police raid on his flat in Queensway. The other defendants in the case, his flatmates and girlfriend, were cleared by the magistrates' court, but Hoppy elected to go to trial by jury. The judge, A. Gordon Friend, passed the stiff sentence after Hoppy explained to the court that pot was harmless and that the law should be changed. The judge told him, 'I have just heard what your views are on the possession of cannabis and the smoking of it. This is not a matter I can overlook. You are a pest to society.'
The following day there was an emergency gathering in the back room of the Indica Bookshop on Southampton Row to discuss tactics. Steve Abrams, who ran a drug-research organisation called SOMA, told the meeting that the best way to get the law changed would be to influence the committee that the government had set up two months earlier to examine the question of drugs and society. On 7 April that year, the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins had appointed Baroness Wootton of Abinger to head a separate 'Sub-committee on Hallucinogens' of the Advisory Council on Drug Dependence. Steve believed that it was possible to affect the deliberations of this committee by bringing the whole issue of soft drugs and the law into the public debate by running a full-page advertisement in The Times.
Steve was confident that if Baroness Wootton's committee concentrated on the social and medical effects of marijuana alone, they would reach the same conclusion as the two previous major official studies: the Indian Hemp Commission of 1893-94 appointed by the government of India, and the Report by the Mayor's Committee on Marijuana, carried out for New York City Mayor LaGuardia in 1944, which had both concluded that marijuana was non-addictive and harmless.
The idea of placing such an advertisement was approved by the assembled underground activists as an excellent idea, particularly as Steve was prepared to do all the work in organising it; the main problem was where to find the money to finance the ad.
As the initial meeting in Indica's back room broke up, Miles telephoned Paul, who was horrified to hear that Hoppy had been jailed. Following on the arrests of Mick, Keith, Robert and Brian, it seemed as though the world was closing in on previously charmed lives.
The police had already tried once to close down International Times and there was a fear expressed at the meeting that Hoppy's arrest might herald a new attack on the paper. Paul advocated calm and said that he would get IT the best lawyers if that happened. Miles explained Steve Abrams's plan for an ad in The Times and Paul offered to put up most of the money. He said 'we', meaning the Beatles, and said to come over the next day.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and Paul had the french windows to the garden open wide to allow a slight breeze into the living room. Steve seemed to be in some trouble, pursing his lips, taking tiny little steps and muttering something about a chemical he had taken before the meeting being rather stronger than he expected. Nonetheless he had the idea very thoroughly worked out in his head, and named some important names whom he thought would sign the advertisement. Paul agreed to organise the money, told Steve that all the Beatles and Brian Epstein would put their names to it, and explained how to contact the other Beatles for their signatures. As Miles and Steve left, Paul offered Steve a copy of Sgt. Pepper from a big pile on a table to the right of the living-room door. 'No thanks, I've already heard it,' said Steve, and began to laugh. Paul smiled.
The trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Fraser at Chichester Crown Court began on Monday, 27 June. On Thursday 30th, Judge Block pronounced sentence. Keith's was the worst: one year's imprisonment and £500 towards the costs for allowing his house to be used for smoking cannabis, even though he was a first offender, had not been found in possession, and the only person who had - Schneiderman - had not been charged and had mysteriously been allowed to leave the country. Mick was given three months in prison for possession of four amphetamine tablets, bought legally over the counter in Italy. Robert was given six months in jail for possession and £200 prosecution costs. He had been remanded in custody during the trial. Lord Chief Justice Parker had dismissed Robert's leave to appeal, saying,
Where heroin is concerned the court is satisfied that, in the ordinary way, if there are no special circumstances, the public interest demands that some form of detention should be imposed ... Heroin has been termed in argument a killer, and it must be remembered that anyone who takes heroin puts themselves body and soul into the hands of the supplier. They have no moral resistance to any pressure being brought to bear on them.
Robert had no choice but to serve his time in Wormwood Scrubs.
That night there was a spontaneous demonstration outside the News of the World building; the first time anyone had demonstrated in Fleet Street since World War I. The police turned their dogs on the protesters, there was panic, a scuffle and six people were arrested. The demonstrations continued until the early hours of the morning when the daily papers were being put to bed, again highlighting the generation gap which caused the clash of attitudes: no one but young people would demonstrate at the dead of night.
The next day, Friday, Mick and Keith were released on bail and there were further demonstrations outside the News of the World. On Saturday night there were more demonstrations, this time with many arrests, including Hoppy's girlfriend Suzy Creamcheese. Mick Farren from International Times was beaten up by the police, as were many others. But the point had already been made; on the same day, William Rees-Mogg, the editor of The Times, published an editorial leader, headed 'Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?,' condemning, in the politest possible terms, the sentences on Mick and Keith. In commenting upon the sentences before the appeal was heard, Rees-Mogg was making himself liable for contempt of court, but since the newspaper was The Times and his leader was couched in terms of public interest, he pulled it off. This opened the floodgates and virtually the whole of Fleet Street followed The Times's lead in criticism of the harshness of the sentences, leaving the News of the World sidelined.
Robert's artists were horrified by his jail sentence and Richard Hamilton had the idea of keeping the gallery open by mounting a group exhibition to show their solidarity. Many artists, such as Bridget Riley and Harold Cohen, had left the gallery after arguments over money - Robert had not paid them for paintings he had sold -but the only one to refuse to send along an important work was Eduardo Paolozzi. Hamilton himself had been swindled by Robert, who had used some of his paintings as collateral for a Magritte; Magritte's dealer Alexandre Iolas kept the Hamiltons when Robert did not pay him. 'Robert was a charming, if not very convincing, liar,' said Richard Hamilton, 'but on the other hand, he had a wonderful eye for a painting, he adored art and loved what his artists were doing.'
