It was September 1967. A few months earlier The Beatles had released their iconic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, considered by many to be the greatest of all time.
The Fab Four were still at the peak of their powers, so any kind of appearance in Cornwall was surely out of the question.
But having set themselves the task of filming the experimental movie Magical Mystery Tour, based on a mystery tour around Britain, the world’s most famous pop group opted for one of the most enigmatic regions possible.
The tour was said to have been Paul McCartney’s idea. He wanted The Beatles to shoot their own television spectacular, writing and producing it themselves, using the knowledge they had gleaned while making their first two feature films.
So at lunchtime on Monday, September 11, 1967, without a formal script, the four and their entourage set off from London in a psychedelic yellow tour bus and headed for the Westcountry.
McCartney revealed why. “We decided on the Westcountry because it is so interesting and varied,” he said.
Still reeling from the death of manager Brian Epstein two weeks before, McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were among 46 people aboard the coach as it wound its way west on the old A30, stopping at the Pied Pier restaurant in Winchester on route.
After spending the night at the former Royal Hotel in Teignmouth, where 400 local fans waited for them in the pouring rain, the group set off again.
The next stop was supposed to be Widecombe-in-the-Moor on Dartmoor, where they intended to visit a fair, but the coach never made it after becoming stuck on a narrow bridge nearby.
With cars snarled up behind them, and tempers flaring, John Lennon got off and ripped placards off the side of the coach.
It took some time to free the coach, which had to back half a mile up the road, and they moved on to Plymouth instead. The group stopped for lunch in the city, pulling up on the Hoe, where they ate at the Grand Hotel and posed for pictures.
After waving goodbye to Devon, the coach rejoined the A38 to cross the Tamar Bridge. Their first stop was somewhere in Liskeard . No filming was done there; they may have stopped to look at maps and decide where to go next.
Back on the road, the next stop was Bodmin . The coach pulled up outside the West End Dairy at 57 Higher Bore Street, where the delighted owner, Mr D G Medland, sold ice-cream, fruit and lollipops to The Beatles and their party. The scene was filmed, but left on the cutting floor.
After the refreshments, the coach pulled away but made another stop in the town a few minutes later. Residents in Paull Road, at the Fair Park, must have wondered what a huge colourful coach was doing in their quiet cul-de-sac. Perhaps it was lost. Maybe the Beatles were trying to escape from the media pack. Or perhaps Mr McCartney saw his namesake road on the map and said: “Let’s go there!”
Whatever the reason, The Beatles did do some filming in Paull Road. One of the film characters, Jolly Jimmy Johnson the Courier (played by actor Derek Royle), was filmed boarding the coach and greeting the passengers. This scene can be watched at the beginning of the finished film.
The coach then returned to the A30 and headed for Newquay , where it arrived on the Tuesday afternoon (September 12).
The Fab Four spent three days being filmed at several locations in and around the town, including the Huer’s Hut, Porth, Watergate Bay, Holywell Bay, Tregurrian, Fistral Beach and the famous Atlantic Hotel on Dane Road, where they stayed for three nights.
In The Complete Beatles Chronicle , author Mark Lewisohn noted that the band originally intended to stop in Newquay for only one night. He wrote: “After considerable private discussion, in which they weighed up the merits of either moving on to a new hotel each day or staying put in one location and using it as a base, they opted for the latter alternative and decided to remain at the Atlantic for three nights: Tuesday to Thursday.”
The Beatles took four holiday flats in the grounds of the hotel – and were rushed by hundreds of fans as they made their way to the main building for meals.
The band’s stay caused a sensation around the town as fans clamoured to meet, or even just glimpse, their idols.
Speaking in 2002, Doris Freeth, who danced with Paul McCartney in the Atlantic Hotel ballroom, said that it had all been like a dream – even though he was not the best dancer in the world.
Mrs Freeth said that she knew the owner of the hotel, and he had telephoned her to ask if she would like to meet the band.
She said: “My friend put us at a table next to them, and when the music started my husband asked Paul McCartney if he would dance with me.
“But he said that he couldn’t dance. Those were the days when it was all rock and roll and jiving, but this was ballroom dancing instead.
“I had brown suede shoes on and he kept treading on my feet. I didn’t brush them for a week afterwards.”
Chris Parkin said that he sneaked into the hotel with a friend by pretending to be a waiter.
They met Paul and Ringo in the hotel cocktail bar, and Chris ended up playing billiards with Ringo for much of the evening.
He said: “They were really down to earth. They were really friendly and easy to talk to.It was a huge event at the time. They were world superstars, above everyone else in the pop and showbusiness world.I remember coming out of the hotel at 11.30pm and the crowd which had been waiting outside had gone.John Lennon came out of the hotel and, realising that everyone had gone, he put his hands up to the air, looked up to the sky and said ‘save me’ as a joke, because he was so used to having crowds around him.”
Filming began on the Wednesday (September 13). The Magical Mystery Tour coach took the band and some of the actors along the B3276 to Watergate Bay, where they filmed on the beach.
