Beatles fans have delighted to one golden anniversary after another: first single(1962), first No. 1 record (1963),
invasion of America (1964), final concert (1966),and greatest album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
Another one was noted in December 2017: the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first flop - the Dec. 26, 1967 airing of the 52 minute television movie
"The Magical Mystery Tour" - on BBC1. It drew 15 million viewers, who barely tolerated the meandering scenes, dodgy cinematography and overall
weirdness. "Beatles' mystery tour baffles viewers," blared one headline. NBC withdrew from an
agreement to air the film in the U.S.
"They hated it," guitarist George Harrison acknowledged in the early 1990's. "It's understandable too,
because it wasn't a brilliant scripted thing that was executed well. It was like a little home movie, really.
An elaborate home movie." Even producer George Martin called it "pretentious and overblown."
The film followed the band's decision to stop touring. "We couldn't reproduce on stage the type of
music we'd started to record," John Lennon told Rolling Stone in December 1967. "So if stage shows
were to be out, we wanted something to replace them. Television was the obvious answer."
The death of manager Brian Epstein in August had the group reeling. Paul McCartney was eager to get
them working again - so eager that he charged ahead without a script or even a plot. He drew a circle and
divided it into eight slices like a pie. The Beatles then penciled into the slices abstract ideas such as
"Coach people meet each other/Song" ("Fool on the Hill") and "Laboratory sequence." The sketch guided
the improvisational two-week shoot in September 1967 which the Beatles co-directed with Bernard
"It was very flimsy, and we had no idea what we were doing," said Harrison. "At least, I didn't . . . My problem, basically, was that I was in another
In later years the Beatles would attribute the film's failure to the BBC's decision to air it in black and white, a format that couldn't do justice to their
psychedelic vision. According to the Beatles lore, it received a more positive reception when BBC2 broadcast it in color in January 1968.
"It wasn't the kind of thing you could do a disclaimer before and say, "Ladies and Gentlemen what you are about to see is a product of our
imaginations," McCartney said in 2012. "Believe me, at this point they were quite vivid."
Time has been kind to "Magical Mystery Tour." Film-makers Martin Scorcese and Terry Gilliam have praised it as ahead of its time visually. Scenes
in which the group mimes to songs such as "I Am the Walrus," and "Your Mother Should Know" and "Hello, Goodbye," stand alone as early and
influential music videos.
And when viewed in light of all that was still to come in the Beatles story, "Magical Mystery Tour" seems less a failure than an act of transition. The
trips to India, the White Album, "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" were still to come. The anniversaries start this year.
Join the Beatles on their "Magical Mystery Tour" - this time in living "colour" - as they take the stage for one of the TV movies' songs: "Hello