The Beatles' final concert tour

On Thursday 11th August 1966 The Beatles arrived in the United States for what was to be their final tour. As always with The Beatles there was a great deal of press interest but this time it was more than just a showbiz story - there was also a possible threat to the guys' safety following the outcry, especially in America's southern states, over John Lennon's reported claim that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now”.
 
The band and their entourage flew into Boston then changed planes and continued on to Chicago for the first gig. They were supported on the tour by four other acts: The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes.
 
On the plane with The Beatles were a number of British journalists plus representatives from three of Britain's larger offshore stations: Jerry Leighton of Radio Caroline, Swinging Radio England's Ron O'Quinn and Kenny Everett who was there on behalf of Radio London.


press release

Radio Caroline press release, kindly provided by Hans Knot.

Radio London had found a sponsor, Bassett's Jelly Babies, to pay for a show each evening at 7:30pm which would include Kenny's reports from the tour. (Jelly Babies were reputedly The Beatles' favourite sweets.) The DJ was a huge Beatles fan and delighted to be invited. Remembering the tour in his autobiography, The Custard Stops at Hatfield (published by Willow Books, 1982), he wrote:

Kenny Everett

Kenny Everett. Photo kindly provided by Raoul Verolleman.

“I was lying in (bed) one night when Alan Keen, Radio London's Programme Director, phoned me and asked the dumbest question I'd heard to date. ‘Hi,’ he said, ‘how would you like to meet The Beatles?’ The Fab Four were, of course, my idols and I'd have given my right arm just to kiss the hem of John (Lennon)'s socks .... Then Alan said: ‘I'm afraid you'll have to go to America with them, follow them around to about twenty different cities and spend a few weeks nattering to them about the tour and life and anything else they want to tell you.’ Can you imagine anything more blissful than going to the States, free, first-class, and trolling around the country with your idols? No, neither could I. It's like being told you've just won the pools and you're going to heaven to spend it.”
 
Although a brilliant disc-jockey, Kenny was young - just 21 at the time - and was not an experienced interviewer or reporter. But he did have one major advantage - he shared the band's Liverpool roots. From the autobiography again:
 
“(On the plane) I remember hearing this thick Liverpudlian accent out of the corner of my ear: ‘Which wun's Kenny Everutt?’ It was Paul (McCartney)! Saying my name with his own lips! This mega-star of mammoth proportions ... was acknowledging my humble, grovelling presence, not only on this earth, but on the same plane!! I was a bundle of jelly-like quivering nerves at the prospect of spending a lot of time with The Beatles because I was only too well aware of my shortcomings .... especially when it came to interviewing; I was the absolute pits, dear! I would dangle a microphone under the nose of whichever Beatle I was talking to ... and wait for him to say something. I hadn't worked out that interviewing involved asking questions which needed answering.”
 
Kenny continues:
 
“My brief from Bassetts was to relay back to London a daily report and interview with The Beatles on how the tour was going. Which would have been OK, had it not been for my gross incompetence as an interviewer. The lads were friendly towards me, but I kept messing things up by asking dumb questions like: ‘How's it going then, John?’ What can a poor guy answer to that, apart from, as he did: ‘You're not a very good interviewer are you, Ken?’ I would then suffer Hiroshima-sized attacks of paranoia and wander into a corner, feeling bad for days. Paul saw all this going on and took pity on me, thank God. He took me into the bathroom of the hotel we were staying at and said ‘Why don't you ask me just one question and I'll rabbit on for ages. Then you'll have enough material for ages.’ Which was a godsend, because he gave me an hour's worth of tape which, by careful rationing, I was able to spin out to a few minutes worth every day for the duration of the tour. What a sweeties he is! I pretended that I'd done an interview with him every day during the tour but was actually just letting about ten seconds out every day, thereby saving my Bassetts bacon.”

Jerry Leighton

Jerry Leighton. Photo taken by Doug MacKenzie, kindly provided by Robbie Dale.

In the days before the internet or mobile phones, and without even ship-to-shore communications - forbidden by the British Post Office - none of the DJs could send reports directly to their ships. Radio London, needing audio for their daily programme, got round this by sending the station's news man Paul Kaye ashore each day to take a transatlantic phone call from Kenny. This was recorded and, after he had returned to the ship, the tape was edited and music added. Here is part of one of the programmes, a copy of the studio master. Hosted by Senior DJ Tony Windsor the clip includes Kenny telling Paul about the flight to the States and the first concert of the tour. It includes a very short recording from that first gig, at the International Amphitheatre Chicago on 12th August 1966.

click to hear audio click to hear audio Kenny Everett reports on the Beatles tour of America from August 1966. Many thanks to Hans Stieper for providing this rare clip. It is a copy of a tape obtained by a couple of German fans in 1968. Their story and more studio recordings are here (duration 3 minutes 30 seconds)

Radio London was the only offshore station to broadcast voiced reports. Radio Caroline's Jerry Leighton simply sent written details by telex and these were read out by the disc-jockeys and news-readers on the two ships:

click to hear audio click to hear audio Emperor Rosko on Caroline South with a report from Jerry Leighton during the afternoon of 13th August 1966. Recording courtesy of www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 55 seconds)
click to hear audio click to hear audio Mark Sloane with the Caroline (South) Newsbeat round-up at 6:30pm on 28th August. Recording kindly provided by Margaret Mytton (duration 1 minute 34 seconds)

 

telex

telex

telex

telex

Four of Jerry Leighton's telexes, sent from The Beatles' tour of the US to Radio Caroline. From the collection of Gord Cruse, kindly shared with The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame by Ray Clark. Click on each to magnify.

Jerry's reports were also published in the weekly magazine Disc and Music Echo.

Jerry Leighton in Disc

Jerry Leighton reports for ‘Disc and Music Echo’. Cutting from 1960smusicmagazines.com.

Swinging Radio England's Ron O'Quinn also carried out interviews with The Beatles on that tour although, unfortunately, the listeners never got to hear them. Writing about the tour on Facebook in January 2014, Ron said: “Radio England had a problem recording the phone reports so I brought back all of the interviews on a tape which I was going to edit (but) .... I had immense problems with UK Immigration when I returned from the trip and was given three weeks to get my affairs in order and leave the country .... or leave the employ of Radio England. I obviously had a bad taste in my mouth for the UK authorities, (Postmaster General) Tony Benn in particular, and never put the interviews on the air. I left them on the ship and who knows what happened with them. I actually have one tape, but I am saving it for my estate to do away with.”


Ron O'Quinn and George Harrison

Ron O'Quinn and John Lennon

Ron O'Quinn with George Harrison, left photo, and John Lennon, right. Photos shared by Ron on Facebook and used with kind permission. He is pictured with Paul McCartney here.

As well as their Senior DJ travelling with The Beatles, Swinging Radio England also had a daily show recorded in New York City hosted by WMCA's Gary Stevens. Despite the time lag between recording and transmission necessitated by having to send tapes across the Atlantic, he included regular updates on The Beatles tour provided by Bess Coleman. She had worked in public relations for Beatles manager Brian Epstein in his New York office and provided daily reports for syndication across the States, as well as writing for Teen Life magazine. This programme clip contains her report from the two Memphis gigs which took place on Friday 19th August:

click to hear audio click to hear audio Gary Stevens on Radio England, 23rd August 1966, with a report from Bess Coleman on The Beatles' Memphis concerts. Recording from ‘The SRE Collection’ DVD (duration 1 minute 22 seconds)
         

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