Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The story of Ringo Starr's tonsils

So I wrote this article about Ringo Starr's tonsils to go along with everything that happened 50 years ago this month.    I also did my very first podcast on this topic.  Now if you chose to listen to me babbling about Ringo Starr's tonsils please know that this was my first time ever doing this and I didn't know totally what I was doing and it is a live broadcast.   So I wasn't able to go in and edit anything.   So as Paul and Nirvana would say "Cut me some Slack."

The story of Ringo Starr’s tonsils
An article written for Meet the Beatles for Real
By Sara Schmidt

While the Beatles were touring the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Australia with fill in drummer, Jimmie Nichol, it is easy to forget that they had left someone very important behind.   While Jimmie was meeting Hong Kong beauty queens and signing autographs, the Beatles real drummer, Ringo Starr, was in a hospital in London recuperating from tonsillitis.    Let’s take a look back on Ringo during this time.

Wednesday, June 3, 1964 was supposed to be a typical day for the Beatles.  They had a photo session scheduled for the morning and a recording session at EMI set for the afternoon.     Ringo had not been feeling well for quite a while.  He had been complaining of a sore throat now and then and it has been suggested that Ringo’s solo number had been cut out of a few Beatles performances due to his throat problems (although I cannot find proof of that happening).   When the Beatles showed up to Prospect Studios in London for the photo shoot with the Saturday Evening Post, Ringo tried to hide the fact that he was running a high fever and his throat was in pain by telling everyone there that he just had a bad cold.   As the photographer, John Launois, snapped the first photos, Ringo could barely muster a smile.  Then he began to feel dizzy and fell to his knees.  The official news reports have always said that Ringo “collapsed” during a photo session, which is a bit of an exaggeration, however; he did go down and it scared Neil Aspinall and the others who saw it happen.   Those in the room rushed to help him and gave the drummer cold water to sip.  However, it became obvious that Ringo wasn’t in any condition to continue on with planned events for the day and Ringo was taken back to his apartment. 

Ringo’s condition did not improve at all.  As a matter of fact, his temperature was 103 degree Fahrenheit.  Ringo was soon taken to the Middlesex University College Hospital.   After the doctor’s examination, Richard Starkey was diagnosed with tonsillitis and pharyngitis and was put in a private wing of the hospital for bed rest.  Ringo was to begin the Beatles very first world tour the next day, but the plans had to change because Ringo was isn’t in any condition to perform.

George Harrison was ready to cancel the entire tour until their drummer was back on his feet again.  When the suggestion of a substitute drummer was brought up, George shot it down immediately.  He said that performing without Ringo would be like driving a car with three wheels (leave it to George to use a car analogy).    However, George Martin and Brian Epstein had to really talk to Harrison about how canceling the tour would really disappoint the fans and how it really wasn’t possible due to the contract to cancel.  Eventually the two of them beat Harrison down to agree to go on with the show, although from how he talked in the Beatles Anthology, you can tell that it was always a choice he disagreed with.   And so without Ringo a replacement was found in Jimmie Nichol.     The three remaining Beatles rehearsed over the songs that would be played on the tour with Jimmie.   Jimmie’s only responsibility as a musician with the Beatles was to play the drums.  He was not going to sing a solo or anything special along those lines.   After Jimmie left, the boys remained at EMI and George Harrison recorded “You know what to do” which is found on the Anthology 1 Cd.

Publicist, Tony Barrow was concerned that the media and the fans would think that Ringo was out and Jimmie was in.   He did not want anyone to think that the Beatles were changing drummers once again.   He also was assuming that the fans were fickle and would forget about the real drummer.  So he made sure that Ringo stayed in the news while he was in the hospital.   He got a photographer into Ringo’s hospital room to take photos of him in his pajamas, and reported on his improving health every day.  Of course Tony had no reason to worry because Ringo’s fans were not ever going to forget about him.

Ringo also had reason to be concerned.   You have to remember that he had only been drumming for the Beatles for two years.  He was still the “new kid.”   He too was once a replacement drummer in the band.   I am sure that it crossed his mind once or twice that maybe the boys were going to like Jimmie better and kick him out.   But as Ringo says in the Beatles Anthology, he didn’t need to worry because they bought him gifts in Hong Kong and showed him that he was still loved.

While the band was leaving for their first concert of the tour, a report was released that said that Ringo was feeling a little better and was quite cheerful.  The official report said, “Ringo had a comfortable night and is improving.  His condition is not serious and he should be discharged in a few days.”  Calls were coming in from all around the world asking about Ringo’s condition, so this announcement should have eased the mind of fans everywhere.
Ringo was mostly alone in London during this time.  The other Beatles had left on tour and Brian Epstein had gone to the United States with Billy J. Kramer.   However Ringo did have one very special visitor, his 18 year old girlfriend, Maureen Cox, who brought him a bunch of red roses.

