MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
They were in Adelaide for just 48 hours, but the Beatles sparked a social revolution in 1964 that changed our city forever
Adelaide went crazy for the Fab Four 50 years ago in the biggest turnout the town – and The Beatles – had ever seen.
JOHN Lennon called it “Fabulous – the best reception ever” and he had the greatest vantage point of all, leaning out over the balcony at the Adelaide Town Hall.
What the 23-year-old musician could see glancing up and down King William St, just before 1pm on Friday, June 12, 1964, was a surging sea of animated faces and tightly pressed bodies comprising more than half of the city’s population.
The 300,000 people who crammed into the centre of Adelaide that day formed what is still regarded as the biggest reception the Beatles received anywhere in the world.
The memorable occasion, which happened 50 years ago this week, is also the biggest event in the history of South Australia.
The police were certain they had not dealt with anything like it before.
That included the first visit by Queen Elizabeth, in 1954, and a second visit, the year beforetheBeatlesarrived,whenanestimated 150,000 people assembled roadside to see Her Majesty and Prince Phillip drive through town on their way to Elizabeth.
A police spokesman called the crowd for the Beatles “the noisiest and most excited ever in the state – but wonderfully well behaved.” No other event since has come close. Prince Charles and Princess Diana were the biggest crowd magnets on the planet when they arrived in South Australia in 1983, and this year their son William and his wife Kate Middleton had enormous crowdpulling persuasion as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Neither duo could compete with the hype for the Beatles.
Two other contrasting events in Adelaide have attracted greater crowds than those that gathered for a royal occasion.
About 200,000 people crammed into Victoria Park in November 1986 to hear Pope John Paul II say Mass while in 1995 the last of the 11 Grand Prix that roared around the parklands saw a similar number attend on the Sunday race day.
No one would consider any of those moments changed South Australia “forever” but that is the claim for the visit of Liverpool’s Fab Four – which was actually three, plus one, with Ringo Starr initially too ill to travel to Australia.
For many, the social turmoil and hysterical reaction created by having the Moptops in town signified a monumental change in Adelaide’s staid, staunch conservative attitude.
Even establishment figures were inspired to record the moment, with Geoffrey Dutton – a founding member of the Adelaide Festival – leading off his poem The Beatles in Adelaide with the lines: “Give way, square city named for a dull, dead queen, Bulge like the trousered bottoms of squealing sixteen.”
And squeal they did, young girls and boys alike, finally grabbing their opportunity to relinquish the shackles of convention and assert their likes and desires on a moribund society still in the grip of the gloomy aftermath of two world wars.
TheCityofChurcheswasrapidlybecoming the “City of Urges” and few authority figures were ready for the onslaught. The Education Department issued a stern directive that any student found to be absent on the Friday the Beatles arrived would be suspended. One school went further. Unley High School – the facility that would later educate Australia’s first female prime minister – declared any student absent that Friday who could not produce a doctor’s note would be expelled. With no exceptions.
Unley students with a broad-minded GP for a parent were incredibly popular that weekend. Other headmasters took the smart move of choosing that Friday for the half-day Arbor Day public holiday to short-cut the Education Department’s ultimatum.
The Beatles were a glimpse of an exciting, unpredictable future – and most Down Under youngsters were primed for a promised land of infinite possibilities where youth culture set the agenda.
THEY WERE ALL LOVELY POLITE BOYS, BUT I'M NOT CLAIMING THERE WAS ONE ANGEL AMONG THEM
THE ADELAIDE CONCERTS WERE JIMMIE NICOL‘S FINAL APPEARANCE AS RINGO STARR’S STAND-IN. ON 15 JUNE, NICOL FLEW BACK TO ENGLAND
Radio presenter Bob Francis, then a 25-year-old DJ with 5AD, found himself at the centre of the furore.
Francis had no idea what was to come when he bemoaned the fact on radio that the Beatles were yet another group to bypass Adelaide for the lack of an adequate pop-music venue.
The now 75-year-old, who retired from the airwaves last year, suggested 3000 signatures could be enough to prod the entrenched government of “Honest” Tom Playford into action. Within three days he received 80,000. “They even came in on rolls of toilet paper,” Francis, who is still stopped in the street and thanked for bringing the Beatles to town, says
“I sent them (signatures) off to the Melbourne headquarters of the company running the tour and was amazed within days to get the message back, ‘ Beatles concert in Adelaide booked for June 12’.”
There was a hiccup when the hire cost of the 3000-capacity Centennial Hall, situated at Adelaide Showground, turned out to be “exorbitant”, but John Martin’s department store jumped in to sponsor four shows and the rest is remarkable history.
It all began well before the civic reception at the Town Hall with large crowds scattering rose petals along the cavalcade route from the airport along Tapleys Hill Rd, Anzac Highway and West Tce to North Tce.
Fanatical photographer George Harrison, whose extensive pictorial essay of his Adelaide visit was published in the volume 50 Years Adrift by Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, recalled the scenes in his memoirs.
“Sitting in an open-top car waving at all the people, I felt like a tourist on an amusement ride. It was almost surreal,’’ Harrison wrote as he recalled the incredible moment when he had just turned 21.
“I’ll never forget this boy riding up alongside us on his bicycle, shaking Paul’s hand and saying ‘G’day mate’.’’
Only seven months had passed since John F Kennedy was gunned down and Harrison reflected that he felt a little vulnerable in the open-topped Ford convertible.
Harrison was later a regular visitor to Adelaide for the Formula One Grand Prix and, in 1995, spoke of the 1964 visit.
“We had no idea that so many people would be waiting for us,” he told a reporter.
“After all, there were only 3000 people at the airport in New York, so why should there be 300,000 in Adelaide?”
Opposite The Beatles, with Jimmie Nicol replacing Ringo Starr, at Adelaide Airport in June 1964 Above Paul McCartney, leads the way across the tarmac