Tony Bramwell and Rosemary Kingsland - Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With the Beatles

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Excellent Beatles Background

Jan 14, 2006 (Updated Jan 16, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lots of insider details about the Beatles and Apple Records.

Cons:Lots and lots of names are dropped. Some will think that's a "pro," however.

The Bottom Line: An excellent addition to the constellation of books about the Beatles. This is a fun and interesting read.


As something of a Beatles scholar, I've plowed through plenty of books by various members of the group's inner circle, many of which have been interesting. Some of these insiders include George Martin (the group's producer), Brian Epstein (manager), Barry Miles, Pete Shotton, Cynthia Powell Lennon (John Lennon's ex-wife) and May Pang (John Lennon's lover). There have also been books by the Beatles themselves that cover the group's history and experiences, most notably Anthology. Paul McCartney and George Harrison wrote autobiographies, although Harrison's barely mentions his time with the Beatles.

Although Anthology is a must-read book for anyone interested in the Beatles, the books by the inner circle tend to be more illuminating than those from the group's members. Magical Mystery Tours by Tony Bramwell (and assisted by Rosemary Kingsland) is among the most illuminating. It seems that Bramwell was at many of the most interesting events in the group's life and his memory is sharp enough to write a witty and enjoyable book.

Before I get too far, the four members of the Beatles were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. I assume this information is hardwired into the world's cultural genes but you know what happens when you "assume."

The book opens with Bramwell bumping into his buddy, Beatles' guitarist George Harrison, on a bus heading toward a dance in suburban Liverpool, England. Bramwell is going to see a new group and it slowly dawns on him that Harrison is carrying a guitar and heading to the same dance -- Harrison must be in this new group! Harrison tells Bramwell that he is in the Beatles, which used to play around Liverpool under various names but now has just returned from a backbreaking series of gigs in Hamburg, Germany. Harrison lets Bramwell carry the guitar into the dance hall to avoid paying the entrance fee, something that Bramwell will do many more times over the next few months.

Although the Beatles' upbringing in Liverpool is romantically thought to be lower-working-class, the fact is that the guys were generally in England's middle class (particularly John Lennon) and Bramwell grew up in the same neighborhood with many shared acquaintances. The fact that Bramwell was a couple years younger than the youngest Beatle (Harrison) didn't seem to be an impediment to friendship with all the group's members.

Bramwell helps the Beatles out in gigs around Liverpool and becomes known to Brian Epstein, the visionary who had an epiphany that the group was going to be "bigger than Elvis." Bramwell soon finds himself working for Epstein, and not just on little things. As the Beatles take off for their solitary place in the entertainment stratosphere, Bramwell is given the task to shoot promotional films, coordinate TV and concert appearances, and do many other things that put him in daily contact with the group.

He also produced concerts promoting musical talents such as Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles. In particular, he had a funny story to tell about how Ray Charles (who was blind) somehow managed to wander out of the studio before a TV rehearsal. He was eventually found at the last minute drinking in the bar of an expensive hotel and chatting up the ladies.

Bramwell became one of the central characters at Apple Records, with responsibility for the company's film division. It was Bramwell who shot and edited promotional films for Beatle songs such as Strawberry Fields Forever and Paperback Writer. Although he's never fulsome with self-praise, Bramwell does state that these films were the forerunners of MTV-style music videos.

According to the book, Bramwell was somewhat of a confidant to the Beatles, listening and commiserating with each of the group's members over the years. He observed the beginnings of Lennon's contacts with Yoko Ono and how their relationship suddenly blossomed despite Lennon's constantly telling Bramwell that Ono was a pest.

In fact, Yoko Ono's treatment in this book is by far the most negative that I've read, and will strongly reinforce the beliefs of many that Ono was responsible for breaking up the Beatles. Bramwell asserts that Ono (and her husband at the time, Tony Cox) were con artists looking for an easy mark. Penniless and living beyond their means, they focused their energies on Lennon, whom Yoko pursued with Cox's approval. It was all quite fascinating.

