On 30 May 1964, The Beatles held a press conference at the NEMS Enterprises Ltd offices at Sutherland House, 5-6 Argyll Street, London.
It was organised by Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ press officer – his first such event since recently being appointed to the role by manager Brian Epstein. Taylor was taking a risk, having arranged and announced the event prior to securing the involvement of the band.
I decided to dive straight in at the deep end of this new and challenging job by organizing a massive press conference. IT would have to be 30 May, the only Saturday between The Boys’ return from their tropical retreats and the beginning of their foreign and Commonwealth tours on 4 June. The idea offered great possibilities in terms of coverage, interviews and pictures in all the media and many languages; but it was still a very big gamble. I couldn’t consult The Beatles and I wouldn’t consult Brian. Some notes I made at the time graphically reveal my apprehensions: ‘Stomach boiling. If they don’t want to come they won’t. Have no right to expect them to. World’s press now on a promise. I am on a collision course. No means of letting B’s know until they fly in the day before. Have given a letter of explanation and request to each one via chauffeur…’
I knew they were used to receiving instructions from Brian by letter; but would they pay any attention to a letter from me? ‘Can’t promise anything, sailor,’ said Neil. ‘This is just a press thing, and it’s not Brian’s. It’s yours.’ Christ! I asked him, fearfully, if he thought they would come. ‘Maybe they will, maybe they won’t,’ he said; but he agreed to do what he could. The night before the conference I rang first him, then Mal Evans and finally, in desperation, Brian. None of them was at home. I was on my own. If this was how it had been for [former press officer Brian] Sommerville, no wonder the poor sod had kept his dog with him for company. I went over to the Old Bull and Bush: ‘Large gin and tonic please, and three bottles of pale ale.’ Pale ale? Sorry, I’d forgotten I was in London; light ale, please. All this confusion… why hadn’t I stayed up north, where I belonged? Early next morning, Brian Epstein telephoned: ‘The Boys tell me they’re coming to your press conference. You have taken on far too much and without consultation. If it is a hopeless mess, I shall hold you responsible. That’s all.’ After breakfast, we all went shopping and then over to the Old Bull and Bush for drinks before I had to leave for the NEMS office. Joan squeezed my hand encouragingly. ‘It’ll work!’ My heart hit the pit of my stomach. How will it work? How can it?
I had NEMS staff posted at the street entrance, at the lifts and in each of the rooms converted to temporary studios for the world’s media. The senior executives were absent (at my request) but the excellent junior staff were on hand, eager and helpful as can be. Dear Jo Bergman, assistant press officer, was at my side to help move the press around. At three o’clock, unbelievably but as promised, Neil wheeled in the Fab Four, beautifully dressed, happy, fit, tanned, polite and full of talk. The Daily Express ‘columnist’ gave me a special welcome; and I realized, with a surge of joy, that they had all come prepared to do their best. I quietened the rabble of press, radio and TV persons – about 60 of them, all vetted – by banging on a table and proceeded to introduce The Beatles. But where was my voice? Ringo said: ‘What’s the matter, Derek? Scared?’ Hard laughs, high tension. Voice still fading. ‘Can’t hear yer,’ John said, not unkindly but not helpfully either. ‘I want you all to help each other,’ I said, suddenly recovering, ‘and enjoy yourselves.’ From then on we kept moving, talking, marshalling, diverting, dealing. Brian dropped in for a few minutes early in the session; nodding briefly and coldly at anyone who happened to catch his eye, he said to me: ‘Remember what I said. This place is a mess. Far too many people!’
The hours spun by in a spiral of communication. In what seemed no time at all, it was nine o’clock – The Boys had been working for six hours. Six hours! I’d expected three at most. To close, we lined them up – or rather, they lined themselves up – for a final great picture session; and then, still fresh and pleasant, the Fab Four loped off with Neil. Later that night, Epstein telephoned: ‘I’m pleased. I’ve heard good reports. Thank you very much. Indeed.’ Thanks, Beatles. I had climbed Everest for the first time (though not the last); climbed it without oxygen but with Sherpas – our young NEMS enthusiasts, Jo, Valerie, Barbara. The pictures and stories we made that day are still turning up, 20 years on.
Fifty Years Adrift
Also on this day...
- 2018: Limited edition Yellow Submarine picture disc single to be released
- 2013: Paul McCartney live at BOK Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
- 2012: Ringo Starr’s childhood home is saved from demolition
- 1969: UK single release: The Ballad Of John And Yoko
- 1968: Recording: Revolution 1
- 1966: US single release: Paperback Writer
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Manchester
- 1962: Live: Star-Club, Hamburg
- 1961: Live: Top Ten Club, Hamburg
- 1960: Live: Jacaranda Coffee Bar, Liverpool
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.