By June 10, 1964 the reports said that Ringo was definitely better and will be leaving the hospital before the weekend.    Ringo did not get his tonsils removed during this time.   He just recovered from a bad bought of tonsillitis.   He had his tonsils removed in December of 1964.  This is a mistake that many people, including Ringo himself make.

On June 11, Ringo left London and flew to San Francisco, California on his way to meet up with the others in Australia.  Ringo told reporters that he was “raring to go!”   He must have been “raring” a little too much because he forgot his passport at home and someone had to go get it for him.  However, they allowed Ringo to travel into the United States without it.  He ended up getting it later from a different flight.  Also riding with Ringo was actress Viven Lee, who Ringo did not know.   She knew him and wanted an autograph.

The San Francisco International Airport had been announcing on the radio all day that fans were not to come to the airport to see Ringo.  They said that they did not have the space to accommodate fans and that they would not be able to see Ringo because he would be moved quickly to a VIP room as soon as his plane lands.   However, that same radio station was telling the fans the gate number and time of Ringo’s landing.   

When Ringo landed at 5:30pm, 500 fans were there to see him.  The area fan club came to welcome him to San Francisco and some fans got out of hand with pushing and loud screaming.  Ringo tried to quiet them down by putting his finger on his lips, but that of course just made them scream even louder.  Some fans were lucky to have had a brief encounter with him.  One fan, Marlene Vogelsang said that she was “so happy to have gotten Ringo’s autograph!”  Ringo was taken into the VIP lounge, where he answered some questions from reporters until his plane for Hawaii left at 8:11pm.
Ringo’s layover in Hawaii lasted an hour and a half and 300 fans were there to see him.  Five of those fans got hurt and needed first aide assistance.   Two hula girls, Carmen Souzi and Magnolia Makua greeted Ringo with flower leis and kisses, which Ringo enjoyed very much.

Then it was finally off to Sydney, Australia to meet up with the rest of the tour.   Ringo arrived in Sydney late at night, but it did not stop 100 fans from waiting to see him.  One such fan was 16 year old Mary Jackson who said, “I got wet waiting for the Beatles on Thursday.  So it would take a lot to stop me waiting for Ringo.  I don’t mind having to stay up all night.  Every minute will be worth it if I see him.”

photo by Frank Burke

It wasn’t worth it for one fan.  When Ringo started to get off the plane, 20 year old Edward Beard ran toward the plane but was stopped by police and was promptly arrested.   Edward did not even see Ringo.

Once Ringo was safely inside the airport, a press conference was held and Ringo informs everyone that he still has his tonsils intact and that he feeling better, however he won’t’ be singing for the first few concerts.   After about 90 minutes, he was off again.  This time the plane took him to Melbourne, Australia where the rest of the tour would be meeting him later.   

When he arrived at the hotel, 3,000 fans were outside waiting for the Beatles to arrive.   Things were so hectic that one large police officer picked up Ringo and had him ride on his shoulders above the crowd.  This would have worked, however,  one lady from the press fell in front of them and the officer tripped over the woman, which caused Ringo to fall off of his shoulders.  Luckily someone from inside of the hotel grabbed Ringo and pulled him into safety.  After all of that, Ringo said that he was going upstairs to get a drink and to rest.

By the time the other three Beatles and Jimmie arrived 20,000 fans were outside of the hotel.  By then the car had all four wheels again and Jimmie had been all but forgotten. 

Information for this article came from
The Beatle who Vanished  by Jim Berkenstadt
The Beatles Downunder by Glenn Baker
Beatle Book Monthly articles by Tony Barrow
Various newspaper clippings from 1964


  1. Very interesting story, thank you! But I think Ringo left London and flew to San Francisco and eventually to Australia on June 12, and not on June 11 as you stated.

    1. He's only one day out! Cut some slack. I think the young generations or others are getting a bit anal now & over the top dissecting all things Beatles. Just enjoy the music.

  2. Loved the podcast, Sara! Was great to hear your voice...you could be a broadcaster! I know it's just your first one so technically it could only improve, but as far as your "performance", a-ok!

  3. I remember the DJ on the radio saying, "And to all the girl fans who are requesting them (his tonsils) Ringo has issued a statement that "They will be burned".

  4. My dad was there when this happened and had a lucky brush with them earlier in the morning thanks to his Merseyside accent. Told us the story a few times along with other stories of close encounters with childhood Ringo, whom was born a few months later and only a couple miles from where my dad was born Though they didn't ever know each other. He was on a temp hire there and wormed his way in by jokingly telling his boss that he could 'translate' for them. LOL.