The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine world premiere, July 17th 1968

How a north London schoolboy managed to gatecrash the Beatles’ glitzy film gala to end up sitting directly behind the Fab Four, with a bit of help from a Rolling Stone…

In 1968 David Stark (top left) was a 15 year old schoolboy, novice drummer and a huge Beatles fan ever since the group shot to fame in 1963. Despite only seeing them play live on one occasion (at Another Christmas Show at Hammersmith Odeon in January 1965) he was lucky to meet them all individually on various memorable occasions, and has some fascinating personal stories which he’s currently compiling for a forthcoming book. However his most remarkable encounter with the Fab Four was when he gatecrashed the world premiere of the legendary Yellow Submarine animated film and ended up sitting directly behind Paul and the entire group thanks to an incredible series of events, as he explains below.

Half a century on, David is a music biz veteran and has been Editor/Publisher of acclaimed industry resource SongLink International for the past 25 years. Later this month he’ll be presenting the annual SongLink Prizes for songwriting at LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) in the presence of lead patron Sir Paul McCartney, who inducted David as a Companion of LIPA back in July 2006. “It’s an incredible accolade,” says David, “and I always enjoy meeting Paul at least once a year to chat about the high standard of songwriting and musicianship at LIPA. Over the past dozen years I’ve presented SongLink Prizes to a fantastic bunch of talented students, many of whom have gone on to make their mark in the music industry.”

Meanwhile Yellow Submarine is being re-issued in cinemas for one day only on July 8th and David will be attending an 11am screening at Picturehouse Central on Piccadilly Circus, situated next to the site of the old London Pavilion where the world premiere was held on July 17th 1968. These days the cinema is better known as popular tourist attraction ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’, but luckily the building’s imposing facade dating from 1885 still exists, being the place where all three of the Beatles’ other movies had their London premieres – A Hard Days Night (1964), Help! (1965) and Let It Be (1970), the latter being the only one that David was actually invited to – but that’s another story…

In fact the Yellow Submarine premiere was the last major public event that the Fab Four all attended together, also marking what turned out to be London’s last-ever mass outpouring of Beatlemania with an estimated crowd of over 60,000 squashed into Piccadilly Circus to see the group and their guests arrive and depart. And David would have remained just one of the crowd if it hadn’t been for his spotting a conveniently unlocked door at the side of the cinema, as he recalls:

“It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon in mid-July 1968 when I arrived at Piccadilly Circus at around 3pm with my pal David Harris, who wasn’t especially a massive fan like myself but quite happy to come along for the occasion. A sizeable crowd was already gathering by the time we arrived and barriers were being put in place outside the London Pavilion, which looked very impressive with an enormous display announcing “The Beatles Yellow Submarine”, along with huge cut-outs of their cartoon characters. The excitement was beginning to build even though the big event was a few hours away, and as I surveyed the scene from our vantage point by the statue of Eros I suddenly spotted someone entering a side door situated next to the main cinema entrance.

“Let’s go and see where that leads,” I said, and off we strolled to the door in question to find it unlocked, quite amazingly. A few seconds later we found ourselves in an old lift whizzing up to the top floor, where we immediately ascended a small flight of stairs leading to the cinema roof. We then opened the door to find a few assorted youngsters like ourselves, mostly French for some reason, who all had the same idea and somehow found their way up to the top.

The view from the roof was quite extraordinary, watching hordes of people gathering below to become what would eventually be a huge crowd waiting for the stars to arrive. And there we were, looking down on it all, chatting to the Frenchies and wondering what the hell we were going to do next. Eventually, from around 7pm, limousines and taxis started arriving to drop off the guests, and after looking at all the action below us for a few minutes, I told David that we should try our luck and get into the cinema itself.

On reflection, I must have had some kind of an inkling that I was going to try something, as I was smartly dressed in a Regency-style Lord John suit and long-collared turquoise shirt plus colourful kipper tie. David was more modestly attired in a regular blazer, but we both looked the part. Which was extremely lucky, as no sooner had we stepped down from the roof into the cinema’s upper circle then we were immediately accosted by an usherette who asked to see our tickets.

“Er, I’m sorry but we left them downstairs when we came in”, I hastily explained. “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that, you need to keep your ticket with you at all times”, replied the young usherette, probably not believing a word of it, “I’ll have to call the manager over to sort this out.”

A minute or two later her superior arrived and asked how we came to be there. I said the first thing that came into my head: “We were invited by Clive Epstein (the late Brian’s brother) who I’m sure will vouch for us if we can find him.” Gulp! This was a real long-shot, I’d dropped Clive’s name as he was my only tenuous Beatles connection, having actually met him and his wife Barbara during a family holiday in Torquay four years earlier. It surely meant possible eviction if we found him and the same if we didn’t. “Ok then”, said the manager, “let’s go and see if we can find him”.

He then took us down one floor to the dress circle where all the stars and VIP’s were gathering, and into the main bar where, amongst others, I recognised members of Status Quo but no sign of Clive. However, as we continued walking around I suddenly spotted a familiar-looking rotund figure with a prominent bald head and heavy-rimmed glasses. It was Dick James, the Beatles’ music publisher and partner with Brian Epstein in Northern Songs which looked after the prized Lennon-McCartney catalogue.

