The story behind The Beatles' landmark film debut
“… They had this ability to find people that they thought weren’t going to do them down….”
Monday, March 2, 1964. The Beatles join actors’ union Equity minutes before starting work on their first film. Cast and crew head off from platform 5 at Paddington station as shooting begins…
DENIS O’DELL: In the original script, all those scenes with The Beatles on the train were written as rear projection. I suggested to Richard quietly, “If I could get a real train, what do you think about the idea of shooting on that?” I spent the next two weeks arguing with British Rail to get the train. Then I had to get almost a private line so we could use a train as and when we wanted it. I got little platforms made up for the camera to go up and down the corridor of the train.
RICHARD LESTER: There were no rehearsals, everything started on March 2. By the time we started shooting, The Beatles had gone to America and done the Ed Sullivan Show. The film was already in profit because of advanced sales of the album. We started with them running for the train with about 500 people screaming after them.
PAUL McCARTNEY (1964): The film virtually opens with our departures from somewhere like Liverpool to somewhere like London, and that’s how we come to be on the train.
PATTIE BOYD [ACTRESS]: I was working as a fashion model. I got a phone call from my agent asking if I had my porfolio with me. If so, would I go to an address in Soho for a go-see. I went and there were loads of girls in the same room, waiting. We were called in and I saw Dick Lester, who I’d met on a TV commercial. Later that afternoon my agent phoned and said I had a part in the Beatles film! I did two days on set. We got the train from London to Cornwall and back. We got on at Paddington. After about twenty minutes, we stopped at a very small station, there were only four people on the platform – it was The Beatles. They came into our carriage – there were four of us girls, all dressed in school uniforms. They drew back the glass door and introduced themselves. It was so charming. The energy was explosive as they came in smiling and laughing.
RICHARD LESTER: I thought they were extraordinarily like each other. And that they liked each other. They protected each other. If one of them was down a bit, they would take over and protect them. Two or three nights later someone else would be down and they would pick them up. We tried to artificially create a difference between the four, so each had a unique characteristic. It’s probably apocryphal, but George was the mean one, they picked on Ringo, John was cynical and Paul was cute. It was something to hang things on. In real life, John was not known to suffer fools. I think I probably fell into the fool category. I have wounds, but I have huge admiration for John. I hope I formed a relationship with all of them. They had this ability to find people that they thought weren’t going to do them down. I spent a lot of time with John and was never less than impressed. How was it to direct Paul? I think the problem with Paul is he is so enthusiastic towards what’s going on, that it got in the way. Sometimes he tried harder than he should have. George was the most effective actor all the way through in that he attempted less but he always hit it right in the centre.
PATTIE BOYD: The shoot took over two or three carriages. The boys didn’t hide away. They were mixing quite a lot. I think the train stopped for lunchtime. I remember going to sit with George. We were talking quite a bit. For some reason I imagined that he’d want to sit with the others but he said, “Come on, let’s sit here.” I thought he was really, really good looking. He wasn’t as vocal as John and Paul were; they seemed to behave in a more clownish way. George was quieter, more my level because I’m very shy.
RINGO STARR (1964): In the film, John is going to play mouth-organ for the first time in ages. He’ll do it during a number called “I Should Have Known Better”, which we’ll probably use in the guard’s van scene.
DENIS O’DELL: I first met them on the train, on the first day of shooting. They seemed like a really nice bunch of young fellas for musicians. They were very polite. I was on set almost all the time. It turned out to be quite a dangerous operation. Kids were jumping in front of the bloody train to try and stop it.