- Timeline More from year 1967
- 7 Cavendish Avenue, St John’s Wood, London, UK
More from year 1967
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Magical Mystery Tour (TV Special)
1967 • For The Beatles • Directed by The Beatles
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On August 27, 1967, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein passed away, leaving the band uncertain about their future plans. To address this, the band members and some of their trusted associates convened at Paul McCartney’s house in London on this day, September 1, to discuss their next steps.
Paul McCartney requested the presence of The Beatles’ publicist Tony Barrow an hour earlier than the rest of the group, as he was eager to ensure that the band did not lose momentum. While there was talk of a potential trip to India to study under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Paul was keen on pushing forward with the project of creating the “Magical Mystery Tour” TV special, to keep the band together.
On September 4, NEMS announced that The Beatles would travel to India in early October, to continue studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi. However, the anticipated trip had to be postponed due to the extensive editing work necessary for “Magical Mystery Tour.” The Beatles eventually travelled to India in February 1968.
The Beatles reconvened in the recording studio on September 5 to make further progress on the soundtrack for their upcoming TV special. Filming for the project officially commenced on September 11.
If the others clear off to India again now on another meditation trip I think there’s a very real danger that we’ll never come back together again as a working group. On the other hand, if I can persuade them today that we should go straight into shooting this film, it could save The Beatles.Paul McCartney – From “The Making of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour” by Tony Barrow, 1999
If most of The Beatles clear off to India now with the Maharishi I doubt if we’ll come together again as a working band. The last thing we need now is time on our hands to brood about Brian’s death.Paul McCartney – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story“, 2012
In the midst of this surreal scenario [Brian Epstein’s death and the fight at NEMS to succeed him], Paul came forward with his own very feasible solution to John’s indecision. He proposed that The Beatles should embark immediately upon the making of Magical Mystery Tour. My colleagues condemned him for acting callously but Paul explained his motives to me very convincingly: “If most of The Beatles clear off to India now with the Maharishi I doubt if we’ll come together again as a working band. The last thing we need now is time on our hands to brood about Brian’s death.” He felt that throwing themselves into filming would keep the four guys together until they could plan their long-term future with clearer minds. On Friday September 1, Paul convened a meeting at 7 Cavendish Avenue, inviting only the tightest circle of trusted associates. I was asked to arrive an hour before John, George and Ringo so that he could go into greater details about his ideas. I had the impression that he was keen to show off his new home, which after a year of occupation was now looking the way he and Jane wanted it. We spoke in his spacious, light and airy living room at the back of the house. At one point he deliberately walked me out through French windows onto the terrace so that I could look over the large tree-stocked garden.
Paul produced his now-legendary drawing of a Magical Mystery Tour cake sliced up into segments to represent eight essential sequences for inclusion in the film. He had written key words that would prompt him when describing the proposed production to others: Commercial, Introduce Tour, Get On Coach, Courier Introduces, Recruiting, Marathon, Laboratory Sequence, Stripper & Band, End Song? In his initial planning, ‘Fool On The Hill’ was to feature quite early in the film. He specified some of the key passengers, characters such as Busty Hostess, Fat Woman and Small Man. The only actual name he showed beside the “cake” was the clownish Nat Jackley, a contemporary slapstick comic known for his bodily contortions. All the ideas Paul proposed were used in the final production although poor old Nat Jackley’s work finished up on the cutting-room floor, as did a one-number contribution from Stevie Winwood’s Traffic. Paul made it clear to me that his aim was to make a feature-length film for full-scale theatrical release and he felt that a successful screen ‘tour’ would go a long way towards plugging the gaping hole left by the axing of the Fab Four’s concert trips. Indeed, if Paul had managed to produce one successful theatrically released feature film with The Beatles each year, a far bigger potential audience would have seen the group than did in the touring years, and the profit margin for the boys would have been enormous.
