It was 1964, and I was the slightly wet-behind-the-ears, 25-year-old West Coast correspondent for one of Britain’s biggest newspapers, the London Daily Express—circulation four million daily.
Based in Los Angeles, I had arrived only six months earlier and contracted with the paper’s foreign editor David English to cover, on a freelance basis, an assortment of major breaking news stories. I was the new cockney kid on the Beverly Hills block who was beginning to live his dream of being a real foreign correspondent. Except I wouldn’t be covering significant “serious” news like that of my hero, Edward R. Murrow. My job was to chronicle the vagaries of Hollywood, which ranged from the marriages of Elizabeth Taylor to the divorces of Marlon Brando and Cary Grant.
My dogged reporting on actor Peter Sellers’ series of massive heart attacks after marrying the nubile 21-year-old Swedish starlet Britt Ekland, as well as my work on other assignments that dealt with other British-tinged showbiz shenanigans, impressed David and, after a time, he hired me full-time to be the Express’ man in Hollywood.
So it was in mid-August 1964, when I received an unexpected call. English was on the line with my first big job: To cover, from start to finish, a hot, British rock ’n’ roll group making its first concert tour of North America.
The Beatles had first set foot in America earlier in the year, with two live performances on the country’s most popular variety hour, The Ed Sullivan Show. Their first appearance, on February 9, had made them an instant sensation, drawing 74 million viewers and changing music history forever.
Now I was to witness the repercussions unfold at a 24-city tour, staged over 34 days, to begin that very evening in San Francisco. But it was more than just a ticket to ride; I was to become, not just front row and center for every one of their sold-out concerts, but part of their entourage. The Beatles were in stretch limo Number 1, along with their manager Brian Epstein. I traveled in Number 2, along with press officer Derek Taylor, a reporter from a Liverpool daily newspaper and a writer from one of England’s top musical weeklies. We were flanked by wailing motorcycle escorts, whizzing through the hordes of hysterical fans. On the Beatles’ private jet, we flew from California to Canada, Montreal to Milwaukee, New Orleans to New York.
I lived and ate with the boys. We had adjoining hotel rooms drank, kibitzed and played cards and Monopoly with them into the early hours of the morning, seamlessly integrated into their lives. In addition, I was given the job of ghostwriting a weekly newspaper column for the youngest Beatle, George Harrison. My access to them was unfettered—unheard of in today’s pop music world.
The access didn’t end when they returned to their homes across the Pond. I was also alongside them part of the way the following summer, when they made their second U.S. tour.
I was there when they popped pills and talked candidly about their passions and the things and people that they disliked; when they told war stories; when they moaned about the lousy sound systems and the crappy merchandise sold at stadiums, about their fear of flying and about how they coped with the revolving door of women of all shapes, sizes and ages that came calling.
I was there the night when a scandal in Las Vegas threatened to derail their tour and when gorgeous Hollywood stars came knocking. I was a fly on the wall for their meet-and-greet with the King himself—Elvis Presley—and a wet towel away the night Bob Dylan introduced them to the joys of marijuana.
This book is my very personal invitation to travel back to the Way They Were, my vivid recollection of life back then, when communication was so much simpler, when John Lennon called people “twits”—and twitter was something that only birds did.
It’s my personal, inside tale of what happened on that first, weird and wonderful North American tour—of 34 manic and memorable days.
It was 50 years ago today.
And I was there.