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Saturday, May 20, 1967

“A Day In The Life” is banned by the BBC

Last updated on May 6, 2024

Where It’s At” was a radio show hosted by Chris Denning and Kenny Everett, which aired on the BBC’s Light Programme.

On the evening of May 19, 1967, Kenny Everett was among a select group of influential disc jockeys and media figures invited to Brian Epstein’s London residence for the exclusive launch party of The Beatles’ new album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” During the party, Everett conducted brief interviews with Beatles members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr.

Capitalizing on this exclusive access, Everett produced a special edition of “Where It’s At” that aired the following afternoon (May 20). This unique episode featured a sneak peek of selected tracks from the yet-to-be-released “Sgt. Pepper’s” album, interwoven with snippets from Everett’s interviews with the Beatles.

Everett was unable to play the final track of the album, “A Day In The Life“, because the BBC decided to ban the song due to the line “I’d love to turn you on”, which the corporation believed advocated drug use. This was the first Beatles and EMI track banned by the BBC. Three days later, the corporation wrote to EMI to explain why they decided to ban the song.

Later in 1967, another Beatles song, “I Am The Walrus“, was also banned by the BBC.

The BBC have misinterpreted the song. It has nothing to do with drug taking. It’s only about a dream.

Paul McCartney – From Daily Mirror – May 20, 1967

John woke up one morning and read the Daily Mail. The news stories gave him the ideas for the song. Well, BBC, he was actually smoking Park Drive! Even people at the BBC do these things. So, face it, BBC! If they want to ban ‘A Day In The Life’, that’s their business, drugs must have been in their minds – not ours! The point is, banning doesn’t help. It just draws attention to a subject when, all the time, their aim is to force attention away from it. Banning never did any good. It’s just beyond me what they mean. To say ‘A Day In The Life’ is about drugs is just rubbish! We were just trying to reflect a day in anybody’s life. As John read a newspaper story about somebody digging up a road in Blackburn, Lancashire, it was like images in a dream that was what we were after. Going upstairs on a bus and having a smoke. Does that have to be about drugs? Well, the BBC thinks it might be! As a matter of fact, we meant Park Drive. Every morning, I went to school, woke up, fell out of bed, dragged the comb across my hair, found my coat and hat. The song’s just about anything. It goes into a story, and it forms a dream on top of a bus. Nobody knows what you’re talking about in a song, sometimes. If they’d wanted to, they would have found plenty of double meanings in our early stuff. How about, ‘I’ll Keep You Satisfied’ or ‘Please Please Me’? Everything has a double meaning if you look for it long enough. There’s a double meaning in anything everyone says if you search for it. Still, I don’t care if they ban it, because there are plenty of other tracks they’ll play.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

The most spectacular and extreme reaction came from the British Broadcasting Corporation. To this day I still can’t understand why the BBC banned ‘A Day In The Life’. I think if the track had just been a rhythm track, conventionally recorded, no one would have taken any notice. But the anarchic sound of the orchestral climax seems to have contributed to the idea that the song’s lyrics meant something nasty, something sinister: subversive even, at the very least an encouragement to take drugs. The vocal wailings in the bridge of the song definitely contributed to its reception as a ‘marijuana dream’. To us, though, those vocals were no more than an inventive way of getting back to the original key!

George Martin – From “With A Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper“, 1995

From Wikipedia:

The song became controversial for its supposed references to drugs. On 20 May 1967, during the BBC Light Programme’s preview of the Sgt. Pepper album, disc jockey Kenny Everett was prevented from playing “A Day in the Life”. The BBC announced that it would not broadcast the song due to the line “I’d love to turn you on”, which, according to the corporation, advocated drug use. Other lyrics allegedly referring to drugs include “found my way upstairs and had a smoke / somebody spoke and I went into a dream”. A spokesman for the BBC stated: “We have listened to this song over and over again. And we have decided that it appears to go just a little too far, and could encourage a permissive attitude to drug-taking.”

