Having been edited to 55 minutes from nearly 10 hours of footage, The Beatles’ television film Magical Mystery Tour had its world première on BBC 1 at 8.35.
It was shown on BBC1 on Boxing Day, which is traditionally music hall and Bruce Forsyth and Jimmy Tarbuck time. Now we had this very stoned show on, just when everyone’s getting over Christmas. I think a few people were surprised. The critics certainly had a field day and said, ‘Oh, disaster, disaster!’
Although filmed in colour, Magical Mystery Tour was shown in black and white. Viewers were left baffled by many of the sequences, and television critics savaged the production.
Being British, we thought we’d give it to the BBC, which in those days was the biggest channel, who showed it in black and white. We were stupid and they were stupid. It was hated. They all had their chance to say, ‘They’ve gone too far. Who do they think they are? What does it mean?’ It was like the rock-opera situation: ‘They’re not Beethoven.’ They were still looking for things that made sense, and this was pretty abstract.
It was a crowd of people having a lot of fun with whatever came into mind. It was really slated but, of course, when people started seeing it in colour they realised that it was a lot of fun. In a weird way, I certainly feel it stood the test of time, but I can see that somebody watching it in black and white would lose so much of it – it would make no sense (especially the aerial ballet shot). We sent a guy out filming all over Iceland, and then it was shown in black and white – I mean, what is this? Painted silly clowns and magicians. What does it mean?
The press coverage the following day was almost wholly hostile.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And what a fall it was… The whole boring saga confirmed a long held suspicion of mine that The Beatles are four rather pleasant young men who have made so much money that they can apparently afford to be contemptuous of the public.
Whoever authorised the showing of the film on BBC 1 should be condemned to a year squatting at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The BBC switchboard was overwhelmed last night by people complaining about The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. Some people protested that the BBC 1 programme was incomprehensible.
A proportion of the criticism was directed at the BBC itself, which paid £10,000 for the rights to show Magical Mystery Tour. The film attracted an estimated 20 million viewers, making it the most-watched programme during the Christmas period.
It’s a long day’s night since any TV show took the hammering that this Beatles fantasy received by telephone and in print. Take your pick from the words, ‘Rubbish, piffle, chaotic, flop, tasteless, non-sense, emptiness and appalling!’ I watched it. There was precious little magic and the only mystery was how the BBC came to buy it.
TV critic, Evening News
Protests from viewers about The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour flooded the switchboard at the BBC Television Centre last night. Mystified viewers also phoned the Daily Mail. The TV critic Peter Black gave his verdict as ‘Appalling!’ BBC TV chiefs will almost certainly hold an inquest on the show at their next programme review meeting next Wednesday. But, BBC executives emphasised last night as criticism poured in: ‘The Beatles made the film – Not the BBC!’ One caller to the Daily Mail said: ‘It was terrible! It was worse than terrible. I watched it in a room together with twenty-five other people, and we were all stunned!’