'Beatlemania' Remembered in America

It was the visit that sparked the "British invasion'' and the beginning of Beatlemania in America.

Exactly 50 years ago tomorrow The Beatles stepped aboard a Pan Am Boeing 707 in London and within hours were descending to the tarmac at New York's JFK Airport, to be confronted by hysteria as 5,000 fans greeted them. 

The screams and the mayhem showed a pocket of Beatlemania had broken out across the Atlantic; days later it had spread from coast to coast as the group played live on the US's must-see TV hit the Ed Sullivan Show. 

Tourism chiefs and a trade delegation from Merseyside - including John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird - are marking the of the Fab Four's arrival by accompanying a tribute group, The Cavern Beatles, who are restaging the New York landing in a bid to capitalise on the interest in the group's heritage which continues to be big business in Liverpool. 

The visit itself was a key moment in the Beatles career. 

Not only were they conquering one of the biggest markets in the world, but they were in the land where rock'n'roll had originated, which had produced the records which inspired them and more importantly they were selling it back. 

The groundwork for the visit had begun months earlier when presenter Ed Sullivan had been passing through Heathrow Airport in October 1963 as the Beatles were due to land from a Swedish visit and he spotted a huge gathering of fans on the roof of the Queen's Building. 

By that stage the group had already achieved three UK number ones with Please Please Me, From Me To You and She Loves You. 

Sullivan recalled: "There was the biggest crowd I've ever seen in my life. I asked someone what was going on and he said 'The Beatles'. 'Who the hell are The Beatles?' I asked. But I went back to my hotel, got the name of their manager and arranged for them to do three shows'. 

Within a fortnight the group's manager Brian Epstein had headed to New York to seal the deal with Sullivan, accepting $10,000 for the trio of performances. 

Luckily just days before their US arrival, American audiences had caught up and The Beatles had scored their first number one with I Want To Hold Your Hand, almost 11 months after their first UK chart-topper. 

The programme had received 50,000 tickets applications for the 728 seats in the thea It helped to ensure there were around 5,000 fans waving placards to greet their arrival - mobilised by local radio stations which had played their songs on rotation, and one which had given away the exact flight details - and an estimated 200 reporters and photographers had gathered. 

The group themselves were unprepared and thought they had arrived at the same time as the President with 100 police holding back the throng. 

At their celebrated press conference, they flippantly fended off questions and gave away little apart from their wit with memorable responses including drummer Ringo Starr - who had been asked "how did you find America?'' - telling the press pack: "We went to Greenland and made a left turn.'' 

Journalist and author Tom Wolfe later described how the group "left the airport in four Cadillac limousines, one Beatle to a limousine, heading for the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan''. 

They stayed in the Presidential Suites on the hotel's 12th floor, guarded round the clock. 

The Plaza - which also hosted a press conference for the quartet - later said it would not have accepted the bookings had it been clear they were for a pop group rather than businessmen. 

Two days after arriving in New York, on February 9, 1964, the group took the stage at Studio 50 on West 53rd Street to play the first of the Sullivan programmes, with the show's host announcing: "Our city - indeed the country - has never seen anything like these four young men from Liverpool. 

Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles ...'' 

A record audience of what was said to be 73 million people shared the moment - and life would never be the same again. 

Lennon's sister, Julia Baird is keeping a blog of her trip to America - you can follow it at: www.juliabaird.eu

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