We wrote a basic story outline starting with a hand drawn pie-chart, recorded some songs, engaged some likely looking actors and along with a few friends set off in our brightly coloured bus heading towards the south west coast of England.
Most of the dialogue was improvised and would involve us talking to the actors, deciding a basic idea for a scene and filming it right away.
None of us knew our destination, as in the mystery tours of our childhood, but we had a very enjoyable few days and then returned to London to sort out all the footage we had shot. It turned out to be a wacky, impromptu romp that puzzled a few people at the time but as the years have gone by it now stands as a fond reminder of that period in our lives.
Paul knew The Beatles could improvise a film by themselves because he had faith in his own intuative creative ability and that of the other Beatles.
The Beatles had grown up with mystery tours: holiday coach trips to an unknown destination which in Liverpool was always the nearby seaside resort of Blackpool, taking a back route to confuse people. Before the war, the Germans called these excursions die Fahrten ins Blaue, literally to drive into the blue. What better theme for the psychedelic Summer of Love than to take a magical trip into the unknown with The Beatles?
The Beatles had grown up, matured, they had individual opinions, they had signed a petition in The Times criticising the law against marijuana, and they had admitted, when asked, to experimenting with LSD.
There was a kind of clue in the title, you know, Magical Mystery Tour, that’s a clever title because you can pretty much do anything.
It’s Paul’s idea really he came up with this, he said ‘look, I’ve got this idea’, and we said ‘great!’, and all he had was this circle and a little dot on the top, and that’s where we started.
’67 was a very mind expanding time for a lot of people. It was such a great loose time and, the attitudes had changed. It’s like, if you weren’t there you’ll never understand it but it was incredible.
In 1967, in the wake of the extraordinary impact of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and the One World satellite broadcast of All You Need Is Love, The Beatles devised, wrote, and directed their third film, Magical Mystery Tour, a dreamlike story of a coach day trip to the seaside.
In September 1967, The Beatles loaded a film crew onto a bus, along with friends, family and cast, and headed west on the A30 out of London to make their third film, this time conceived and directed by The Beatles themselves.
“Paul said, ‘Look, I’ve got this idea,’ and we said ‘Great!’ and all he had was this circle and a little dot on the top – that’s where we started,” explains Ringo. “It wasn’t the kind of thing where you could say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see is the product of our imaginations and believe me, at this point they are quite vivid’,” says Paul. The film follows a loose narrative and showcased six new songs: “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Fool On The Hill,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Flying,” “Blue Jay Way,” and “Your Mother Should Know.”
Magical Mystery Tour features a fabulous supporting cast of character actors and performers, including Ivor Cutler, Victor Spinetti, Jessie Robins, Nat Jackley, Derek Royle, and the inimitable Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Although the 53-minute film was shot in glorious color, it premiered on UK television in black and white. Broadcast by BBC1 at 8:35pm on Boxing Day, the film immediately attracted widespread controversy as middle England and the establishment media erupted with indignation. “How dare they?” they cried, “They’re not film directors! Who do they think they are?” they howled. Where were the four loveable moptops of Help! and A Hard Day’s Night? Those Beatles were out of control! Partly as an upshot of this adverse reaction, the film never had a US broadcast and very limited distribution in the rest of the world.
Operating at the time as the world’s de facto “cultural mission control,” The Beatles were already influencing filmmakers, artists, and musicians, while also drawing inspiration from their contemporaries.