Celebrity

Remembering The Beatles’ Australian visit 60 years later

In 1964, The Beatles made their first visit to Australia and The Weekly were one of the first to speak with the Fab Four.

In 1964, Beatlemania had well and truly swept across the world for the four lads from Liverpool and Australia was no exception to this hysteria. The Beatles kicked off the year with a jam-packed schedule of touring, filming and recording – as well as a visit to Australia.

In June 1964, the Fab Four landed on the shores of Sydney to kick off a tour around the country. The Australian Women’s Weekly were one of the first publications on the ground to welcome The Beatles to the country and we were lucky enough to chat with the four lads – minus Ringo Starr, who was struck down with tonsillitis back in England. 60 years later, we’re looking back on how Beatlemania swept through the country off the back of their trip.

Read on for our exclusive chat with The Beatles all the way back in 1964…

The Event of the Yeah

Not even the torrential rain that fell like drum beats from the missing Ringo could wash the enthusiasm, colour, and craziness out of the ‘Event of the Yeah’.

The event was, of course, B-Day – the day last week that The Beatles invaded Sydney to begin their Australasian tour.

Later in the day, Beatle George Harrison aptly summed up the problems of footsore fans and Press people when he cracked to me: “We Come, we high C – but we don’t corn-cure!”

Although meeting The Beatles is a fascinating and instructive experience (they’re healthy, handsome young men; John’s wit is as sharp as a stiletto; Paul is a superb clown; George is rather shy but shrewd; Jimmy Nicol is quiet and pleasant), an equally colour-ful story was played out behind the scenes.

The Beatles (bar Ringo) landed in Australia in June 1964. Getty

Here, in detail, are highlights of my day with The Beatles:

“I guess it just rained fewer ‘cats’ than watch dogs!” said Paul with a laugh.

I had told him that while police estimates of the airport reception ranged between 400 and 500 fans, watching the watchers were 50 Commonwealth police, 300 N.S.W. police (including overall-clad members of the Police Rescue Squad), and 100 or so newspaper and magazine reporters and photographers, TV and newsreel cameramen, and TV and radio commentators.

The small crowd, however, had upheld the honour of Beatle fans. As the plane taxied to a stop, the screams drowned out even the ear-piercing screech of the engines.

With time out for a seeming awestruck silence, the caterwauling resumed as The Beatles made a brief ”Royal Progress” under wind-buffeted umbrellas on a decorated truck past the barricaded fans.

This was the closest look at their idols, all together, that fans were to get all day. But the constant crowd who waited outside the Sheraton Hotel in Macleay Street, Potts Point, made
their own strange brand of ecstasy.

The boys made several appearances on the balcony of their eighth-floor penthouse, but in the long periods between, the fans in the street below screamed at anyone – or anything – moving on any of the hotel’s other floors.

Throngs of people queued to see The Beatles in Australia. Getty

I put on a woman reporter’s bulky astrakhan overcoat, brushed my hair down over my forehead, and stepped out on to the balcony of my suite beneath The Beatles’.

“Eek—there’s one!” someone shrieked, and a great roar went up!

Later Cynthia Lennon “arrived”! A rumour spread that a pretty blonde girl, wearing a John Lennon-type cap being admitted to the guarded penthouse, was the Beatle Bride.

Just before a Press conference, the mystery girl came down in the lift and walked past guards toward the conference room. “Are you Cynthia Lennon?” I asked. No; she is 19-year-old Marion Carter, of Coogee, a Beatles’ publicity girl.

As the boys walked past us into the room under escort, I called to John and asked him if Marion looked like Cynthia. He paused, looked carefully, grinned, and said: “Aye, quite a bit.”

The Mystery of the Missing Aunt Mimi had its moments, too. Aunt Mimi – Mrs. Mary Smith, John Lennon’s “mother” for most of his life – flew into Sydney in the Beatle plane.

Cynthia Lennon joined John and The Beatles in Australia. Getty

In order to chase the stars into the city many of the Press missed Mrs. Smith at the airport and planned to interview her at the hotel. But later there was a problem: WAS Aunt Mimi at the hotel, or had she already flown (or did she plan to fly the same day) to New Zealand to stay with a cousin in Wellington?

Because of another hotel booking for a Smith, a desk clerk believed Aunt Mimi had not booked in. I found Aunt Mimi finally – resting in the suite directly above mine! She’d been there since soon after 8 a.m. and was not off to New Zealand till the next day.

A slim, soft-spoken widow for about nine years (her late husband was a farmer in the early days of their marriage), she told me how she had raised 23-year-old John since her sister died when he was three.

Her house at Woolton, six miles out of Liverpool, was his home until last August, when he, his wife, Cynthia, and their baby son moved into a place of their own.

She recalled that John’s first ambition had been for a career in commercial art. “But even though he has kept his interest and is an accomplished artist, music became more and more important.

“John, Richie (Ringo), Paul, and George first started playing together – music, I mean – when they were pals at 15 or so.

“They have often practised in my home – without amplifiers for their electric guitars, mind you!”

Photographer Don Cameron remarked that he played the electric-amplified guitar at home.

“Heaven help your mother, young man,” Aunt Mimi said coldly.

Aunt Mimi also talked about the other Beatles’ families: “I get on very well with the Starkeys (Ringo’s parents), the Harrisons (George’s), and Mr. McCartney (Paul’s father, a widower).

Aunt Mimi confessed she is lonely without John, Cynthia, and the baby around the house. “But John never forgets me. He made this trip possible, of course. He rang me up one day and said, ‘Mimi,’ he always calls me that, ‘how about coming to Australia with us?’

“I wondered at first – I don’t believe in interfering in his life – but he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. “So here we both are – 12,000 miles (isn’t it?) from Woolton.”

This article originally appeared in the June 1964 issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly and was written by Robin Adair.

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