The Beatles had never intended to snub the Philippines’ First Lady, Imelda Marcos, on the day of their two concerts in Manila. However, on this day they awoke to chaotic scenes as a result of the misunderstanding.
The Manila Times newspaper carried a front-page story accusing The Beatles of “snubbing the First Lady and the three Marcos children,” leading to serious ramifications for the group.
Just after eight that morning a man in a shiny suit carrying a brown briefcase came to deliver an envelope for Brian Epstein: ‘Here is your bill for the income tax due on The Beatles’ fee.’ Our contract with Cavalcade, as with most concert promoters outside the UK, was very precise on the matter of local taxes. The responsibility for payment belonged with the promoter. Ramon Ramos Jr was contractually liable for the settlement of any tax bills. But the taxman insisted that the full fee was taxed as earnings regardless of any other contracts. His words were confirmed by the Manila Daily Mirror headline: BEATLES TOLD: PAY NOW, LEAVE LATER. The newspapers carried hostile headlines such as FURORE OVER BEATLES SNUB DAMPENS SHOW and IMELDA STOOD UP: FIRST FAMILY WAITS IN VAIN FOR MOPHEADS. According to a palace spokesperson, The Beatles had ‘spit in the eye of the First Family.’ It was also reported quite erroneously that The Beatles had requested an audience with Imelda Marcos in the first place, the one press story that brought forth hollow laughter from the boys.
John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me
From then on The Beatles’ troubles escalated. Staff at the Hotel Manila refused to provide room service or to handle their baggage, although their driver remained loyal. The group’s press officer Tony Barrow and NEMS employee Vic Lewis travelled ahead to the airport to check in.
Eventually the group’s manager Brian Epstein filed a bond for Pesos 74,450 to settle the tax levy, leaving NEMS Enterprises with a financial loss for the Filipino leg of the tour. Contesting the matter would have been fruitless, and the priority for The Beatles’ party was to leave the country at the earliest opportunity.
At Manila International Airport, management and staff had been instructed to give no assistance to The Beatles’ party. Escalators stopped working as they approached them, forcing them to carry heavy amplifiers and instrument cases.
When The Beatles joined us, Filipino thugs, some in military uniform, closed in on our party from all sides. Guns were brandished and fired into the air, makeshift cudgels and coshes were waved in our faces. Someone shouted in English that The Beatles were not special and deserved to be treated just like ordinary passengers. John said: ‘Ordinary passengers? They don’t get kicked and thumped, do they?’ There was no alternative but to run the gauntlet of the menacing mob. Brian Epstein was punched in the face and kicked in the groin. The roadies got the worst of it. Mal Evans was kicked in the ribs and tripped up but he staggered on across the tarmac towards the aircraft with blood streaming down one leg. We did our best to shield John, Paul, George and Ringo from direct blows. Vic Lewis and I were the last to go. He held an open hand across his back saying it might protect his spine from a sniper’s bullet.
John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me
In addition to these injuries, chauffeur Alf Bicknall suffered a fractured rib and a spinal injury. The Manila Times newspaper carried an exaggerated story the following day detailing how they wished the events to be seen.
Drummer Ringo Starr was floored by an uppercut. As he crawled away the mob kicked him. George Harrison and John Lennon received kicks and blows as they ran to the customs zone. Paul McCartney was relatively unhurt as he sprinted ahead. Manager Brian Epstein received the brunt of the mob’s fury. He was kicked and thrown to the floor. As a result he suffered a sprained ankle and had to be helped to the customs area.
Once they made it on board the KLM aeroplane the turbulence continued. Tony Barrow and Mal Evans were ordered off once again. Stricken with anxiety, Evans turned to the others and said: “Tell Lil I love her,” a reference to his wife.
Evans and Barrow were worried that they would miss the flight and be stuck in Manila at the mercy of the locals. To their relief, it turned out that The Beatles’ party’s immigration papers had not been properly processed upon their arrival. This left them technically as illegal immigrants, with potentially serious ramifications. Eventually the passports were stamped and they were free to leave.
The flight’s departure time had elapsed, but Epstein and Lewis persuaded the pilot to wait for Barrow and Evans. The delay lasted 44 minutes.
As soon as KLM flight 862 aircraft rose up from the runway at 4.45pm that afternoon our entire party broke into spontaneous applause. George leant across the aisle between his seat and mine and said to me: ‘The only way I’d ever go back to that place would be to drop a dirty big bomb on it.’ Paul asked me if I had recorded Brian’s television statement and if so could he hear it. I told him: ‘I have it on a cassette. You can hear the newsreader’s introduction but the rest is a blur. They blotted out the whole of Brian’s explanation.’ Before Paul left the Manila Hotel in a typical gesture of PR goodwill on behalf of the group, he did a radio interview apologising for The Beatles’ failure to meet Imelda Marcos and saying that they knew nothing of her lunch party. At all times, even in adverse conditions, Paul carried an ample supply of oil for pouring onto troubled waters. Back home in London he gave the press a graphic account of our departure: ‘We were being pushed and banged around from one corner to another. With the escalators switched off we couldn’t go anywhere very fast. When they started knocking over our road managers everyone was falling all over the place. I swear there were at least 30 of them surrounding us.’ George had the final word. Asked on his arrival in London what was next on the group’s agenda he replied with only the merest a hint of a smile: ‘We’re going to have a couple of weeks to recuperate before we go and get beaten up by the Americans.’
John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me
Just minutes after the aeroplane left Filipino soil, a press statement was issued by President Marcos which absolved The Beatles of any wrongdoing.
There was no intention on the part of The Beatles to slight the First Lady or the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.
The Beatles’ flight was bound for New Delhi, where they hoped to enjoy a relaxing break. They arrived the following day to unwelcome scenes of Beatlemania, strengthening their resolve to end touring.