Monday, December 18, 2017

The Magical Mystery Tour 1967


By Pete Clemons

1967 had been a busy and creative year for The Beatles. The first part of the year had seen them complete and release the Sgt Peppers album. And then later on in the year they set about creating the film and the accompanying music for the audience splitting and controversial Magical Mystery Tour.

It was based on the bands childhood memories of village fetes and coach trips from Liverpool to Blackpool in order to see the lights and where the coaches were loaded up with crates of beer and the passengers were accompanied by an accordion player or similar. These memories were mixed with the bands perceived view of the world around them.

Although, in hindsight, the clue was in the film’s title, it certainly split audiences when it was first aired during the Christmas period 1967. But whatever you thought of the film there was no denying the wonderful soundtrack that underpinned it all.

This black and white film, repeated in colour during January 1968 (for those who had compatible TV sets), had been hurriedly selected for a slot that appeared on Boxing Day between the Petula Clark Xmas Special and a Norman Wisdom film. Apparently all that the schedulers knew was that it was a film starring The Beatles. And they thought they were on to a sure fire winner. So in it went without any real prior knowledge of what it was actually about or the furore it would create. And at 8:35pm, a quarter of the country settled back and tuned in to watch it.

Ideas for the film began to emerge just prior to the death of Brian Epstein during the August of 1967. Paul McCartney had already been experimenting with film by way of a ‘cini 8’ camera he had bought himself. Spurred on by Paul a ‘script’ was drafted out as a series of sequences on a pie chart. It had no real correlation but both Paul and Brian were enthusiastic at the format. And Paul was even more spurred on to bring the film to fruition after the loss of Brian.

The finished film was actually unscripted with much of it being ‘ad libbed’. As Paul mentioned some time later ‘what you were about to see was a product of our imagination. But you couldn’t add that as a disclaimer to the beginning of it all as it would have spoiled the effect’.

The coach passengers were a mixture of the band themselves, a selection of jobbing actors along with members of the general public who were given just 48 hours, after receipt of invitation, to decide if they would be available or not. Other actors and artists of note such as Victor Spinetti, Nat Jackley, Ivor Cutler were also invited.

The coach journey itself left London on 11 September 1967. And even that involved the spontaneous decision to travel in the direction of Cornwall. The film and the coach terminated in Newquay ten days, or so, later.

As with previous Beatles films Ringo Starr was given a central role. As a kind of parody, Ringo was often seen arguing with his Auntie on the coach trip as a kind of filler between the sequences. John Lennon was also prominent throughout.

The following day, after it’s airing, Paul chose to appear the David Frost show ‘Frost Reports’ to defend the film. Basically the older generation had been looking for a plot and a storyline. While the younger generation, particularly children it later appeared, were enthralled by it all. There wasn’t a plot or anything such like. It was just a series of events segued. George Harrison described it as an elaborate home movie.

The film itself may or may not have been great. I guess that depends on where you are in life when you watch it. But it did open doors. It was abstract, it was imaginative and it was original. It also captured the growing psychedelic scene. Although The Beatles may not have created it, they were well aware of it and became a conduit for it all. All in all it was a random and surreal view of life as seen, through the eyes of The Beatles.

Magical Mystery Tour Memories (Full Documentary)

The Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles Liverpool Tour)

Magical Mystery Tour EP Booklet

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