Australia’s Bea­tles ma­nia

As Paul McCart­ney heads our way, we look back on his first Aus­tralian tour, when The Bea­tles brought mop-top mad­ness to our shores in 1964. Among the fans was fash­ion de­signer Jenny Kee, writes Su­san Hors­burgh.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Back In The Day -

They were the rock gods of their gen­er­a­tion and they could re­duce their dis­ci­ples to hys­ter­i­cal wrecks. When The Bea­tles ar­rived in June 1964 for their first and only Aus­tralian tour, the band’s ra­bid fe­male fan base came out in their thou­sands to wor­ship at the al­tar of the

Fab Four, weep­ing and wail­ing their way through the coun­try’s 20 con­certs. The witty, work­ing­class Liver­pudlians, with their mop-top hair­cuts and match­ing mod suits, belted out self-penned boppy love songs and beau­ti­ful bal­lads, but the mu­sic was im­ma­te­rial.

“We were far too hys­ter­i­cal to hear any­thing – we were lis­ten­ing to ev­ery­body else scream­ing as we were scream­ing,” says leg­endary fash­ion de­signer Jenny Kee, who was 17 when she went to the Syd­ney Sta­dium con­cert. “It was elec­tric and it didn’t mat­ter that you couldn’t hear them. You could see them.”

Ev­ery fan had their favourite – pretty ro­man­tic Paul, in­tel­lec­tual rebel John, quiet mys­tery Ge­orge or lov­able mas­cot Ringo – and hav­ing all four idols only me­tres away proved way too much for many in the au­di­ence. “Thou­sands of girls … seem to be in a state of delir­ium,” re­ported The Sun-Her­ald, “lad­der­ing stock­ings and los­ing their shoes. Many were hur­ried off to the first aid room, too ex­cited to stand.” At the Mel­bourne

“They were the an­tithe­sis of the beefy Aus­tralian bloke.”

show, Molly Mel­drum was thrown out by the bounc­ers. At ev­ery con­cert, fans pelted the stage with jelly ba­bies – a tra­di­tion that arose af­ter Ge­orge named them as his lolly of choice in a TV interview. Paul asked the crowds to stop, but the sug­ary grenades kept com­ing.

For some, Beatle­ma­nia went be­yond delir­ium to delu­sion. When the Liver­pool lads touched down at Syd­ney air­port in tor­ren­tial rain on June 11 (mi­nus Ringo, who missed the first few con­certs be­cause of ton­sil­li­tis), they were pa­raded for the 1000-plus crowd on the back of a flat-bed truck. Bizarrely, that’s when one fan shouted, “Catch him, Paul”, and threw her dis­abled six-year-old son at the band, hop­ing the pop stars could offer a cure. (Thank­fully, Paul did catch him and the child was re­turned to his mother when the truck stopped.) The four­some may in­deed have been big­ger than Je­sus, as John Len­non so in­fa­mously quipped a cou­ple of years later, but it seems even they couldn’t pull off a med­i­cal mir­a­cle.

With their im­age of boy­ish in­no­cence, though, The Bea­tles man­aged to woo the oldies as much as the ado­les­cents – per­haps be­cause no one knew what they got up to at their af­ter par­ties. La­belling the tour the “Event of the Yeah”, The Weekly de­scribed the quar­tet as “healthy, hand­some young men”, al­though it also likened Ge­orge to “a de­pressed bas­set hound” and cap­tioned a pic­ture of Ringo with the words, “ugly face plus sud­den smile equals in­stant like­abil­ity”.

In ret­ro­spect, it was a fluke The Bea­tles even made it to the An­tipodes. Mel­bourne pro­moter Kenn Brodziak just so hap­pened to se­cure The Bea­tles’ Aus­tralian tour for a steal a year ear­lier – when they were rel­a­tive no­bod­ies – and then the phe­nom­e­non took hold. When The Bea­tles, all in their early 20s, toured the US in Fe­bru­ary 1964, pan­de­mo­nium reigned and 73 mil­lion peo­ple tuned in to watch them on The Ed Sul­li­van Show.

For Australia, then an iso­lated Bri­tish out­post, host­ing in­ter­na­tional megas­tars was a rare treat, which might partly ex­plain the lu­nacy. In fact, the re­cep­tion in Ade­laide, which was only added to the con­cert sched­ule af­ter fans filed a pe­ti­tion of 80,000 sig­na­tures, re­mains the global high-wa­ter mark of Bea­tles fever: a stag­ger­ing 300,000 fans – half the pop­u­la­tion of the state – lined the route from Ade­laide air­port to the city.

