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Roll Up for The Magical Mystery Tour

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"

It was a topsy-turvy year for The Beatles … 1967 saw them praised for their groundbreaking Sgt Pepper album, then just a few short months later they were facing a barrage of abuse after the Boxing Day showing on British television of their movie Magical Mystery Tour.

 The extravaganza, although filmed in vivid colour, was seen in black and white. It wasn't shown in all its splendour until the following year. But  whether in bright hues or subdued shades of grey its impact was interesting to say the least. It caused quite a stir … well, something of a storm actually. Incomprehensible, silly, confusing, disjointed, childish, pointless, crazy, mindlessly zany. Those were just some of the jibes hurled the way of John, Paul, George and Ringo. They weren't novices when it came to criticism but even they were taken aback by the negative reception.  So what was all the fuss about?  Here was a kind of home movie that revolved around a very British tradition, the said magical mystery tour. You'd get on a bus or coach and take your chances at where you were going. That was the mystery. Or even if you knew where you were headed, you weren't too sure how you were going to get there, or what you might encounter on the way! Sounds odd, but that's the way it was and everyone loved it. Only in Britain, some might say.

 
 Filling the prime slot on Boxing Day evening, it was THE BIG programme, the one not to miss, the one for all members of the family to enjoy, grandparents, mums, dads and teenagers alike. Everyone sat down in front of the TV set to let the festive food go down and be entertained for an hour or two.  The critical backlash was so totally unexpected. In some quarters it verged on the hysterical: Detractors said it was outrageous, what were the BBC thinking of, screening this indulgent nonsense? Were they off their heads? Had they indulged a little too much of Beatlemania and psychedelia? Tut, tut muttered grumpy granddad and bamboozled dad, who complained that they hadn't fought the war to put up with this. No, no, it was all too much. It really is a disgrace! Even grandma, who thought that the Fab Four were such lovely lads, felt cheated! How could they do this, those naughty boys!


In a short of daze, many folks stared in disbelief at what was unfolding in front of their eyes. What was all this nonsense, this mishmash of gibberish, THIS whatever it purports to be! To them, most of the songs seemed weird and totally inane! What an absurd concoction. Some labelled it a tour de farce, certainly not a tour de force!  Amazingly, it was even considered anti-establishment  … by the establishment itself, of course! For despite all the changes that had taken place during the preceding four or five years, the elite in charge of our lives still ruled the roost behind the scenes. In many ways it was the same old same old. Many things really hadn't changed. And the generation gap, the great divide, seemed suddenly as wide as ever it was!
 On the other hand, millions of baby boomers loved being taken on the magic roller coaster ride! It transported them into another world, another giant step away from what they considered to be the older generation's creaky concepts, demands, rigid rules and regulations. The young, myself included, appreciated it and that was all that mattered. Like lots of other admirers I didn't claim to fully understand it all, but we knew it was different and challenging. It had wit, inventiveness and was joyously goofy. Sure, it was often conceited, egotistical and untidy in parts, but that's why we took to it, warts and all. Yes, it was off the wall, quirky, strange, and although different in many ways, it owed a lot to the influence of the group's Dick Lester-directed movies Hard Day's Night and Help! Plus, musically it was very much in keeping with the spirit and feel of Sgt Pepper. Barriers had been breached and there were no holds barred! Even George Harrison droning away on Blue Jay Way seemed OK.


 The music initially barely got a look-in amid the storm, which turned out to be totally unfair. The soundtrack stood on its own merits. Lively, catchy and fun. It wasn't until later when the album was released that critics started to give it its deserved credit. Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane had been a double A-side and were reported to have been considered for the Sgt Pepper album, but hadn't made it. They weren't in the movie either but their inclusion on the album gave extra credence to the project. Hello, Goodbye and All You Need Is Love were also major triumphs.


 Getting back to the original soundtrack, what was I Am The Walrus all about? It's undoubtedly the most enigmatic of all the songs. Was it meant to signify anything or was it just a bizarre puzzle, a catchy piece of hokum? Only the Egg Man cold possible have cracked that enigma … but he's probably still inside his shell. Maybe in yet another 50 years he'll eventually break out and let us all into the secret! Crack through the fuzz, haze and hypnotic repetition. Not to mention the drugs!
 So, when all's said and done, fifty years on and there's still plenty of mystery surrounding the lyrics and the exact nature and meaning of the whole thing … that's if there ever was a real, meaningful point to it. It was all down to the Beatles' imaginations, particularly that of Paul McCartney who started it all with just a drawn circle on a sheet of white paper!


Perhaps it's best just to leave it at that, and let our own imaginations take flight. After all, life's too short to spend too much time speculating, isn't it?  Simply take it as it is and enjoy the movie and listen to the album music. Sit back, relax, and let the Fool On The Hill guide you along Penny Lane and across those vivid Strawberry Fields. Oh, and don't forget to feed the walrus! I'm sure he'll be ever so grateful. You never know, as a reward he might let you in on the secret! Anyway, love it or loath it you can't ignore it. Embrace it  and regard it as a chance to rediscover your youth and the zest and excitement of the cultural changes that define the Sixties.

David Soulsby, British Writer

 

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