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Excerpt: Inside the Beatles’ Historic 1964 Australasian Tour

'When We Was Fab: Inside the Beatles Australasian Tour 1964' tells the story of the Liverpool band's two-week trip Down Under in unprecedented detail

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the Beatles‘ historical visit to Australia, which began on Thursday, June 11th, 1964, at 7:45am when John, Paul, George, and Ringo landed at Sydney’s Mascot Airport. 

To celebrate the landmark anniversary of what would sadly be the Beatles’ only Australian tour, a new book takes fans inside the extraordinary cultural moment. 

Written by UK-based writer Andy Neill (whose previously worked on books about The Who and Rod Stewart & the Faces) and Melbourne-based Beatles expert Greg Armstrong (co-host of the world’s longest-running Beatles radio show), When We Was Fab: Inside the Beatles Australasian Tour 1964 tells the story of the Liverpool band’s two-week trip Down Under in unprecedented detail, including hundreds of evocative and mostly previously unseen images, original documents, press clippings, and vintage memorabilia. 

Based entirely on first-hand research spanning two decades, Neill and Armstrong’s process involved sourcing hundreds of original newspapers, magazines and business documents, and conducting first-hand interviews with over 100 key participants, including promoters, support acts, press and radio personalities, as well as original fans who came out in their thousands to see the Beatles.

In the below excerpt from the book, we’re taken inside Sing for Shell, the only official TV recording of the Beatles performing during their Australasian tour.

When We Was Fab: Inside the Beatles Australasian Tour 1964 is out now. Find your nearest retailer here

The only official television recording of the Beatles performing during their Australasian tour was The Beatles Sing for Shell – videotaped by GTV-9 at Melbourne’s Festival Hall on Wednesday 17 June 1964. An unprecedented four cameras beautifully captured the group’s performance, and with crystal clear sound to boot.

Prime movers behind the project were GTV-9 managing director Colin Bednall, manager Nigel Dick, programme manager Rod Kinnear and production manager Ian Holmes. Negotiating with Brian Epstein, Aztec and Stadiums, they scored the television scoop of 1964 – the exclusive rights to record and broadcast the Beatles live across the Nine network, in a deal strongly rumoured by the press to be a record fee of £14,000.

In the 15 February edition of TV Week, Alec Martin was first to speculate about Channel 9 filming a Beatles special. Under the headline ‘Beatles Shock For HSV7!’, Martin reported Channel 7 were confident of securing the rights, but predicted that GTV-9 would win the battle.

DICK LEAN: I wanted to do it with Seven originally, because we always had an association with them. But they tried to be smart and went over to England to make arrangements for the television rights, behind our backs, so we scrubbed them and that’s how Nine happened to get them. 

Once the deal was agreed, Ian Holmes was appointed director and Nine selected their four top cameramen, attention turned to how the concert was going to be recorded. 

DES FORD (audio engineer): I went to see the Beatles’ performance [at Festival Hall] on the Monday night [15 June] with Ian Holmes, Dennis Rawady, Don Hauser [both cameramen], John Fowler [lighting technician] and others. Ian wanted us to get a picture of it in our minds.

We were about 12 rows back in the middle, and I just shook my head and said to the others, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ because you couldn’t hear a bloody thing. We sat and worried a bit because it was a challenge. I thought, ‘We’ll have to take the bull by the horns here,’ so I had a talk to the Beatles and said, ‘I can’t hear you. Can you hear each other?’ They said, ‘No, the noise is incredible so we just play it by ear.’

I got hold of the tape from 5AD [radio] of the Beatles’ show in Adelaide, and that just compounded my problem. They seemed pretty good at harmonising, but they were flat as tacks, performance-wise. We had a bit of a think and I went back to the Beatles and said, ‘How would it be if I put a little Tannoy [speaker] at the front of the stage, and I put the sound from mic 1 in front of mic 2 and mic 2 in front of mic 3?’ They said, ‘Well, we’ll give it a go.’ I don’t think anyone had thought of foldback yet.

I worked with Max Hull who ran the Festival Hall PA because he had three good microphones on the stage. It seemed a bit pointless putting three more up there for the speech, so we co-operated and I got a clean audio split from him. The Sennheiser microphones the hall used were better than anything I could muster from Channel 9. We had lots of stuff by comparison with other stations, but by today’s standards and overseas, it was a fairly primitive microphone cupboard. 

With videotape still in its infancy, GTV-9 didn’t have a portable video recorder. The signal from the OB van, parked alongside Festival Hall, was microwave linked directly back to Channel 9 in Bendigo Street, Richmond, where it was recorded onto 2-inch quadruplex videotape.

DON HAUSER (Festival Hall balcony cameraman): We recorded both shows because it was better to have too much than not enough. You only got one go with these fellows. I was right at the front edge of the balcony. The noise was so great, they put an old army blanket over my camera to try and stop microphony happening in the Image Orthicon tube – to prevent getting waves across the picture. 

DENNIS RAWADY (Festival Hall tower cameraman): I operated the camera up on a scaffolding tower, looking down on stage right. We used Bakelite earphones, but we wouldn’t have heard anything from the director, so we had to have covers over the top of them to try and keep the sound out. Even then, it was still very loud.

Despite not being credited, GTV-9 cameraman Ray Punger operated the onstage camera for the 6pm concert, with Ted Gregory looking after camera duties for the later 8.45 show.

While the final concert was being taped, the cameras captured some unexpected drama when, during the finale of “Long Tall Sally”, 19- year-old fan Brent McAuslan of Williamstown suddenly ran on from stage left.