The Beatles were filmed looking through the beach telescope, although these scenes were left out of the finished film. It was at Watergate Bay where the film’s most romantic scene was shot – involving Ringo’s Aunt Jessie and Buster Bloodvessel.
The coach returned to the Atlantic Hotel for lunch – with Paul McCartney thinking of ways to brighten up the film. After lunch, a 17-year-old holidaymaker called Catherine Osborne approached Paul and asked for his autograph.
The Beatle told her: “I want you to be in the film.” Then he turned to the camera crew and ordered: “Find me some more gorgeous girls.”
That’s when Newquay girl Judith Rogers, who was playing truant from school, got her big chance. Judith, 15, who lived at Ulalia Road, was spotted among the fans outside the Atlantic by film production manager Peter Theobald, who approached her and asked: “Have you got a bikini?”
The schoolgirl said she had brought one along to sunbathe and was wearing it underneath her skirt and blouse. “Well, change into it quickly and you can be in the film,” said Mr Theobald.
Judith did just that – and then found herself talking to John Lennon, who gave her instructions about her scene.
She was filmed being chased over the clifftops and around the hotel swimming pool by veteran comedian Nat Jackley, who played the part of Happy Nat the Rubber Man.
While being filmed at Huer’s Hut Judith was lifted on to a ledge by George Harrison. She said: “I remember thinking, I’m being picked up by a Beatle. My friend Julie and I had a cine-camera and The Beatles started dancing around in front of it, posing with us and acting daft.
“I ended up sitting on George Harrison’s lap in the foyer for about half an hour. He told me how much he hated being followed and chased everywhere by fans because it was scary. He said he was happy to talk to fans for as long as they wanted, if they just wouldn’t scream all the time.”
In the afternoon, Judith and a handful of other girls joined Paul and Ringo on the coach for a trip to Holywell, where Happy Nat the Rubber Man was filmed continuing to chase girls up the cliffs.
The coach got back on the road to Watergate Bay, stopping in Porth, where Paul and actor George Claydon – who played Little George the Photographer – were filmed riding a tandem on the beach. The tandem had been lent to The Beatles by Sylvia Brice, from Plymouth, who took her machine to Newquay on the roof rack of a taxi sent to fetch it by The Beatles.
That afternoon, George recorded an interview with reporter Miranda Ward for a radio programme called Scene and Heard on the new BBC station Radio 1. Parts of it were broadcast over the next few weeks.
In the evening, another pop star turned up at the Atlantic Hotel – Spencer Davis. He was on holiday with his family at nearby Perranporth and had heard The Beatles were in Newquay, so he rang the Atlantic Hotel and spoke to Beatles roadie Mal Evans, who invited him over.
Spencer Davis and his wife and daughters were staying at Perranporth’s Tywarnhayle pub, the landlord of which was Leslie Leslie, the father of Spencer Davis’s roadie Alec Leslie. They chatted and had a drink with The Beatles – and even got roped in to do some filming at the hotel.
The next day, Thursday, September 14, was the Magical Mystery Tour’s final full day in the Westcountry. After breakfast, the coach and its passengers set off in search of a quiet field to film in.
They ended up a cornfield at Tregurrian, not far from Newquay, where a tent was erected for a sequence of George meditating to his song, ‘Blue Jay Way’. Every passenger on the coach was filmed going into the tent, one at a time, for a humorous sketch in the final film.
In the afternoon, the film had to return to London and BBC reporter Miranda Ward was asked by Paul McCartney to help out – so she followed him around the field, switching on her tape recorder when he asked her to. The party returned to the Atlantic Hotel for a late lunch at 4pm.
In the evening, Paul and Ringo decided to take up an invitation by Spencer Davis to visit the Tywarnhayle pub in Perranporth and set off with a small group, including roadie Neil Aspinall and BBC reporter Miranda Ward, arriving at the pub just before closing time.
Spencer Davis takes up the story: “I’m sitting in the bar when in walks Paul and Ringo. The punters in the pub just couldn’t believe it. Paul, being the sort of character he is, just grins at everybody, shouts out ‘Evenin’ all’ and then installs himself at the piano. He sat belting out pub songs all evening with everybody singing along until about two in the morning. That was such a great night.”
Miranda Ward said that Paul played “every pub standard” on the piano – but for some reason refused to play ‘Yellow Submarine’.
That same night, a brick was thrown through the window of the Magical Mystery Tour coach outside the Atlantic Hotel, and George Harrison’s beloved denim jacket was stolen.
Local bobby PC Brian Curnow went to the hotel and interviewed several people and examined the coach for any clues. The culprit was never found, and George Harrison never got his favourite jacket back.
After breakfast on Friday, September 15, the entire party, including The Beatles, posed for photographs in front of the Atlantic Hotel before boarding the coach for the trip back to London, stopping for fish and chips in Taunton on the way.
And so, with a generous sprinkling of salt and vinegar, ended four days destined to enter the annals of pop music history. The Beatles spent six weeks editing the 60-minute film, which was badly received by critics after its initial screening in black and white on BBC2 on Boxing Day, 1967. However, it has since been reappraised, and continues to be a favourite among Beatles fans around the world.