“Records can’t be seen so it’s good to have a film vehicle of some sort to go with the new music,” said John Lennon about the Beatle’s television film, Magical Mystery Tour. As it is, we’ll be seeing both. The film is complete and will be shown in England at Christmas, and in America on NBC-TV in March. In addition Capitol will release a special Magical Mystery Tour LP shortly before Christmas.
Magical Mystery Tour is full of visual and musical fantasy, dream sequences, and the Beatles. “A lot of laughs, some off-beat characters, a few very glamorous girls, a bit of dancing and quite a bit of magic,” is how John describes it. The plot involves the adventures of a bus-load of passengers on a Mystery Tour trip. It has a cast of hundreds, including teams of formation dancers who appear in a spectacular finale. Victor Spinetti, who has appeared in both Beatles films as well as How I Won the War, makes a guest appearance as an Army recruiting sergeant. Some of the “off-beat characters and very glamorous girls,” are Derek Royle as Tour Courier Jolly Jimmy Johnson, Mandy West as Tour Hostess Wendy Winters, midget actor George Claydon as Little George the Amateur Photographer, heavyweight actress Jessie Robins as Ringo’s Auntie Jessie, and Maggie Wright as Paul’s girlfriend, Maggie the Lovely Starlet. Spencer Davis and The Traffic also appear.
The original idea to make a TV film about a bus tour was Paul’s. He thought it up in April while on a week’s vacation in America and started to work out the song, Magical Mystery Tour on the plane back to London. It clicked with the rest of the group because, says John, “At the beginning of 1967 we realized that we wouldn’t be doing any more concert tours because we couldn’t reproduce on stage the type of music we’d started to record. So if stage shows were to be out we wanted something to replace them. Television was the obvious answer.”
The Beatles also realized that if they were to have exactly what they wanted they would have to do the whole thing themselves: devise the format, write the script, cast, direct, and edit the film.
By September the world’s Merriest Pranksters were bouncing around Devon and Cornwall, in southwest England, in a widly-decorated bus. They wore the oldest, straightest clothes they could find: Paul wore a hand-knited Fair Isle pullover and baggy pants in the manner of a typical English father, and the rest of the group wore Al Capone suits. Ringo looked very distinguished in his; George looked like an honest-to-God gangster in a bright-blue suit and 1940’s hat; John wore a derby with a white feather and a white carnation in his buttonhole. All the paint and decorations washed off the bus in a heavy downpour.
The Beatle’s approach to the filming was somewhat unconventional. They relied on improvisation rather than demanding that the cast stick to a written script. To make dialogue as natural as possible, the actors were given situations and reactions instead of lines.
“We knew most of the scenes we wanted to include,” said John, “but we bent our ideas to fit the people concerned once we got to know our cast. If somebody just wanted to do something we hadn’t planned they went ahead. If it worked we kept it in. There was a lovely little 5-year old girl, Nicola, on the bus. Because she was there and because we realized she was right for it, we put in a bit where I just chat to her and give her a balloon.”
They only hired technicians who were absolutely necessary. Paul says there were no problems. “For the first couple of days when we set out with this big bus full of people we took things easy, let the ice break slowly, let everyone know what it was all about. Things just came together after that. Of course we weren’t using the right jargon when we talked to the sound men and the camera crew and they felt a bit strange to begin with. After a while they got to the stage where they were as enthusiastic as the rest of us. The main thing was to get rid of all the traditional tensions and hangups, cut through the red tape and get everybody interested in the whole effort.”
From beginning to end the film took nine or ten weeks. Actual filming, location shots in Devon and Cornwall, and studio shorts in unused aircraft hangers in Kent, took just over two weeks. The rest of the time was spent, said John, “sitting all day in a tiny room in Soho watching strips of film and cutting them about,” and recording nights in the EMI studios.
Ringo says the final product is aimed at the widest possible audience. There are different levels of entertainment in it. Magical Mystery Tour is for children, their grandparents, Beatle people, the lot. There are interesting things to look at and interesting things to hear.”
If the film is successful, says Paul, “it means we’ll use the same techniques to make the Beatles’ next cinema film — and more television shows.”
Only six new songs were recorded for the television film: “Magical Mystery Tour,” “I Am The Walrus,” already released as a single; “Blue Jay Way,” a George Harrison composition; ‘The Fool on the Hill,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and “Flying,” the first joint composition by all four Beatles and their first instrumental recording. These will be released on a Capitol LP along with a 24-page color booklet containing photographs from the film and a series of strip cartoons outlining the plot.
Capitol made up a full LP for American release by including five recordings previously available only as singles: “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “All You Need is Love,” and ‘Baby, You’re a Rich Man.”
In England previously released songs are customarily not included on LP’s, so the English Magical Mystery Tour will be two 7-inch 45’s in a package with a larger booklet.
Magical Mystery Tour was produced through the television facilities of Subafilms Ltd., a specialist division of the NEMS group of companies. Subafilms has also produced a TV promotional film for the release of “Hello, Goodbye” as a single. This is scheduled to be shown on the Ed Sullivan Show in early December.
The Beatles’ animated cartoon film, “Yellow Submarine,” will be released here by United Artists in March or April. It is said to feature “psychedelic animation.” Recording of four new songs for the film has been completed. They will be used along with 8 tracks from the Sergeant Pepper. The Beatles have also set aside a recording session in December for their annual fan club disc, which will be sent free to all members of the club.