BRENT McAUSLAN: It just popped into my head like a spontaneous thing. A group of about 10 of us were at the concert. I swapped seats with a girl so I was on the far righthand side on the outside aisle. We set it up where she would run down the centre aisle towards the stage as a diversionary tactic, and I’d make a dash for the stage. I used to be a very good sprinter at school. I thought, ‘Once I get going, and with the adrenalin pumping, I should be OK.’

There was a cordon of cops, shoulder-to-shoulder, in front of the stage. When this girl came down the centre aisle, all the security ran over. I took off down the side, dived over a police officer, and did a kind of forward roll onto the stage. I ran over and grabbed John Lennon, who was my favourite, and shook his hand.

As I began moving towards John, he instinctively turned round, saw me coming and stopped playing for a second. He was friendly, he didn’t seem nervous. I think he got from my body language that I didn’t intend him any harm. He said, ‘How ya doing, cobber?’ in a thick Liverpudlian accent. The other Beatles were staring and for a split second I thought about trying to shake their hands too.

It all lasted a few seconds. About four police grabbed me and pushed me against the wall. The Beatles were exiting out the back of Festival Hall as I was being held. Paul stopped and said, ‘Leave him alone,’ so the guards backed off and let me go. I don’t know what would have happened if Paul hadn’t said that. The cops were pretty upset that I’d broken through the security.

Details are sketchy, but it is known that at least three Beatles, together with Brian Epstein and Kenn Brodziak, went back to GTV- 9’s boardroom in Bendigo Street to view a playback of the performance. Back in April, Epstein originally stipulated that only 12 minutes of the Beatles performance could be used in the programme, but he was so pleased with the results that he immediately agreed that Nine could use more. A little over 18 minutes of the Fabs featured in the finished special.

The excellent audio quality and improved Beatles vocals were a triumph of ad hoc innovation.

DES FORD: It was much more good luck than good measure, but a lot of it had to do with the foldback and Max’s mics. I actually added some audience into the mix – we had an audience mic guy at the side of the stage. I later gained a little bit of glory from having done the Beatles recording.

Post-production to compile the programme was completed in quick time.

TED GREGORY (Festival Hall onstage cameraman): You could only run from commercial break to commercial break, it was not really an editing session. You would use three video machines, line up the song that was OK with the next one that you wanted, and you’d literally roll them in sync, cut to it and keep going until you got to a commercial break. If you stuffed up, you went back to the start of that segment again.

The finished production combined performances from both 17 June concerts, making a total of 15 songs (all artists) from the late, and five (Sounds and Devlin) from the early. All six Beatles songs were from the final show.

Missing from the edit was compere Alan Field. By this time GTV-9 knew that Field had signed up to host DYT’s new teenage show GO!! on ATV-O, which was starting in August, so he was deliberately cut. All artist introductions and announcements were handled by Channel 9’s new booth announcer, Peter Smith.

PETE SMITH: It was an all-nighter working on that programme. I had only started with Nine [from the ABC] in April 1964 so the Beatles were my first big announcing job there.

The extra non-Peter Smith voiceover (using “Twist and Shout” as background) was supplied on film by ad agency, USP-Benson. Des Ford dubbed the final “She Loves You” flourish over the end credits from disc “at about four in the morning.” The photographs used on the title cards and final fade were taken by Channel 9’s photographer Barrie Bell.

Through USP-Benson, the Shell Company of Australia signed up as naming rights sponsor; triumphant in the competitive petrol advertising market for the biggest TV prize. USP-Benson media manager Darryl Cox said Shell considered the Beatles’ show would attract a predominantly youthful audience of the type receptive to its advertising. Five new commercials highlighting Shell X-100 Multigrade motor oil were produced for the special.

The Beatles Sing for Shell made its screen debut on GTV-9 Melbourne, TCN-9 Sydney, NWS-9 Adelaide and QTQ-9 Brisbane at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1 July – the day the Beatles left Australia. The hour-long special was screened – in Australia only – on the National Television Network, which consisted of all Channel 9 stations in each capital city, together with affiliated regional outlets – a total of 20 stations.

A half-hour ‘encore’ edition was screened from late August 1964. This version omitted Johnny Devlin and Johnny Chester, shortened Sounds Incorporated’s segment by three songs, and incredibly, faded out “She Loves You” after one minute 40 seconds to go to a commercial break. It was the second – and final – time an original version of The Beatles Sing for Shell would be shown. GTV-9’s advance publicity named “Till There Was You” among the Beatles songs, but it was not included in either the original one hour or shorter encore screenings.

Both broadcast versions of The Beatles Sing for Shell survive as 16mm kinescope distribution prints. A rough-cut assembly videotape of the segments chosen from both concerts for the final programme also exists in Channel 9’s archives. The artists were rearranged into ‘broadcast order’ on this tape, with Sounds Incorporated (who played immediately prior to the Beatles) appearing first, followed by Johnny Devlin, Johnny Chester, and the Fabs.

The tape also contains incomplete sections and fragments of unused songs from the Beatles’ performance: “I Saw Her Standing There” (missing the intro through to just before George’s solo), “Till There Was You” (intro only), the last chorus of “Roll Over Beethoven”, and several minutes of post-concert scenes showing the crowd leaving the hall after standing for the national anthem, while Mal Evans and Alan Fenton start to pack up the stage gear.

This videotape has been the source for most copies of the Beatles and support act performances that have appeared in anniversary specials, or otherwise obtained by collectors since 1981.

The Beatles Sing for Shell was later ranked as one of the most-watched TV specials of the Sixties, averaging a rating of 53.5 (per cent of households) across both Sydney and Melbourne.

It remains exciting viewing, and is arguably the best audio and visual record of the Beatles during their live performing career.

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