The Beatles in Manila was to be at the tail end of a two-country Asian tour, the last-ever live performances the Fab Four would ever give outside of North America. The itinerary for that first day called for John, Paul, George, and Ringo to be greeted at the tarmac by a bevy of beauties offering leis (later scrapped), then a ceremony wherein Manila Mayor Yeba Villegas would hand to the Beatles the keys to the city (also later scrapped), then a motorcade to the Philippine Navy Headquarters, where they would give a press conference. The Beatles would then be whisked away onto a yacht harbored off Manila Bay. The yacht, called Marima, was owned by one of the country’s leading industrialists.
There was no need for them to review their Manila itinerary during the flight. They just wanted to smoke their joints, wanted to be left alone. Passengers in the economy section of their Cathay Pacific flight shoved personal family photographs onto flight attendants, pleading that they be forwarded to the Beatles for autographs. None were signed. The flight captain invited the band into the cockpit. They said no.
George recounted, “When we got to Manila, a fellow was screaming at us, ‘Leave those bags there! Get in the car!’ We were being bullied for the first time. It wasn’t respectful. Everywhere else—America, Sweden, Germany, wherever—even though there was a mania, there was always a lot of respect because we were famous showbiz personalities. But in Manila it was a very negative vibe from the moment we got off the plane, so we were a bit frightened.”
The fellow who had screamed at the Beatles to leave their bags was the Collector of Customs of the Manila International Airport, Atty. Salvador Mascardo. He had himself driven onto the runway to demand that the bags be handed over, swearing at the Fab Four, “You’ll go back to the plane if you don’t surrender those things!” That the band members were separated from their personal luggage was especially distressing. They had marijuana in those bags. They were in an unknown country, uncertain about the drug laws and the will in enforcing these. The hundreds of security forces watching over The Beatles took on a sinister aura.
As the band’s road manager (and future Apple president) Neil Aspinall later described the arrival scene, it could have very well been that The Beatles were being arrested: “The army was there and also some thugs in short-sleeved shirts over their trousers and they all had guns. You could see the bulges. These guys got the four Beatles and stuck them in a limo and drove off and wouldn’t let them take their briefcases with them. They left them on the runway and those little briefcases had the marijuana in them. So while the confusion was going on I put them in the boot of the limo that I was going in and said: “Take me to wherever you’ve taken the Beatles.”
This was the first time in the Beatlemania era that the boys were all alone in a foreign country, cut off from both Neil Aspinall and Brian Epstein. Still uncertain about their friends or their bags or their fates, The Beatles were whisked to their press conference at the Philippine Navy headquarters. Only navy bands are supposed to hold press conferences at navy headquarters. Despite the circumstances, The Beatles tried to charm at the press conference. As the photographers stood up to take their photos, John yelped “Woof! Woof!,” Ringo pranced and shouted, “Shall we dance!”. Only Paul was not hiding behind sunglasses. They insisted, “[W]e’re not hiding from our fans. They’re hidden from us.”
Epstein now stood at the sidelines. He, according to one Filipino, “always looked pissed off.” He cut the proceedings short after 30 minutes with a curt announcement, “Gentlemen, that’s all.” They then proceeded to the harbor, to board the Elizalde yacht, Marima, which then pressed on towards the sea. George Harrison recounted, decades later, that upon boarding the yacht, they were placed in this room. “It was really humid, Mosquito City, and we were all sweating and frightened…[N]ot only that, but we had a whole row of cops with guns lining the deck around this cabin that we were in. We were really gloomy, very brought down by the whole thing. We wished we hadn’t come.”
In his memoirs, Tony Barrow explained that advance man Vic Lewis and promoter Ramon Ramos had arranged that the Beatles and their immediate aides would use the Marima as their hotel during their Manila stay. Decoy rooms were reserved at the Manila Hotel to throw off the fans. The deception utterly failed. Weeks before the arrival, the Manila Times already reported that the Beatles would be staying at a yacht. Nonetheless, Barrow recounts that the boys were pleased at first with the idea of prolonged isolation, more so after they confirmed from Neil Aspinall that their weed had not been confiscated. But they sweltered in the heat, they chafed at the gun-toting cops on the deck, then they learned that they and their team would be offloaded along the coast only shortly before The Beatles’ first show the following afternoon. They needed more time to prepare their suits, their instruments, and they soon agreed with Epstein, who had been sulking the whole time on the yacht, that they needed to leave.
“We’re not staying one minute longer on this bloody boat,” Brian Epstein screamed at Vic Lewis after managing to get hold of a ship-to-shore phone. “There’s absolutely nothing to do and we do not want to spend any more time on this ghastly little yacht!” They were shuttled back to the Manila Hotel, where the whole team occupied a suite and six adjoining rooms. John, George, and Ringo remained in their suite; Paul reportedly got into a car and drove along the Escolta district, then the financial center of Manila.
Ramon Ramos, Jr. would later claim that while The Beatles were in Tokyo, he sent them a cable advising that the Palace was inviting them to a reception on the morning of July 4th, at 11 in the morning. The reply to the cable allegedly came two days later, the day the Beatles arrived. The Beatles were willing to attend, if the reception were to be rescheduled at four in the afternoon, right before their first show at the Rizal Stadium. Considering that the Beatles had left the yacht because of their concerns over the lack of preparation time before the concert, the alleged response claimed by Ramos, Jr. is implausible.
