Graham Reid | | 12 min read
On the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in New Zealand (June 21 1964) Elsewhere is pleased to present an exclusive extract from the forthcoming book Half a World Away: The Beatles' Australasian Tour 1964 by Greg Armstrong and Andy Neill.
We pick up the story after they have arrived at Whenuapai Airport near Auckland and been transported to the Royal International Hotel hotel before the mayoral reception at the Auckland Town Hall, a reception which had been vigorously opposed by some city councillors and citizens . . .
The battle getting safely into the hotel clearly demonstrated the dangers of ill-prepared crowd control, and Derek [Taylor, the Beatles' press officer] was understandably determined to avoid a repeat display.
But when liaising with newly-promoted police chief superintendent Alphonse Quinn, he was coolly informed that no escort car would be provided for the half mile ride from the hotel to the Auckland Town Hall.
“You are not royalty,” Taylor was told.
A suggestion of an armoured car was proposed but stridently vetoed by the Beatles. It was only after Derek desperately made contact with Mayor Robinson, who rang the traffic commissioner to arrange for civilian patrol vehicles, that frayed tempers were calmed and a cancellation of the early show averted.
“I had not realised you had separate police and traffic departments,” Taylor observed.
Once the Beatles were safely inside the Town Hall, he dashed off a telegram to the superintendent: “We do not appreciate your lack of co-operation which is unique in the Beatles’ worldwide experience.”
Quinn was unrepentant. “It is not the duty of the police to provide escorts for this sort of thing.”
The Beatles’ verdict on Auckland audiences was “far better” than Wellington’s “staid” response.
“We made an early breakthrough,” John commented after the opening performances in the Town Hall, a venue that had received its fair share of sharp comments ranging from a “chilly barn” to a “dirigible hangar” from past performers.
It’s unfortunate that, unlike Australia, there exists no audio or visual record of the Beatles’ New Zealand concerts – a great pity considering the NZBC’s mobile unit had videotaped Peter, Paul and Mary’s Auckland Town Hall concert on 9 June.
Similarly the corporation recorded concerts at the Wellington Town Hall by visiting pop packages (including The Liverpool Sound Show in April) for nationwide radio networking but with Kerridge not prepared to sanction such a venture without [Beatles' manager] Brian Epstein’s direct approval the opportunity went begging. Rumours of a source tape illicitly recorded by a local studio engineer remain just that.
DAVE RUSSELL (of Ray Columbia and The Invaders): “None of the band went to the concerts as we were gigging but the day the Beatles arrived, after we’d played a lunchtime session at the Top 20, [Invaders guitarist] Wally Scott and myself decided to wander up to the Town Hall on the off chance we could catch a sound-check or a casual meet with the lads. We just walked in through the main entrance and went up to the stage. No Beatles were to be seen but we introduced ourselves to [tour manager] Mal Evans.
Of course Wally and I were
interested in the Vox amplifiers which we’d never seen before in
New Zealand. Mal asked us if we’d like to check out their guitars.
Hell yes! We followed him out to the dressing rooms and in one room
he had all the Beatles guitars including a few spares spread across
the floor in open cases. Naturally it was no-touching but a look was
enough for a walk back down Queen Street to our friend Rob Eady of
Lewis Eady's where I placed an order for not one but two Rickenbacker
guitars to be imported from America.”
The reviews for the opening Auckland shows were a study in contrasts. “There is one element about the Beatles that overshadows all others: fun,” John Berry analysed in the Auckland Star. “It was rock and roll certainly but healthy rock. The delighted squeals of the fans, the handclapping, the footstamping, the driving rhythm and the noise – all these were identical with the American brand of rock and roll which shook, rattled and rolled the world with a young Elvis six years ago. But with the Beatles there is an important difference. There is no underlying sense of savagery or overtones of sex which made parents shudder with the first wave of rock. Not once as the Beatles breezed through their numbers was there a trace of a curled defiant lip. Pelvic bones did not rotate, youthful exuberance here, not teenage rebellion.”
On the same page was a bone dry attempt by Pat Booth at reviewing the audience instead of the Beatles. “It was FAN-tastic. What a performance. Even when you weren’t prepared for it, the sheer spectacle of the thing shook you and the Town Hall to your joint foundations. And this was only the first of the Beatle concerts. … Yes they certainly did Auckland proud, that audience which provided squeals of such volume, the uproar, the footwork under the seats… The Beatles? Well it’s true that they were there, but they really couldn’t compete with the sort of talent this city provided. I couldn’t hear much of them, and from what I saw of them, they looked very good – but after all, you can’t watch everything at once.”
