On the morning of 7 June 1964 The Beatles flew from Amsterdam to Hong Kong, a journey which took in refueling stops in several countries and lasted more than 24 hours.
The group first flew back to London Airport where their connecting flight was postponed for an hour to allow them to catch it. Once they were on board the BEA 10.15am flight to Hong Kong began.
Next day we flew back to London and, now accompanied by John’s Aunt Mimi, boarded a BOAC Boeing 707 bound for Hong Kong. The flight began in harmony and extreme fatigue. I still had Brian’s autobiography, A Cellarful Of Noise, to complete – serialization had already begun in an Australian paper. My God! And I’d heard that there were receptions planned at every airport along the route to Hong Kong. Paul summoned me to his seat: ‘Do you know anything about these so-called “welcomes”?’ A little, I admitted. ‘Well, we’re not doing anything, we’re knackered. You’d better make sure everyone knows. Everyone, Degs.’ (‘Degs’, yet. That at least was warm.) So now what? I was sure that all that was required was a wave and maybe the acceptance of a bunch of flowers; it didn’t sound too onerous to me. ‘You’re going to have to get a telex sent ahead to every stop, saying we won’t be doing a bloody thing,’ said Neil. But in Zürich there was going to be a band playing on the airport roof… ‘Did you arrange it?’ No; but it’s a free society and if they want to do it… ‘Bollocks to what they want. They should have been told The Beatles wouldn’t be doing anything. That’s your fault. They don’t owe a Swiss bunch of arseholes anything.’ Neil and I composed the telex between us; despite his hard manner, he had great humanity.
Fifty Years Adrift
The aeroplane made scheduled stops in Zürich, Beirut, Karachi, Calcutta and Bangkok before arriving in Hong Kong. At each airport terminal hordes of fans turned out in the hope of seeing The Beatles, regardless of the time of day or whether the group actually left the plane.
There was a band playing on the roof at Zürich. I saw it as we descended and then, when the plane stopped, I heard it. We all did. The telex had arrived either too late or not at all. I looked at Paul, who slowly shook his head. John grinned derisively at me. Mimi gave him an encouraging dig in the ribs with her elbow, but he said cheerfully, ‘Mind your own business, Mimi,’ and sat tight. The problem was mine and I faced it with enormous cowardice pumping icy water into my veins. I emerged into the fresh air to tell the spokesman for the band that The Boys werre too tired to come out. There was a loud wail, followed by a roar of anger as I slunk back to the plane; once again, my psyche craved the olden, golden days of obscurity…
Fifty Years Adrift
In Beirut local police used fire-fighting foam to hold back hundreds of fans who broke through security and invaded the runway. In Karachi Paul McCartney was mobbed while buying souvenirs at the airport at 2am, forcing him back onto the aeroplane. The only stop which held no drama was at Calcutta, where they managed to disembark for a cup of tea at 6am on 8 June.
While the plane was refuelling at Bangkok around 1,000 fans, many wearing school uniform, stormed through the airport chanting ‘Beatles come out!’ The group obliged, signing autographs at the bottom of the aeroplane steps.
In Calcutta we got off the plane and went to the refreshment terminal, where we drank warm orange cordial under an ancient ceiling-fan resembling a propeller. It was hot as hell and very humid. The steward who served us was impassive, indifferent; we could have been anybody. Bangkok was another story: America in the Orient, with hundreds of people smiling up at the plane. This time, rested by now and showing signs of excitement (and just maybe inclined to reward me for having protected them at Zürich), the Fab Three and Jimmie got out of their seats to sign autographs and receive gifts and garlands, kisses, smiles and waves. A thousand memories were born that night in Bangkok. I was very happy. I hadn’t joined this adventure to restrain or stifle it; I wanted to help it along, to contribute. I was, after all, a Beatlemaniac myself.
Fifty Years Adrift
On the flight John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a pillow fight, which was filmed by Australian cameraman Mayo Hunter. The footage was shown the following week on the country’s Seven Network shortly after The Beatles’ tour reached Australia.
The best flight I remember was that one to Hong Kong. It took several hours and I remember them saying, ‘Return to your seats because we’re approaching Hong Kong’ and I thought, ‘We can’t be there already.’ We’d been sitting on the floor drinking and taking Preludins for about 30 hours and it seemed like a ten-minute flight.
On all those flights we were still on uppers and that’s what helped us get through because we’d drink a whisky and Coke with anyone, even if he was the devil, and charm the pants off him.
Fifty Years Adrift, Derek Taylor
As we approached Hong Kong, The Beatles’ mood changed. They became surly and unapproachable. John, owing partly to Mimi’s presence and partly to his greater enthusiasm for Asia, was just about bearable; Paul and George were not pleasant company. On this final leg of the flight, I wrote home and related my experiences with The Boys to date. Full of pessimism and disillusion, the letter made grim reading. I was fast realizing that what in [former press officer Brian] Sommerville had seemed to be insensitivity and obstructiveness was in reality something much more complicated. In short, without their cooperation, no one could get these Boys to do anything that wasn’t actually written in to their contracts…
To my great relief, however, the Fab Three brightened up as we touched down in the Orient. At least here, as well as waving and grinning, they could play some music – and that, after all, was how this lark had begun. With music. That, sometimes, was hard to remember.
Fifty Years Adrift
Also on this day...
- 2015: Paul McCartney live at Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- 2014: Ringo Starr live at CMAC, Hopewell, New York
- 2005: US album release: Choose Love by Ringo Starr
- 1968: George Harrison and Ringo Starr fly to America
- 1967: Recording: You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Glasgow
- 1961: Live: Top Ten Club, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.