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John and Cynthia Lennon, George Harrison and Pattie Boyd fly to Tahiti

Two days after beginning their holiday in Hawaii, John and Cynthia Lennon, George Harrison and Pattie Boyd flew on to their main destination: Papeete in Tahiti.

One of my earliest major responsibilities, the organization of The Beatles’ first real holiday, had been handed to me within hours of my entering the NEMS office. The holiday was to last all of May and was to remain top secret, classified. With code-names, disguises, decoys, unmarked cars – everything but the elimination of witnesses – it proved a deeply thrilling affair. I chose the aliases: the Lennons were to be the Leslies, George was to be Mr Hargreaves and his girl-friend, Pattie Boyd, Miss Bond; they were all going to Tahiti. The others, Paul and Jane Asher (Mr Manning and Miss Ashcroft) and Ringo and Maureen Cox (Mr Stone and Miss Cockroft), were off to the Virgin Islands.

Neil Aspinall was Ashenden and I was Tatlock. The names had a nice fictional feel to them: ‘Ah, Manning, I see you have the documents. Kindly step into the library. Ashenden will have Tatlock serve tea…’ It was about the only fun to be had out of the arrangements, which were so elaborate as virtually to ensure a supreme cock-up. Sure enough, a travel agent mixed up the travel documents so that Ringo, en route with Paul and me to their first stop (Paris), discovered he had George’s passport; while George, on his way with John and Neil to Amsterdam, found he had Ringo’s. Ringo was angry but reasonable about the slip-up; I never did find out how George reacted. In any case, with extra planes travelling to and fro, the passports were properly delivered at the next intermediate points of the journeys.

Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

The Lennons, Harrison and Boyd had flown to Hawaii on 2 May, before flying on to Tahiti on 4 May.

We had to stay in Honolulu for a couple of days awaiting the connection to Tahiti, so to get away from Waikiki we drove up to the north of the island to a beach where no one knew us. Then we flew to Tahiti, and at Papeete was waiting the sailing boat that we’d booked. We went to a couple of shops there, where John and I bought cool-looking, dark green oilskin macs.

We slept on the boat that night and started sailing first thing the next morning – but as soon as we were out of the harbour we got into a really rough channel of water. We had to keep the engine going, and the boat had just been painted so it stunk of diesel and paint. We couldn’t go below because of the fumes, so we lay holding on to the deck. Soon Cynthia and I were feeling sick and puked everywhere. The day seemed long, but eventually, as the sun was setting, we anchored at the next island. We were so ill that we just got into our bunks and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke and looked out of the porthole. It was fantastic. At that time we’d hardly been anywhere out of England, and never to anywhere that was tropical. It was incredible; a smooth lagoon with the island in the background, with mountains and coconut palms. Five or six Tahitians were paddling an outrigger canoe, gliding across the calm sea. It blissed me out.

We had a great time swimming, snorkelling and sailing from island to island. John spent some of the time writing A Spaniard In The Works, and I remember coming up with a lot of little phrases while he sat at the table making it up and speaking it out. If anybody said anything it would go in the book.

Cynthia and Pattie had long black wigs which they wore as disguises. John and I put their wigs on, and our oilskin macs, and made a little 8mm film about natives on an island with a missionary – John – who comes out of the ocean to convert them.

George Harrison

George Harrison and John Lennon disguised in Tahiti, May 1964

The initial part of the group’s stay was marred by bad weather, as Cynthia Lennon later recalled.

Our ‘yacht’ turned out to be a rather elderly fishing boat and it rained torrentially, monsoon style, for the first couple of days. I was seasick and wished we’d never set out. But once the storm had passed we had a wonderful time. Our Tahitian crew was happy and helpful and, much to our delight, had no idea who the boys were. The cook specialised in potatoes cooked a different way each night, which meant John and I went home considerably fatter. We lay on deck, swam, talked and ate and, best of all, the press never found us.
Cynthia Lennon

The freedom from the press was in stark contrast to their experiences of Hawaii, and they were recognised on just one occasion.

In Tahiti we were OK; we escaped there. Once we were on the boat, no one got near us – except for one fella from Sydney who we didn’t speak to. He swam with us, saying, ‘Can I come on your boat?’ We said ‘no’ and he had to swim miles back!
John Lennon, 1964

During the holiday John Lennon spent time reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, which helped inspire his second collection of stories, A Spaniard In The Works.

I was writing The Singularge Experience of Miss Anne Duffield, the Sherlock Holmes piece; it was the longest one I’d ever done. I was seeing how far I could go. I would have gone on and on and made a whole book out of it, but I couldn’t.

I read one or two Conan Doyle books when I was younger, but on the boat that we’d hired there was a set of them. There was nothing else on the boat but books, half of them were in French and half of them in English. Tahiti and all those islands – great, but I still got into reading. I read every book that was in English whether I liked it or not; through boredom, really. There just happened to be a big volume of Sherlock Holmes, a sort of madman’s Sherlock Holmes where you get all the stories in one; and I realised that every story was the same. They’re all pretty similar; and that’s what I was doing, writing all of them into one. So I wrote one Shamrock Womlbs after three weeks of Sherlock Holmes in Tahiti.

John Lennon

The holiday lasted until 26 May 1964.

We discovered that all those wonderful native girls that you read so much about had no teeth, because the Americans went down there with their chewing-gum during the war with Japan.
George Harrison
Fifty Years Adrift, Derek Taylor
Last updated: 3 March 2023
Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, Ringo Starr and Maureen Cox fly to the Virgin Islands
US EP release: Four By The Beatles
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  1. Dean Wrigley Wednesday 9 November 2022

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