Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Day they met their fans -- it was 50 years ago today

One of my all time favorite fan meeting moments occurred 50 years ago today!   That is of course the fan club convention held at the Wimbledon Palais on December 14, 1963.   I love how the Beatle sat there and signed autographs, allowed fans to touch their hair, posed for photos, and gave kisses to the girls in the fan club.   They say that 3,000 fans got to meet the Beatles that day, but it might have been slightly smaller because it was also said that some girls from the front of the line got back in the line and met them a second time!    After the meet and greet session, the Beatles held a concert for those fans.   What a day that must have been for those fan club members!   And what a truly amazing occurrence the Beatles had.   Today something like that would cost thousand upon thousand of dollars.  

This article was written by Tony Barrow, who organized the entire event and was published in the July 1991 issue of Beatle Book Monthly.   The photos are ones I have scanned from various books and magazines (including BBM) and found online.  

Were any of you there and met the Beatles?   Do you know anyone who was there?   We would love to hear about your experience!

The Day They Met Their Fans
By Tony Barrow

The four Beatles stood in a bunch and stared across the vast empty ballroom, blinking in disbelief at what they saw.   In the inadequate light from shafts of weak winter sunshine pouring through a couple of open emergency doors they could make out the general shape of what looked a bit like a huge cage.    When someone switched on the main lighting, they were able to see the thing more clearly for the first time.

Surrounding a temporarily extended bandstand where the Beatles were about to perform, the venue management of Wimbledon’s Palais De Danse had erected an amazing steel fence well over two metres high.  Behind the makeshift stage, taped to the rear wall beneath an old electric clock that had stopped, they had hung a boldly painted sign:  “Wimbledon Palais Welcome the Beatles!”
Paul stepped forward and grabbed at the front bars of the grim-looking cage-like structure, shaking the metalwork until the whole thing rattled.  “This is a joke, isn’t it?” he asked me with half a smile.

“Do we go on before or after the lions?” questioned George quietly and with a completely straight face.

“It’s bloody daft!” barked John from the centre of the deserted dance floor.  He turned on his heels and stomped suddenly, swung round again to face me and muttered abruptly, “Gold hold of Eppy!  I want to sort this out.  Now!”

Brian Sommerville, the man we’d brought into NEMS Enterprises quite recenty to be the Beatles’ on-tour press officer during their extensive series of UK concerts in the autumn of 1963, whispered to me, “That cage round the stage is must higher than I expected.  You must admit it more suitable for a circus than for the Beatles.”

“Brian!!!” bawled the raucous voice of an unseen John Lennon from the far side of the ballroom  “I’d better find out what he wants,” said Sommerville.  “He doesn’t mean you, it’s Eppy he wants,” explained George quite patiently.

The truth is that Brain Epstein was keeping his head down that day.  The Beatles’ manager was well aware that the boys would kick up a fuss when they saw the incredible security set up at Wimbeldon.
As a rule Eppy was known to be absolutely hopeless at delegating, unless it suited his particular purpose.  But he’d said to me, “Tony, this is your baby.” In the case of Wimbledon, he made it clear that I was responsible, it was my pigeon, I carried the can.  “You talk them into it, Tony!  It was your idea in the first place, so deal with it.”

In a way, it was indeed all my fault that the Beatles were appearing at Wimbledon that December Sunday a couple of weeks before Christmas in 1963, to face an audience of their fan club members.  The whole affair was an elaborate and carefully planned public relations job to regain some sort of goodwill with members of the fan club, who had been joining up in such enormous numbers throughout the year that many had finished up having a raw deal, waiting far too long for their membership kits to come through and not getting replies to their letters.

The Fan Club Get Together at Wimbledon was part of a package of desperate measures.   I devised in a last ditch attempt to improve the relationship between the group and their 80,000 paid up card carrying UK fans.  The other main way we won back the faith of those who had been disgruntled with the Club’s standard of service that year was to dish out free copies of the first specially produced Fan Club Christmas Record.

At first, Eppy had been against both the Christmas Record (“too expensive”) and the Get Together (they don’t have any free dates).  To satisfy their fans all over the UK, we needed at least one function in the North and another in the South and it was true that there were no open dates apart from the occasional free day during the autumn tour.  “They’ve been on the road most of the year,” argued Epstein.  “I’m not asking them to fill up free dates.”
In the end, we doubled up a Northern Area Fan Club Convention with an already scheduled Liverpool show on December 7.
In the event it proved relatively easy for the boys to slip across the road between the city’s Odeon cinema and Empire theatre.  In the afternoon on the stage at the Empire, they did an appearance as “Juke Box Jury” panel guests for BBC Television, plus a special concert performance for fans, also televised by the Beeb and shown under the title, “It’s the Beatles.”  Then they followed up the pair of throws at the Odeon in the evening as part of their nationwide tour.

Eppy saw no chance of slotting in a London fan shindig until I drew his attention to the one-off Wimbledon Palais gig he’d fixed back in the summer for December 14.

The Wimbledon one-nighter was a special deal done with the Rabins, Oscar and Ivor, who had run the nationally famous South London ballroom for most of their lives and had their own dance band and talent agency. 

The Rabins jumped at the chance of letting us invite fan club members to meet the Beatles in person because they knew there was immense media interest in the group and they’d get a lot of publicity out of the situation.  At first they wanted to negotiate a new deal for the day, suggesting they’d halve their usual ballroom hire charge for the convention. Eppy said they’d need to scrap the charge altogether let alone halve it, and they were lucky to be getting 50% of the door money from the evening’s show in the circumstances.  The Rabin boys agreed but complained it would cost them such a fortune in special security precautions that they’d be unlikely to make any profit on the day.   