Back at the hotel post-shows, the Beatle entourage partied on with a tour diet of Scotch, bourbon, Coke and pills. Lennon, in particular, was more wired than most.
BOB ROGERS [Disc jockey for 2SM Sydney, on the tour]: “About 7am the phone in my room rang and this English voice on the line said, ‘Hullo, Bob, it’s Neil here, how about coming up for a drink?’ I recognised straight away that it wasn’t Neil but I was curious. When I arrived in the suite John was sitting in bed on his own in his red silk Chinese pyjamas drinking a bottle of red Claret and wanted me to share it with him - at seven o’clock in the morning! I had a drink with him though it wasn’t my drinking time. But that was one of my major problems. There were a lot of pills being taken by different people at different times to keep going all day and all night because you couldn’t afford to miss any event of great importance.”
This may have been the night a laddish prank was played on Paul.
BOB ROGERS: “He was asleep in the next room, and John and Ringo produced this very pretty naked lady. They pulled the sheet off Paul and put the naked woman on his body. At which stage he woke up and the three of us were hiding behind different wardrobes. He was furious, but because John and Ringo were his friends, I took the brunt of it. If he wasn’t keen on me before, he certainly didn’t like me now!”
The next morning Derek confirmed “the Beatles were very pleased with last night’s show” but complained about nocturnal noises from people clambering over the hotel’s fire escapes. “Nobody managed to get in but we could hear footsteps all over the place.” Then there was the relentless racket from fans stationed outside which acted as a further sleep deterrent.
JEANNETTE REID [receptionist at the Royal International Hotel]: “We didn’t really expect the numbers of people that waited on the streets, not enormous crowds but there were always people at the door, day and night. I can’t remember how the other guests coped with this. There was an Irish actor Michael MacLiammoir doing a one man show about Oscar Wilde, The Importance Of Being Oscar. He was the only other overseas VIP I can remember at the hotel at the same time. It must have been hell for him.”
To add to the staff’s headaches the Royal International switchboard was continually swamped from callers claiming to know the Beatles personally and demanding to be put through.
JEANNETTE REID: “The lines were just absolutely jammed. I don’t know how anyone else got through really, I can’t remember anyone else getting through! The number of people asking ‘Could I speak to Paul?’ ‘Could I speak to Ringo?’ They probably thought ‘I’ll catch them on the hop by saying, Could I speak to Richard Starkey please? and they’ll put me through.’ I think someone tried playing the Aunt Mimi card to get to John. Judging by the calls and the people trying to get in, Paul and Ringo were the most popular, and poor old George was probably the least. But nevertheless a lot of people rang and asked for him.
“The police patrolled the hotel and there were security guards on the doors. Of course every time the door opened, a few kids rushed in but very few got through. The fans were so resourceful, mainly young girls that came in with stories. I remember one coming up to the desk, saying, ‘I’ve got a very important message for Paul McCartney.’ I said ‘Oh, have you?’ And she said ‘Yes, I need to speak to him urgently, I’ve got a message from his home.’ So I said, ‘Look, I’m terribly sorry but could you write it down?’ and she’d panic and run off.”
The mayor’s welcome, originally set for 11am, was put back to 2:30pm perhaps to allow the Beatles a few more hours shut eye. To accommodate the intense interest Mayor Robinson decided to move the occasion outdoors.
A temporary wooden platform was constructed at the apex of the Town Hall at the Queen Street-Greys Avenue junction. If the weather was inclement proceedings would be moved back inside the concert chamber for a selected few but fortunately for the estimated 7000 who gathered alfresco, Auckland’s notoriously wet winter weather was reduced to light drizzle. Thousands more watched from windows and vantage points in nearby office buildings.
BOB KERRIDGE [Kerridge-Odeon Corporation]: “I stood in the crowd for that. I was with the Beatles for a little while beforehand. There was a mini-gathering in the mayoral chambers but I was very much the lad and wasn’t really part of the official management team. We left that side of it to the Beatles’ representatives and we were happy to stand back because they knew what the boys’ needs were and we were there to be of assistance if needed.”
In a party including the mayor and mayoress, Sir Robert Kerridge, and Sounds Incorporated, the Beatles emerged from the Town Hall 10 minutes after the official start time, to be met by a tremendous roar that echoed around Civic Square for a full five minutes – gestures of quiet from John and Paul having no immediate effect. Standing among Beatle fans were vociferous factions of the anti-brigade – some University of Auckland students had dragged along a Sphinx-like papier-mâché effigy of Beatle basher Tom Pearce [Auckland Rugby Football Union president] that had originally been constructed for the annual capping parade.
