When the screaming started

CHAOS: The crowd which greeted the Beatles on their arrival at the Clarendon Hotel.
CHAOS: The crowd which greeted the Beatles on their arrival at the Clarendon Hotel.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles tour of New Zealand in 1964. Vicki Anderson looks back down the long, winding road.

They did more than hold hands. In one week in 1964 the Beatles toured, conquered and bowled over Kiwi fans.

On June 27, 1964, the Beatles played two shows at Christchurch's Majestic Theatre as part of a wider Australasian tour.

It was 50 years ago on Sunday that their New Zealand and Australian tour went on sale, breaking all previous records and causing hysterical scenes only surpassed when they actually toured.

Elizabeth Renton, 83, known in 1964 as Beth Barry, worked at the Majestic Theatre as an usher and cashier when the Beatles performed there.

She turned down the opportunity to go backstage to meet them because she found them "too noisy".

"Do you think I'm stupid?" she says. "My children have vocally told me off over the years.

"Hindsight is a marvellous thing. I've often kicked myself that I didn't take a handful of programmes and get them to sign them. I'd be a rich woman now."

Renton says the screaming from fans was so intense that she felt "utterly exhausted" after the show.

"The noise level was extreme. I've always believed the Beatles were miming that night."

Girls screamed and carried homemade banners reading 'I love you Ringo'.

Giggling, Renton recalls a group of girls who were precariously perched on a rail upstairs at the venue.

"I stuck a pin into someone's bottom to move them but they were so busy watching the Beatles that they didn't feel a thing."

The Beatles stayed at The Clarendon Hotel and Paul McCartney borrowed a hairdryer from one of Renton's friends.

"My mum thought they had nice clean hair, which is more than you could say about the groups today," she says.

"The Majestic had marvellous backstage facilities and really lent itself to shows."

During their visit, the fab four stood on a balcony of the Clarendon Hotel surrounded by police. Fans were climbing the spouting downpipes on the gas works offices opposite the building.

George, Ringo, John and Paul went on to the fire escape, where they are standing in the above photograph, to avoid jealous boyfriends throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes at them.

For Sydney-based leading international rock and roll historian Glenn A Baker, the tour is a pet subject.

The author of The Beatles Down Under: The 1964 Australia and New Zealand Tour (Rock & Roll Remembrances) believes that Brisbane "malcontents" were inspired by Christchurch ones.

"Christchurch malcontents pelted them with rotten eggs before they even got to Brisbane. The eggs crashed on the hotel walls and windows solidly for four minutes," Baker says.

"Mildly aggravated, the Beatles passed it off as a one-off incident, they were proven wrong. There was a copycat aspect to everything on that tour and maybe that's what the Brisbane malcontents had heard about."

The Beatles' visit can be seen as the moment that young New Zealand plugged into an international youth culture and Baker believes the tour was an unrepeatable social phenomenon.

"In Adelaide 300,000 people lined the streets. That was 50 years ago. People keep comparing One Direction to the Beatles. One Direction might get a couple of thousand in the street but not 300,000."

In an interview with The Press on the tour, McCartney said he wore two watches - one was local time and the other "Mum's time".

An editorial in The Press included the lines: "It is a strange idea of fun to subject their ears to a prolonged torment equivalent in volume to the mercifully brief sound of a jet aircraft taking off . . . Why the so-called audience like it is something of a mystery."

A review reports that "only an occasional word" was audible from the band above the screaming fans and the unnamed reviewer remarks that they were "whispering at thunder".

In Christchurch each of the two Beatles shows lasted between 22 minutes and 26 minutes, depending on whose watch you believe.

The same 11-song set was performed at every show - I Saw Her Standing There, I Want to Hold Your Hand, You Can't Do That, Till There Was You, All My Loving, She Loves You, Roll Over Beethoven, Can't Buy Me Love, This Boy, Long Tall Sally and Twist and Shout. Ringo Starr also sang Boys.

Baker says that Kiwi rock'n roller Johnny Devlin was chosen by the Beatles to translate to the sound guy their desire to increase the volume.

"He was the only one they could understand, he was asked to get them to turn the volume up on whatever primitive equipment they were working with," he says.

Devlin performed in his tight leather black suit, doing the "hippy hippy shakes".

"It's hard to believe now," Baker says, "but in those days there was also a comedian who went on first, opening the show telling jokes."

The Auckland council wildly debated spending $120 on a mayoral welcome for the band before agreeing to do so.

The Vienna Boys Choir was touring New Zealand at the same time as the Beatles.

"The Austrian warblers were repeatedly asked about the fab four," Baker says.

"All 21 of them said they had never even heard of the Beatles."

It has been claimed that the band slept with hundreds of girls while down under.

"Well John Lennon did say that their tours were like Satyricon on tour," Baker says.

"There was also the comment from one of the support acts that the only place they got a decent night's sleep on the whole tour was at the New City Hotel in Dunedin where nobody seemed to know who they were and no-one was chanting ‘we want the Beatles' outside the window."

Beatles tribute act, the Fabulous Beatle Boys, are recreating the 1964 tour this year.

"They are trying to replicate, as authentically as they can, that 1964 tour.

"They came to me asking about the setlist. When I told them it was just 22 minutes they realised they'd have to do another lot of songs in the second half," Baker laughs.

One mystery Christchurch girl was really bowled over by the Beatles.

"A 13-year-old girl flung herself at the bonnet of the group's limo. She bounced off the bonnet onto the road. Luckily they were travelling slowly," Baker says.

"The young fan recovered quickly and the Beatles invited her to share a cup of coffee with the group. I wonder where that 64-year- old girl is now?"


The Fabulous Beatle Boys at Mashina Lounge, Christchurch Casino, on June 24. General admission tickets $89.90 from Ticketek.co.nz