They were in Ade­laide for just 48 hours, but the Bea­tles sparked a so­cial revo­lu­tion in 1964 that changed our city for­ever

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UP FRONT - words craig cook pho­tog­ra­phy vic grim­mett

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.



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

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