When the rest arrived he delegated different Beatles to take care of each segment, encouraging them to come up with their own musical and/or comedy content for specific sequences that would last 10 or 15 minutes. He said his concept was based on the old idea of seaside coach trips, mystery tours, ‘but this one will have an additional touch of fantasy because four magicians will be at work to make wonderful things happen’. Paul insisted that filming must begin the following week, by which time we’d need to have a big yellow bus organised and decorated, a supporting cast of professional actors and variety artists, the necessary cameramen and technical crew and a route for the bus to take us down to Cornwall, our West Country destination. […]Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story“, 2012
I didn’t get the impression that Paul was any less affected by Brian’s death than the others were. It just seemed to be the way he coped with loss, accepting what had happened and trying to be practical about it. In fact, years later, he reacted in a similar way to the horrific news of John’s murder. I think that’s simply the way Paul deals with bad news. Even when he is suffering deeply — as I’m sure he was when Brian died, and when John was killed — he tries to put on a brave face.
Looking back on it all these years later, it’s obvious that Paul saw a vacancy in leadership after Brian died, and he stepped in. Perhaps that ultimately led to the band’s breakup, but the fact of the matter is that someone had to. Surely Ringo and George Harrison couldn’t, and between his drug use and unfocused mind, John simply wasn’t capable of it at that point in his life. As I see it, Paul saved the band. After Brian’s passing, they could have decided to quit while they were ahead, but he kept them going for another few years. As it turned out, they would be rocky, divisive years, but no one knew that at the time, and the Beatles still had some great music left in them. So just as Paul had assumed some of the production responsibilities from George Martin, he now filled Brian’s shoes as well. Sure, he made mistakes, but he kept the greatest band in the world going at a time when they could have easily crumbled. I reckon he deserves a lot of credit for that.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
The next topic was the Magical Mystery Tour film, which on paper sounded original and creative and all those artistic things, but which looked as if it might turn out to be a nightmare. Alistair Taylor was sent off to hire a sixty-seater coach for the Mystery Tour. […]
“It’s going to be great,” Paul said and they all nodded in agreement. The title track to Magical Mystery Tour was already in the can and sessions for the rest of the soundtrack were booked at Abbey Road. They needed a script. They needed more songs. They needed organization. They needed Brian.
However, Brian was gone. Paul picked up the phone and called Denis O’Dell at Twickenham Studios, to ask him if he would produce Mystery Tour for them. During the conversation, in which John and Paul grabbed the phone from each other, they went even further and asked Denis if he would become head of Apple Films. Paul turned to me. “You can be his assistant, Tone,” he decided. […]
Now that it did look as if we were hurtling ahead into a complex film, George, who had been brooding, suddenly said he wanted to postpone the Magical Mystery Tour. He desperately wanted to go to India to study Hinduism and couldn’t wait. John said, “Yeah, let’s go.” Ringo said he’d go along for the ride. “Listen, we’re gonna to stay here and do the Mystery Tour,” Paul said firmly. “Then we can go to India.” […]
Paul thought things should continue to run as they had before. He said, “Well, Eppy appointed everybody and they all know what they’re doing. If it worked for him it will work for us, at least for now. There’s no need to rock the boat when we’ve got so much to do. Let’s stick to one thing at a time.”
“But what about a manager?” John said. “Who’s going to do that now?”