At the time, Lennon and McCartney denied that there were drug references in “A Day in the Life” and publicly complained about the ban at a dinner party at the home of their manager, Brian Epstein, celebrating their album’s release. Lennon said that the song was simply about “a crash and its victim”, and called the line in question “the most innocent of phrases”. McCartney later said: “This was the only one in the album written as a deliberate provocation. A stick-that-in-your-pipe … But what we want is to turn you on to the truth rather than pot.” The Beatles nevertheless aligned themselves with the drug culture in Britain by paying for (at McCartney’s instigation) a full-page advertisement in The Times, in which, along with 60 other signatories, they and Epstein denounced the law against marijuana as “immoral in principle and unworkable in practice”. In addition, on 19 June, McCartney confirmed to an ITN reporter, further to his statement in a recent Life magazine interview, that he had taken LSD. Described by MacDonald as a “careless admission”, it led to condemnation of McCartney in the British press, recalling the outcry caused by the publication of Lennon’s “More popular than Jesus” remark in the US in 1966. The BBC ban on the song was eventually lifted on 13 March 1972.


THE Beatles hit out at the BBC last night after hearing that a song from their new LP album has been banned, on the ground that it “could encourage a permissive attitude to drug-taking.” The song, “A Day In The Life,” is one of the
tracks from the long-player “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” And it is the first Beatles number ever to be banned by the BBC. In it, John Lennon and Paul McCartney tell of catching a bus, having a smoke and going off into a dream.

At a dinner party in the Belgravia home of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein last night, Paul McCartney said: “The BBC have misinterpreted the song. It has nothing to do with drug taking. It’s only about a dream.

John Lennon said “The laugh is that Paul and I wrote this song from a headline in a newspaper. It’s about a crash and its victim. How anyone can read drugs into it is beyond me. Everyone seems to be falling overboard to see the word drug in the most innocent of phrases.

A BBC spokesman said earlier: “We have listened to this song over and over again. “And we have decided that it appears to go just a little too far, and could encourage a permissive attitude to drug taking. Therefore we have decided not to broadcast this particular song.

With a 1,000,000-plus order for their new album, the Beatles were in a gay mood at the party in spite of the ban. John Lennon wore the most way-out gear … a green lacey shirt and a sporran over his corduroy trousers. “I’ve got no pockets in my trousers, and the sporran is handy to keep your fags in,” he said.

From Daily Mirror – May 20, 1967
From Daily Mirror – May 20, 1967

23rd May 1967

Dear Sir Joseph,

“A Day in the Life”

I never thought the day would come when we would have to put a ban on an EMI record, but sadly, that is what has happened over this track. We have listened to it over and over again with great care, and we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the words “I’d love to turn you on”, followed by that mounting montage of sound, could have a rather sinister meaning.

The recording may have been made in innocence and good faith, but we must take account of the interpretation that many young people would inevitably put upon it. “Turned on” is a phrase which can be used in many different circumstances, but it is currently much in vogue in the jargon of the drug-addicts. We do not feel that we can take the responsibility of appearing to favour or encourage those unfortunate habits, and that is why we shall not be playing the recording in any of our programmes, Radio or Television.

I expect we shall meet with some embarrassment over this decision, which has already been noted by the Press. We will do our best not to appear to be criticising your people, but as you will realise, we do find ourselves in a very difficult position. I thought you would like to know why we have, most reluctantly, taken this decision.

Warmest regards,

Yours ever,

Frank Gillard (Director of Sound Broadcasting)

From Letter from BBC Broadcaster Frank Gillard – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru)


THE Beatles, whose new LP “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is released next Friday this week laughed off the BBC ban on one of its tracks. The banned song, “A Day In The Life,” is a Lennon-McCartney composition which refers to a man going upstairs on a bus for a smoke.

From the London home of their manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles denied that there were any drug references in the song.

Said Paul: “John woke up one morning and read the Daily Mail. The news stories gave him the idea for the song. The man goes upstairs on a bus for a smoke. Everybody does that sort of thing. You can read a double meaning into anything if you want to. But we don’t care if they ban our songs. It might help the LP. They’ll play other tracks.

From Melody Maker – May 27, 1967
From Melody Maker – May 27, 1967

Going further

The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years

"With greatly expanded text, this is the most revealing and frank personal 30-year chronicle of the group ever written. Insider Barry Miles covers the Beatles story from childhood to the break-up of the group."

We owe a lot to Barry Miles for the creation of those pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - a day to day chronology of what happened to the four Beatles during the Beatles years!

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