Their banners were grabbed and stomped on by irate girls resulting in a few scuffles but overall the mood was good-natured.
Quip of the day came from Mayor Robbie when addressing his citizens. “It is a chance for you to let your hair down. The Beatles seem to have done that already.”
The Maori Concert Party sang songs, did the haka, presented each Beatle with pois and three of the girls rubbed noses with the moptops. “The reaction of the Beatles delighted even the cynics,” wrote the NZ Herald. “They made ineffectual attempts to twirl the pois, recoiled in mock horror from the grimaces of the Maori warriors, and shook their long hair violently during the nose rubbing.”
After being on show for 25 minutes, the Beatles stood on their chairs to afford Auckland’s public a final look while Robbie asked the crowd to “say goodbye” to the Mersey musicians, ineffectually leading them in a rousing ‘Now is The Hour.’
BOBI PETCH [PA to New Zealand singer Dinah Lee]: “As the reception was finishing, my friend Jackey and I decided to walk down and wait at the side entrance of the hotel to see them come back. It was just us and probably three other girls because everyone was waiting out the front on Victoria Street. As the big black car came up Wellesley Street, into Elliott Street and along, it had to stop while the roller door went up. If we’d had a bit more front no doubt we would have tried opening the doors. I can’t remember if there were three Beatles in the back and one in the front with the driver. All I can see is their smiles and them waving because they were that close. There might have been other fans gathered behind us, but we were so swept up in the moment. And it truly was a moment.”
Derek sent a telegram from the hotel to the mayor that read: “Thank you and the lady mayoress very much indeed for the best mayoral reception we have ever attended. John Paul George and Ringo. The Beatles.”
To further redeem themselves in the eyes of Auckland’s stuffy city fathers, during their between show meal that night at the Town Hall, the Beatles signed the tablecloth on the suggestion of chef Gerry van der Wal which was donated to the Takapuna-based Wilson Home for Crippled Children.
Competing for column inches were the Beatles and the Budget, announced that evening by the NZ Minister of Finance, Harry Lake. Apart from some trampled flowerbeds in front of the Town Hall the mayor’s function was adjudged an unqualified success although the Auckland Star opined it was “quite predictably, composed mainly of adults who had come to watch youngsters watching the Beatles.”
The immediate aftermath saw the forces of conformity fighting for the upper hand. Headlines blared that schools across the city had reported alarming levels of absenteeism, and the Auckland Education Board planned to prosecute the parents of dozens of truant children.
A board official, Mr M J Sommerville said that attendance officers had gone into the city and questioned many errant pupils, most of them loitering outside the hotel or bagging themselves a prominent place in front of the Town Hall. Sommerville confirmed the officers had recommended the board should prosecute the parents under school attendance regulations, and that they were particularly horrified when hearing the statement of one child on local radio the night before confirming that his parents had given him permission to skip school to see the Beatles.
Before the reception took place, Mayor Robbie had received a petition signed by 247 schoolchildren asking him to reschedule the time. When this could not be accommodated, the choice of mathematics or moptops was an easy one for those sheepishly trundling home to face the music.
A perspicacious Wellington Evening Post editorial brought matters into sharp relief. “Look at it how you will, the arrival of the Beatles was an event… Auckland’s children might have acted a bit irresponsibly when given half a chance and some of Auckland’s parents have let sentiment override their better judgement, but Auckland’s Education board is succeeding only in making a monumental fool of itself. All of which suggests that there are some things far more depressing than Beatlemania – and unlike Beatlemania, they are always with us.”
The threat of prosecution was lifted when it was learned that most of the warned students had returned to school that afternoon.
At Spotswood College, New Plymouth, Mary Prout and friend Robin Mackenzie (both 15) were suspended for three days, a decision attacked as “ill-judged” by Mary’s father. “There was no justification for imposing suspension in a case like this. The girls went with their parents’ permission, so they weren’t playing the wag.”
Referring to the principal’s statement that he was reasonable about time off for special occasions, Mr Prout declared, “If the Beatles aren’t a special occasion for teenagers, what is?
"Personally, I wouldn’t walk across the road to see them.”
This extract is used with the permission of its authors and remains in their copyright. Author Andy Neil will be speaking with Kim Hill on National Radio's Playing Favourites section, Saturday June 21, 10 - 11am