This hour-long made-for-television film starring The Beatles first aired on BBC1 on 26 December 1967. The public and critics attacked the movie the very next day, which kept it from being screened on American television (although it later appeared in selected cinemas in the US).
Paul McCartney defended the Boxing Day screening on British TV by saying “The Queen’s speech was hardly a gasser”.
An ambitious attempt to capture on film the visual cacophony of their successful feature films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, it was conceived and executed in haste, without any realisation of the work that goes into even a short movie.
The simple (but innovative) concept was to load a colourfully-painted bus with several “characters” – including several dwarfs and circus performers – and travel around the English countryside (mainly Cornwall) for four days in September 1967, and film whatever ended up happening. Nothing much did.
Not even the songs – I Am The Walrus and Fool On The Hill among them – could save it.
Up until this point, The Beatles‘ manager Brian Epstein had kept the quartet’s creative endeavours on the right track. Unfortunately, Epstein died in August 1967 (before Magical Mystery Tour had entered the conceptual preproduction phase) and it became their first project without Brian.
John came up with one sequence in which he played a restaurant waiter serving mounds of spaghetti with a shovel. George Harrison‘s Blue Jay Way sequence found him sitting cross-legged on the floor with multiple swirling images of himself whirling around. There is also a burlesque show number in the middle of proceedings.
Paul’s Fool On The Hill sequence was actually filmed atop a hill in Nice, France, at a cost of more than £4,000 for that single clip.
The finale – a mock Busby Berkley production number – features forty dwarfs, twelve babies and a complete military marching band.
The Beatles descend a long grand staircase in white tuxedos with tailed jackets singing Your Mother Should Know.
The one Beatle who came across the best was Ringo, who embarked on the tour with his fictional Auntie Jessie (Jessie Robins), who was argumentative until the “magic” of the bus took her over.
The movie was edited and re-edited so many times by the group that it makes little sense in its final version, and was such a critical failure in Britain that over the intervening years, the original copy of the film was somehow lost.
In the 1980s, a second-generation copy surfaced and was broadcast on the USA Cable Network.
Although flawed creatively and edited in a very disjointed fashion, it is still fun to see a visual representation of The Beatles‘ creativity circa 1967.
Ringo’s Auntie Jessie
Hostess Wendy Winters
Mandy Weet (Miranda Forbes)
Jolly Jimmy Johnson
Little George the Photographer
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band