I’d never met him before, but knew exactly who he was so approached him to ask, “Have you seen Clive Epstein here tonight by any chance?” Dick immediately replied, “No, he rang me this afternoon and said he was stuck in Liverpool on business and couldn’t make it tonight.” On hearing this, the manager turned to me and said, “I can see you know people here so that’s ok, enjoy the film.” Bingo! I thanked Dick and we moved off, not knowing then that he was to become my first boss in the music business at Dick James Music just a few years later.

So we were in and safe with management approval, but of course didn’t actually have any seats. We stood at the back of the dress circle where quite a few others were doing the same, so luckily didn’t feel at all conspicuous. We’d only been standing there a few minutes before a sudden barrage of flashing lights and noise erupted as Ringo and wife Maureen walked in first, followed shortly by John, Yoko and Paul who were all being trailed by numerous photographers and TV crews. Last to arrive were George and Patti who walked straight past us standing against the back wall, a clip of which can be seen in old ITV news footage of the event with me pulling a totally ridiculous face.  Eventually all four Beatles and their partners had taken their seats in the front row, while David and I looked on and considered ourselves amazingly lucky to be standing at the back.

However, as the lights started going down and the paparazzi gradually retired, I spotted two empty aisle seats in the second row directly behind Paul and his guest, Patti’s sister Jenny Boyd (Paul had just split up from Jane Asher that week). We quickly walked down the aisle and discovered that the third seat along was occupied by a flamboyantly-dressed Keith Richards, with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg on his other side. I asked him if anyone was sitting in the two empty seats and he replied, “Nah, they’re Mick and Marianne’s but they’re away in New York right now so you’re ok there.” Very nice of him indeed! So we sat down to watch the film premiere courtesy of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, with Keef on my immediate right, Paul directly in front of me and John to his right, with Yoko next to him while George, Patti, Ringo and Maureen were further along the front row.

Of course the whole situation was completely surreal – I was half-expecting us to be turfed out of our seats at any moment, but once the lights went down we were fine. Curiously the programme started with a Pink Panther animated short which gave us time to take stock of the situation and realise how incredibly lucky we were. To be honest it was hard take my eyes off John who was directly in my sight-line. He had always been my favourite Beatle, the one who I sketched doodles of and the one whose surreal sense of humour and outspoken attitude were a huge influence, as it was to so many countless others. And there he was sitting just inches in from of me in his eye-cathing all-white suit, black shirt and Indian-style Talisman necklace that he’d been wearing on and off for the past year or so (years later bought by Noel Gallagher at auction as a present for brother Liam).

Then the big moment came when all eyes were glued to the screen for the world premiere of Yellow Submarine, and what a uniquely original experience it proved to be. Dazzlingly colourful, witty, brilliantly animated and rich with Beatles songs old and new, it was totally unlike any other cartoon feature seen before, save for a distinct nod to Disney’s Fantasia. I was completely blown away by it, particularly with the Liverpool-based Eleanor Rigby opening sequence and also the Lucy In The Sky section with its sensational mix of pop-art, random brush-strokes and vivid colours. As George’s intriguing new song stated, it certainly was “All Too Much” and I found myself being totally enraptured by what I was seeing on screen, especially as I was half-watching John and the others taking it all in. I loved the new songs too, and at one point leant over to inform Paul quietly “that was a good one” (think it was ‘Hey Bulldog’) to which he replied with a quick ‘oh, thanks”.

Eventually the nasty Blue Meanies and the evil Flying Glove were all transformed into peace-loving music fans by the sheer power of Sgt. Pepper Lonely Heart’s Club band and the film drew to a close – but not before the final live-action sequence with Ringo finding “a hole in my pocket” and John informing us that “newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre.” The audience gave it a huge ovation which went on for several minutes, while it was an incredible feeling to be sitting directly behind the four mega-stars who had inspired the whole magical experience.

As the applause slowly died down, I realised that we were completely people-locked as virtually everyone in the vicinity wanted to speak to the Beatles and pay their compliments on the film. I ended up chatting with John and George for a few moments, I can’t remember a word of what was said but can just about recall George being politely attentive to my high opinion of the movie. We then pretty much followed him to the dress circle’s foyer area, where he was surrounded by more TV cameras and reporters wanting to get a quick word with him with Patti looking on too.

So that was it.. but not quite. David and I hung around the foyer for as long we could while the Fab Four and all the other VIP’s left for the after-show party at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Bayswater. We would have loved to have gone on to it but a) didn’t know exactly where it was, and b) we both had to get to our respective homes (mine in Edgware, David’s in Dollis Hill) before the tubes stopped. However we did experience the ultimate feeling of being a part of the whole event as we stepped outside to see and hear thousands of fans being held back by police all singing “We all live in a Yellow Submarine” in deafening unison, an unbelievable experience. Of course we realised that without a little bit of luck (and chutzpah) we would have ended up doing exactly the same thing had not events gone our way in such an unexpected way.

And throughout it all we pretty much kept our cool by not asking for a single autograph (we probably had no pens on us) or a selfie, hardly surprising as I didn’t carry my faithful old Kodak Brownie around with me too often at that time, although I did actually snap George Martin going into Abbey Road Studios in 1966. It was all rather different from how things are fifty years on, and as the lovely Mary Hopkin famously sang during that seminal summer of ’68, those were the days my friend, indeed they were…

Extracted from “It’s All Too Much – Adventures of a Teenage Beatles Fan in the ’60s And Beyond” by David Stark. Publication date TBC. All rights reserved © 2018 David Stark.