They looked at each other doubtfully. Paul said, “I don’t think we need a manager. We don’t tour anymore; we’ve always made our own decisions about records and films. Agreed?”Tony Bramwell – From “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles“, 2005
I knew that Paul was really only doing the Mystery Tour as a project to keep the Beatles doing something. He said it was a kind of therapy that he thought would stop them from panicking and make them feel they were continuing as normal—and normal was working.Tony Bramwell – From “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles“, 2005
I knew the group had recorded a song of Paul’s called Magical Mystery Tour way back in April and early May but only the barest outline of the film concept had been discussed within the group and even fewer details had reached the rest of us in the small inner circle of business associates and aides surrounding them.Tony Barrow – From “The Making of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour” by Tony Barrow, 1999
Magical Mystery Tour was something that Paul had worked out with Mal Evans and he showed me what his idea was and this is how it went, it went round, like this, the story and how he had it all, the production and everything. Paul had a tendency to come along and say, ‘Well, I’ve written these ten songs, let’s record now.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, give us a few days, and I’ll knock a few off,’ or something like that. Paul made an attempt to carry on as if Brian hadn’t died, by saying, ‘Now, boys, we’re going to make a record.’ Being the kind of person I am, I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to make a record all right,’ so I’ll go along and we made a record. That’s when we made Magical Mystery Tour. Paul said, ‘Well, here’s the segment, you write a little piece for that,’ and I thought, ‘Bloody hell,’ so I ran off and I wrote the dream sequence for the fat woman and all the things with the spaghetti. It was a dream. It was based on a dream I had. The waiter is me. I dressed like my father and my stepfather because they were waiters. Paul said, ‘Here, this quarter, you’ve got to fill it in.’ So, I said, ‘Well, how long have we got?’ ‘You’ve got two days,’ he replied. ‘Well, okay,’ I said. He had written about ten songs and I had written none. Then, George and I were sort of grumbling about the fuckin’ movie and we thought that we had better do it and we had the feeling that we owed it to the public to do these things. I wrote ‘Walrus’ and I contributed to the ‘Mystery Tour’ song.”John Lennon, 1970 – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008
“Magical Mystery Tour” was one sheet of paper with a circle drawn on it, and it was marked like a clock, only there was only one o’clock, five o’clock, nine o’clock and eleven o’clock. The rest we had to fill in. That’s how we did that. I was just sitting in the garden and Paul phoned, and said, ‘I’ve got this idea.’ That’s how it used to be. If someone wanted to do something, all we would do was follow ‘em. We would all go and do it.Ringo Starr – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008
In the Bag O’ Nails discotheque club one night towards the end of April we (Neil and Mal!) were brought into the group’s discussions on possible items for the “Coach Show”. Basically it was agreed that the plan should be “all-inclusive, non-exclusive”. This meant trying to fit into the show something for everyone, as wide a variety as possible.
On April 25 the backing track for the song “Magical Mystery Tour” was recorded. Two nights later voices were added and on May 3 trumpet accompaniment was put on.
NOW THERE WAS A LONG DELAY BECAUSE THE BBC INVITED THE BEATLES TO TAKE PART IN A ‘LIVE’ WORLD WIDE TELEVISION PROGRAMME FOR WHICH THEY WOULD WRITE A SPECIAL SONG. THE SONG WAS “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE”, THE PROGRAMME, SEEN AT THE END OF JUNE, WAS “OUR WORLD’. AS YOU KNOW “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE” BECAME THE MAIN SIDE OF THE BEATLES’ NEXT SINGLE AND THEY PUT “BABY, YOU’RE A RICH MAN” ON THE SECOND SIDE.
So we jump forward to the second half of August to find the next bit of “Magical Mystery Tour” activity — that was after the holiday in Greece and George’s trip to California. On Thursday August 24, only a few days before he died, Brian had a long chat with John, Paul, George and Ringo and everybody talked about “things to be done” for the rest of the year. Brian was very enthusiastic about “Magical Mystery Tour” and wanted us to go ahead right away with filming the show.
DECIDED TO GO ON
It goes without saying that Brian’s death caused confusion of thought amongst all of us. At first the majority agreed that it would be best to take a good long break, accept Maharishi’s invitation to spend two or three months with him in India and shelve all other plans until afterwards. BUT, as the days went by, everyone began to realise that it made much more sense to go ahead with “Magical Mystery Tour” and take a break AFTER the production was completed.
On Friday September 1 there was a general conference and get-together at Paul’s house. While everyone added ideas, Paul sat at his typewriter and with one over-worked finger put down a list headed “Main Points”. Underneath he put: “Coach Tour (Three Days) with people on board. Week beginning Sept. 4—Cameraman, Sound, Cast, Driver. Hotels to be arranged for 2 nights. “Magical Mystery Tour” Emblem to be designed. Yellow coach to be hired (Sept 4 to Sept 9). Microphone system in coach. Must be good all-round vision. Tour “staff” Driver, Courier, Hostess. Three staff uniforms required. Coach destination—Cornwall??? After coach — Shepperton Studios (One Week).”
On another sheet he typed out a sequence of arrangements to be made: “Write outline script. Decide cast. Engage cast. Decide when shooting starts. Sets for studios. Fix completion date.”From The Beatles Monthly Book, December 1967
Last updated on May 24, 2023
The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years
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