The crazed re­sponse also had a lot to do with the staid, colour­less Aus­tralian cul­ture at the time. For Jenny Kee, then a fash­ion de­sign stu­dent, ev­ery­thing about The Bea­tles was ex­otic. “We were chil­dren in the ’50s and it was such a bland, straight so­ci­ety,” says the 70-year-old. “You’ve just got to think what peo­ple wanted from life af­ter the war – the clean­li­ness of it all: the fridges and the swim­ming pools. That was the as­pi­ra­tion. For me it was so white bread. For a cre­ative per­son it was ab­so­lutely sti­fling.”

At­tracted to the band’s ef­fem­i­nate look – the an­tithe­sis of the beefy Aus­tralian bloke – Jenny and her friends were ob­sessed. When The Bea­tles ar­rived in Syd­ney, they rushed to the Sher­a­ton Ho­tel and wor­shipped their idols from the foot­path op­po­site, thrilled to get a glimpse of the band on the bal­cony. Af­ter the con­cert, Jenny wan­gled her way into the ho­tel on the arm of a photographer and her friend hatched a plan to jam the lifts so The Bea­tles would have to take the stairs up to their eighth-floor suites. The girls waited in the stair­well and when the boys came trudg­ing up the steps, Jenny locked eyes with John and he in­vited the girls to the af­ter party in his room.

Jenny’s edgy out­fit, a tar­tan suit teamed with knee-high boots, helped seal the deal. She was a naive 17-year-old, but “the one thing I was con­fi­dent in was the way I styled my­self”, she says. “I looked like a ter­rific lit­tle mod.”

Jenny thought she was a Paul girl un­til she clapped eyes on John. “Paul was so pretty, and I love pretty boys, but John just had It,”

she says. The funny, charis­matic front­man swept her off her feet. Few teens get to bed their idols and Jenny wasn’t about to let the op­por­tu­nity go by. She called home and her mum, a fel­low Bea­tles fan, was thrilled to hear that Jenny was hang­ing out with her he­roes. “She would have just thought we were at a Bea­tles party hav­ing fun, danc­ing,” says Jenny. “We did all of that, but we also did more than that.”

Jenny re­counted the night in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, A Big Life. “He knew I was young and ner­vous so he cracked jokes and sang, ‘Please please me, oh yeah, and I’ll please you’, mak­ing me laugh,” wrote Jenny, who also lists Eric Clap­ton, Keith Richards and Roger Dal­trey among her rock con­quests. “He had his way with me and it was hot: a gen­uine emo­tional charge for us both. It was only one night, but it was a mag­i­cal one.”

At dawn, Jenny crept home to Rose Bay to find her mum had put a doll and a bol­ster in her bed so that her dad would think she was asleep. Two weeks later, the teenager was back among the hordes at Syd­ney air­port with a spe­cially made out­fit, hop­ing to say good­bye.

This time, Jenny whee­dled her way into the re­cep­tion room, where she spent a fi­nal few hours with John. She was ap­par­ently his first Asian lover and he had nick­named her the Chi­nese Dragon Lady. “So Yoko,” she jokes, “I paved the way for you, dar­ling.”

That en­counter changed ev­ery­thing and, the next year, Jenny set off for swing­ing Lon­don. “I knew if Lon­don was pro­duc­ing The Bea­tles, it was the most ex­cit­ing place for a young girl like me to be,” she says.

Australia may have been a bit of a slow starter, but The Bea­tles tour marked the be­gin­ning of the 1960s – and all the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural up­heaval that came with it. The Bea­tles changed Australia and the world, in­flu­enc­ing fash­ion and mu­sic, turn­ing rock ‘n’ roll into an art form.

As Jenny re­calls, it was a crush­ing farewell when The Bea­tles left the coun­try 53 years ago. “My heart plum­meted when the plane was in the air,” she wrote. “How could I face ordinary life again?” No doubt count­less other Aus­tralian girls were won­der­ing the same thing.

The Bea­tles’ fans scream at the Syd­ney Sta­dium on June 18, 1964.

FROM TOP: The Bea­tles in Bris­bane; on the cover of The Weekly af­ter be­ing awarded MBEs in 1965; a young Jenny Kee.

Paul en­joys be­ing the birthday boy in Syd­ney (above) and looks deft with a boomerang as he waves to fans along­side Ge­orge Har­ri­son and John Len­non in Mel­bourne (left). BE­LOW: Police guard the stage in Bris­bane.

BE­LOW: Paul was the star on the cover of The

Weekly’s June 24, 1964 edi­tion, which also fea­tured Jim­mie Ni­col (bot­tom left) stand­ing in for Ringo Starr.

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