Bramwell was there when the Beatles did the famous Our World broadcast that showed the group recording All You Need Is Love and participated in all the group's film projects, including the film shoot that became the movie Let It Be. His memory of all these events is clear, with an eye for detail of a seasoned newspaper reporter.

Bramwell had so many stories to tell that it sometimes was a little hard to believe he actually stumbled into the situations and people he claims to have met. For example, he was in a bar in London when none other than Jayne Mansfield walked up to him and started chatting. She then glanced at her watch, said she's late for a photo shoot and would Bramwell watch her 18-month-old daughter? Bramwell agreed and spent the next couple of hours bouncing young Mariska Hargitay (star of one of the Law and Order TV series) on his knee.

A young single guy connected to the Beatles was sure to draw his share of women, particularly with his film responsibilities, so Bramwell discusses a few of the more memorable relationships. He had one girlfriend who liked to walk out and leave Bramwell alone when they had an argument. Little did she know that he had another girlfriend around the block, a dark-haired beauty with a fabulous figure named Christine. Bramwell swears that he did not know that this was Christine Keeler, the woman who brought the British government to its knees in a sex scandal in the mid-1960s.

One other fascinating story: Many record collectors know that there was no record number one for the Beatles' Apple Records label. The song Hey Jude was the label's first release and it had no number. The second release was Mary Hopkin's Those Were The Days, which was Apple number two. What happened to number one?

Ringo Starr's wife (Maureen) had a birthday coming up and someone at Apple Records thought it would be great to work up a version of the song The Lady Is A Tramp to play at her birthday party. One thing led to another and a famous Hollywood composer agreed to rewrite the words to the song, then talked Frank Sinatra into singing it. Sinatra (who was a fan of Beatle songs) recorded this version of The Lady Is A Tramp with a band, shipped the tapes to London, where it was pressed onto Apple #1. One copy of the record was made and given to Maureen (Cox) Starr, and the stamping molds were all destroyed afterward. Only one copy was ever made and it was given to Maureen... who is now dead. Whatever happened to this priceless record is a mystery and one can only hope that it will turn up someday on an episode of Antiques Roadshow

There's LOTS more in this enjoyable book, including what Bramwell does after his days at Apple Records ends. One thing that doesn't end is his enduring enmity for Yoko Ono, whom Bramwell believes may have tipped Japanese authorities to search Paul McCartney's luggage for marijuana upon his arrival in Japan for a concert series. McCartney spent nine days in jail and left the country without doing the concerts. He did, however, have to reimburse the Japanese concert promoters for the funds they lost by not holding the concerts. Bramwell does not like Yoko Ono. (He did like Linda McCartney very much, however, so he is not automatically against Beatle brides.)

I liked Magical Mystery Tours quite a bit. The book includes many fascinating stories and is written in a conversational style that's easy to read and understand. Bramwell had a unique periscope into the heart of Swinging London in the 1960s and into the Beatles' activities in particular. Anyone who is a fan of Beatles' history should enjoy this book very much.

If there is a downside, it may be that there is perhaps a little too much name dropping. However, maybe I have a bit of the celebrity slut in me because I didn't seem to tire of the many interesting and funny stories in this book. (For example, Bramwell and Sharon Osborne were on the same side of a brawl in a casino in Cannes, France, which ended up with both in jail!)

This is a surprisingly long book, filled with observations and musings on the music of the 1960s and beyond. There are a handful of factual errors that I spotted but these are minor. (Bramwell describes the American group The Grass Roots as "psychedelic" when it was just a pop band, for example. Since The Grass Roots play no role in the book other than this mention, it's a minor gaff.)

I recommend Magical Mystery Tours. It was fun, educational and a great way to spend time. Just so you're prepared, it contains some rough language and lots of discussion of casual sex and alcohol use. There is also some drug use but Bramwell is generally uncomfortable with the use of hard drugs that he sees around him. All things considered, the book is probably fine for any bright teen 15 or older. By then, kids have a pretty good idea what's going on.

I give Magical Mystery Tours a strong four stars. If you enjoy the Beatles, you will enjoy this book.


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