 “That’s their affair,” replied Epstein coldly, and left me to get on with the arrangements from the convention. 

My main problem was to find a way of letting the Beatles make personal contact with as many members as possible before the stage show.  By good fortune, the venue had a long bar that was ideal for this purpose.

We agreed that the four boys would line up behind the counter, greeting fans one by one, signing autographs and shaking hands, an awesome task when we realized that something like 3,000 fans would be attending.

When I put the plan to the group, they were 100% cooperative.  I didn’t reveal how many people they’d have to meet because nobody could estimate the total with any accuracy in advance.  The day was fixed up at such short notice that it was simply a matter of announcing the details and waiting to see who turned up.

On the day of the convention, I was surprised as anyone to see the cage the Rabins had put up around the stage.  After discussing the situation with John and the others, I met the venue management and pleaded that the top half of the structure should be torn down.  But the Rabins remained adamant that they could not promise the group would be safe in the middle of several thousand fans without such a high defensive structure for protection.  When they added that all they’d booked in the way of security guards was a small bunch of local commissionaires, mostly men aged between sixty and seventy, I couldn’t argue any further over the cage. (Sara’s note:  I am not sure how completely true this is.  A few years ago I was contacted by the widow of one of the security guards.  She said that he husband had always talked about the show, but she had never seen a photo of him there until she saw the one I posted on this blog.   He looked like a young (30’s maybe?) man.   And if he had just recently passed away, then it couldn’t have been in his 70’s in 1963).

The ridiculous cage in itself would have been enough to make the Beatles refuse to perform in other circumstances.  But, as Paul pointed out persuasively, “This is no ordinary show and it’s certainly no ordinary audience.  These are our own closest fans, they’re traveling to Wimbledon from all over the South of England and the Midlands, some will be from hundreds of miles away.  What we ought to do is go ahead with the show but apologise to the crowd for the cage and make it clear it wasn’t our idea.”
“The biggest danger, as I see it, “said George seriously, “is that if there’s a big crowd, everyone will push forward and there’s a risk of some kids getting crushed at the front.  It’s not just our own personal and physical safety that’s involved; a lot of fans might get hurt.”

After some further argument, the other three fell in with Paul’s suggestion and I sighed with relief.  As the little summit meeting broke up, Neil Aspinall and I left the dressing room to look at the set up in the bar area while Mal Evans headed for the stage to put the gear in place.

The long wooden bar was perfect for what we wanted, sturdy enough to stand up to the anticipated crush of fans, wide enough for the boys to draw back if things became too hectic but just the right height for allowing autographs books and photographs to  be signed and handed back across the counter.

Mal seemed less happy with his side of things, “It’s going to be a freaking fiasco!”  What?  “Well,” said Mal, “the P.A. system won’t go loud enough without feeding back and the bits they’ve added onto this stage are wobbling about already just with the weight of me walking about, so what will it be like when the four lads go into action?  I can see John or Paul disappearing through the floor during the first number!”

The 3,000 fans who finally came to Wimbledon that December day in 1963 helped to make it a surprisingly successful occasion. They filed past the Beatles in the bar, all on their best behavior, and they went wild when the Beatles performed but they also saw to it that nobody got injured in a crush.  They were very tolerant about the wire cage between them and the stage and everybody enjoyed the show, most of all John, Paul, George and Ringo, although this was the first day after the end of the Beatles’ most exhausting UK concert tour to date.

Unfortunately, no such occasion ever took place again simply because Beatlemania grew so big and it would have been impossible for so many fans to meet the boys in person.  We didn’t realize it that day in Wimbledon, but lifelong memories were being made in the Palais De Danse.  Those 3,000 followers of the Fab Four would be able to recall for the rest of their lives that they had been amongst the first and last fans in the world to meet John, Paul, George and Ringo face to face and to be able to talk—and  in many cases—touch or even kiss them.

“What did you think of Wimbledon?”  asked Eppy as casually as possible afterwards.  The four boys were unanimous, “Great!  Fab!  Gear!  Terrific!”  So Eppy didn’t say another word about it.


  1. Another fantastic typing job, Sara and wow, I'm really excited to read this when I get home as this has always been a fascinating event in Beatle history to me!!!!

  2. I was there ... I shall never forget it - I still have the autographs :-)

  3. I was there too - will never forget it, even though I have a rubbish memory now !!!

  4. Will never forget kissing "my Paul" on the cheek in the bar! The pen he touched hung over my bed for years afterwards, with strict instructions to my Mum not to dust it! I, too, still have those cherished autographs. An amazing memory! We were so lucky to have lived in those exciting times.

  5. I was lucky enough to be there, and I was so cheeky I actually went around 3 times to meet them. On the third time around, John looked at me, and said, "Haven't we met before?" After that, I didn't risk going around for a forth time! Later that night I wrote to the fan club secretaries to let them know what a great time I had, and to my amazement, my letter was published in the next month's issue of The Beatles Monthly! (I was going to attached it, but don't seem to be able to!)

  6. I was there too ! Amazing day. Like a fool, I never asked for an autograph or a photo - so have only the memories. Think I was just overcome at getting a ticket to actually meet them ( was 14 at the time).

  7. love the comments - lucky fans