The group show opened at the Robert Fraser Gallery on 10 June 1967. Robert subscribed to a cuttings agency which normally supplied press reviews of his art exhibitions. The tremendous publicity generated by the trial of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meant that Robert's name appeared in literally hundreds of newspapers and a huge mound of clippings piled up at the gallery. Richard Hamilton used them as collage material to make his print series Swingeing London, which has as its central image a photograph of Fraser and Jagger handcuffed together. The Tate Gallery wanted to buy a copy, but Robert's mother, who headed the Friends of the Tate, intervened. Robert was outraged. After protracted arguments, the Tate did eventually buy one of the edition.
Meanwhile preparations for the pot ad were going ahead. It was trailed by Philip Oates's Atticus column in the Sunday Times, which revealed that all four Beatles would be among those contributing to the cost of the advertisement. Then, on the eve of publication, when Steve Abrams went to approve the proofs, the advertising manager, a Mr Davison, got cold feet and delayed publication until he checked that all those named had indeed signed. He also, not surprisingly, insisted on advance payment for the ad. Steve Abrams called up Peter Brown at Brian Epstein's office, who sent round a personal cheque for £1,800 made out to The Times. Paul had wanted to keep the source of the money a secret, fearing adverse publicity, but the information was in the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary the very next day. It was impossible to keep a secret like that in Fleet Street; the Standard reporter was told the source by his own editor.
The advertisement when it appeared caused a furore. It was debated in the House of Commons on the day of its publication. The minister of state Alice Bacon gave a speech in which she claimed that 97 per cent of heroin addicts 'started on cannabis', statistics which she appeared to have made up; and, in a rambling, racist speech, blamed the use of cannabis and LSD on the importation of Negro music and Indian spirituality. She told the House of her experience under the hair drier, where she had read a copy of Queen magazine: 'There is a very long article in it called "The Love Generation". I was horrified by some of the things I read in it.' She then read a quote by Paul McCartney to the House: 'God is everything. God is in the space between us. God is in the table in front of you. God is everything and everywhere and everyone. It just happens that I've realised all this through acid.' She contrasted Paul's statement to one by 'a little pop singer called Lulu' who said, 'People talk about this love, love, love thing as if you have to be on drugs before you can be part of it. In fact love is far older than pop and goes right back to Jesus. I'm a believer.' Though this view in no way contradicted Paul's statement, the minister of state commended Lulu for her views and castigated Paul for his. She did, however, say that the issues raised by the advertisement would be considered by the Wootton subcommittee, and she committed the government to taking the Wootton Report into consideration when framing new legislation.
On 31 July, a week after the advertisement appeared, Keith Richards's conviction for allowing his premises to be used for smoking pot was quashed on appeal, and Mick's prison sentence was reduced to a conditional discharge. The ad had specifically asked for the premises offence to be abolished and the publicity and debate generated may well have influenced the appeal court's decision.
Baroness Wooton's report reached the conclusion that 'the long-term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses had no harmful effects.' The report said 'the long-asserted dangers of cannabis are exaggerated and that the related law is socially damaging, if not unworkable'. And in a covering letter the committee said that they want to create a situation in which nobody is sent to prison for cannabis.
She presented her report on 1 November 1968 to Home Secretary James Callaghan. During his time in opposition Callaghan had been 'Sunny Jim, the Policeman's Friend', the paid parliamentary lobbyist for the Police Federation. He rejected the report, and defended his position when it was debated in Parliament. However, despite his unilateral dismissal of the Wootton Report, Callaghan actually had little option other than to implement its recommendations. New bipartisan legislation controlling psychotropic drugs was drafted and, as he had asked the Wootton subcommittee to remain sitting in an advisory capacity, he now had to agree to their insistence on the difference between hard and soft drugs, a distinction which had not previously been reflected in law. On 1 February 1970 the Sunday Mirror reported in a page-one leader headed 'Drug Law Shock. Jim Changes His Mind. Penalties for "Pot" Smokers to Be Cut':
Mr Callaghan only a year ago championed the cause of holding the line against drug permissiveness ... last year Mr Callaghan denounced what he called 'a notorious advertisement' in The Times, signed by many public figures including the Beatles, which urged that possessing cannabis should either be legalised, or at most punishable by a fine of not more than £25.
Callaghan had been outvoted in Cabinet Committee and the new Misuse of Drugs Bill implemented everything the Wootton Committee recommended. The Labour Party lost the 1970 general election, but the legislation had been bipartisan and was re-introduced by Reginald Maudling for the Conservatives. The new Act reduced the maximum imprisonment on summary conviction to six months, and magistrates were advised that minor offences did not merit prison sentences, and that they should treat pot smokers with 'becoming moderation' and 'reserve the sentence of imprisonment for suitably flagrant cases of large-scale trafficking'. The courts stopped imposing custodial sentences for possession.
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The situation in nineties Britain is that sentences such as those passed on Hoppy or Keith are virtually unknown unless large-scale dealing is involved or the sentence is concurrent with another, more serious charge and has been used to make the other charge stick. It has been estimated that several million people in Britain smoke pot from time to time. Steve Abrams's 1967 Times advertisement had repercussions that no one at the original meeting in the back room of Indica could have dreamed of. It was, of course, only part of the story, and the members of Baroness Wootton's Committee must be thanked for changes in the law that have kept thousands out of jail.
This was the first example of Paul's involvement in political lobbying, a skill which he would later apply with great success to saving his local hospital in Rye, Sussex, and in starting and funding the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. The Beatles signed and paid for the advertisement at his instigation. There was no high-profile posturing. He did not sit in a black bag or sing a song about it, just supported a traditional method of lobbying. In this instance quiet and effective work led to a change in the law - from which he himself benefited when police found pot plants growing on his Scottish farm in 1972.