Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Long and Winding Road to the Beatles Anthology: 1970

As I stated last week, I recently re-discovered a book that I started writing 10 years ago about The Beatles Anthology.    I thought it might be fun to turn the semi-chapters of this rough draft into a few articles on the blog because there is some good information that I discovered when I was researching.    This stuff has been sitting at the bottom of a shelf covered in dust and I felt like for the 20th anniversary of the Anthology release, it was time to see the light of day.    This week's article is about the early days of the Anthology project--the year of 1970.

The Long and Winding Road to the Beatles Anthology:  1970
By Sara Schmidt

                The Beatles’ Anthology project of the mid-1990’s was considered to a second wave of Beatlemania.   However, the origin of the project dates back to the times of original Beatlemania of the 1960’s. 

                As early as 1968, the head of Apple Films, Denis O’Dell, had been collecting records, interviews, film clips and newsreel shots of the Beatles to be used in a future film documentary about the band.   John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had long felt a need to inform the public and their fans the truth behind their story.   In 1968, Hunter Davies wrote the only official Beatles’ biography.  While this book had the blessing of the four Beatles, it still was a watered-down version of the Beatles’ story.  The boys were not very pleased with the outcome of the book and wanted to make a film of their story told by them. 

                That is why Denis O’Dell’s job as head of Apple Films came into existence.  The Beatles gave the project the title “The Long and Winding Road,” named after a new Beatles song written by Paul McCartney.  Dennis kept all of the film footage to use used in the film in canisters in a locked room that the Beatles themselves had decorated by making a college of Beatles photographs taken from newspapers and magazines located in the Apple building on Savile Row in London.

The room with the film canisters.  Notice the wall the Beatles decorated.  
                                    Copyright:  Sara Schmidt   DO NOT TAKE THIS PHOTO!

                The fate of the Beatles  as a band was not very clear as 1969 turned into 1970, but it WAS clear that the Beatles still had plenty of projects to offer.  In February 1970, the New York Times reported that there were two upcoming Beatles films, “Let it Be” and “the Long and Winding Road.”

                Neil Aspinall was officially in charge of the “Long and Winding Road project.”  The film archives were moved to a building in Boston Place.  This building was originally purchased for Magic Alex and Apple Electronics.  When that division of Apple closed, Neil Aspinall moved all of the Beatles’ archives from Savile Row to the new location.   He found a researcher named Nell Burley and the two of them worked through most of 1970 gathering as much information as they could.   The two then edited it all down to a little under two hours long and Neil put the ending credits from the Magical Mystery tour movie to signify the end of the documentary. 

Neil Aspinall

                April 10, 1970 is considered to be officially the day the Beatles broke up because on that date Paul McCartney announced the band’s break up in the self-interview that was included in his self-titled solo album.  However, this announcement did not change any plans on “The Long and Winding Road.”  In fact, on that date George Harrison watched that early version of the film at his Apple office on Savile Row. 

George being interviewed on the day of the break up announcement.   Not sure if that was before or after he watched the documentary

                Apple announced shortly after Paul’s self-interview was released that the “Long and Winding Road” was going to be shown in a split screen format just as the successful Woodstock documentary has been and the Beatles’ documentary was set for cinema release during the Christmas season of 1970.  In the October 1970 issue of the Beatles’ official magazine, Beatles Book Monthly, it was written that Neil Aspinall was close to finishing his work on the official Beatles’ history documentary and Apple still hoped to release it for Christmas.  The article also stated that the film would include footage form the Beatles’ home movies that included shots taken during the Beatles’ time in India with the Maharishi, live performances from Shea Stadium, promo films from the Beatles’ songs and news footage.  Apple also stated that there was hope to have a new Beatles’ album released alongside the documentary which would contain extracts from the “Let it Be” session.

                Fans in 1970 were very excited about the chance to see this footage again.  In the days before VCRs and DVD recorders, most fans had not seen things such as the Ed Sullivan show since it originally had aired six years earlier.   But sadly for fans (and typical for Apple), Christmas of 1970 came and went without the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” documentary.


  1. very nice Sara - I remember the excitement we felt as we were awaiting TLWR to come to our movie theaters. By the way that photo of George is just great!

  2. First off: Sara, Fantastic job. The picture of the film canisters? Holy Toledo! Great detective work, and great writing, Beatle Writer!

    One thing: I saw that mentioned in the Keith Badman book, that George supposedly watched "The Long And Winding Road" the day of the breakup. But I must say....even aside from the fact that Badman's facts are often in question....I find it dubious. George doesn't seem particularly sentimental about the Beatles during this period, or in that interview. Or maybe he was already going to stop in and take a look.

    Is there any other source for that piece of information other than Badman's book? Just wondering!

    Either way, fantastic post. With an exclamation point!