Peter Brown reported…that Tony Barrow had probably received the Ramos cable while in Tokyo, but it was unclear if the news had actually reached Epstein. Epstein would later claim, “The first we knew of the hundreds of children waiting to meet The Beatles at the palace was when we watched television earlier this evening [of July 4].” But earlier that day, by eight in the morning, two police colonels, accompanied by Ramos, knocked at the hotel room of Vic Lewis, demanding to know what time the Beatles would be arriving at Malacañang.
What time are the Beatles arriving at the Palace, Epstein was asked. As with Lewis, Epstein claimed this was the first he had heard about the invitation. He likewise was prepared with his answer, No. The boys were asleep; the boys were tired. They needed their rest, especially after having gone onto that stupid yacht. Besides, The Beatles do not do official functions.
Epstein went up to his room, but the armed aides would not leave. The phone rang for Brian. It was John Addis, CMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Philippines. The Ambassador suggested it was not a good idea for the Beatles to skip the luncheon. The Philippines was not the right country to stand on ceremony about an invitation. It was best not to insult them. Brian stood his ground. No.
Some accounts claimed that The Beatles themselves had not known about the invitation until after the concerts. Yet in the 1990s, Paul would recount that all of them were awake that morning, in their hotel room. They heard the police colonels banging on their door, shouting, “They will come!” George would remember that someone had come into their room, saying “Come on! You’re supposed to be at the palace.” A television set was turned on. “There it was, live from the palace. There was a huge line of people either side of the long marble corridor with kids in their best clothing and the TV commentator saying: And they’re still not here yet. The Beatles are supposed to be here.”
The guests that had gathered at Malacañang beginning at ten o’clock that morning comprised not just the children, but also their parents, who were friends of the Marcoses. For some of them, this was their first time to catch up with the Marcoses since they had moved into the Palace seven months earlier.
Barrow, the publicity man, realized they had fucked up. He called the Roces-owned TV-5, the television station which had been granted exclusive rights to produce The Beatles in Manila, a half-hour summary of the tour that was to air for three consecutive nights at 10:30, right before the Chiquito sitcom Gorio and His Jeepney. Yes, the TV station was ready to broadcast an official statement from The Beatles. Barrow wrote the statement, then he and Epstein rushed over to the TV-5 studios so that the statement as read by Epstein could be recorded. Their efforts were in vain; as the statement was being broadcast later that night, the audio mysteriously disappeared.
Barrow remembered that even as The Beatles left the Rizal Stadium at the end of their evening show, miasma already loomed. Their police escort had vanished, and the stadium gates were locked. “This left our stationary limousines at the mercy of organized troublemakers, scores I would say rather than dozens, pressing menacingly against our windows, rocking the vehicles to and fro and yelling insults at The Beatles which none of us could understand.” They were able to eventually escape back to the Manila Hotel. In the dead of night, the police came. They invited Vic Lewis to come with them. He was interrogated at the police station. “You represent The Beatles. Why did you not bring them to the palace.” At some point that night, Lewis and Ramon Ramos, Jr. appeared at the Press Office in Malacañang. They emphasized that this was not a deliberate snub, not an act of rebellion, but a simple misunderstanding. Lewis allowed Ramos to blame Epstein.
[The next morning] the boys…ordered breakfast from room service. When no trays of food arrived, they sent their road manager Malcolm Evans, to see what was holding breakfast. There was not a Manila Hotel employee in sight when Evans arrived at the lobby. When finally someone appeared at the front desk, he gruffly announced that there was no more room service for the Beatles.
In the Daily Mirror, Airport General Manager Guillermo Jurado said that there would be no special security arrangements for The Beatles. “They will get what they deserve,” warned the airport manager, like a godfather announcing that the once-favored son no longer had his protection. When the Beatles arrived at the airport, the escalators had been turned off. The group was slowed down as they lugged their equipment. Several teenaged fans were present to send off their idols, but they were overshadowed and over-shouted by a mob of an indeterminate number of non-fans. “Beatles alis diyan, Beatles go home!” the mob shouted. “Nakakahiya kayo!” the fans would scream back, in near tears.
Those who wanted to harm The Beatles were stationed at every exit of the customs/immigration area and the quarantine area that every ordinary passenger had to pass through. The mob stalked the entourage at every nook of the airport. Paul remembered, “We got pushed about from one corner of the lounge to another.” Brian Epstein, Vic Lewis, Tony Barrow, Neil Aspinall, Peter Brown and Mal Evans all banded together to protect the boys at all costs. Someone kicked at Epstein, he fell down, his ankle seemingly sprained. He also received a punch in the face. Mal Evans was kicked in the ribs; he was bloodied by the time he got to the plane. Ringo was able to duck a punch, just before he, George, and John made it past the immigration area. Paul had already sprinted ahead of everyone else.
“I’m sure nobody got badly hurt, but that was because we didn’t fight back,” Neil Aspinall said. “If we had fought back it could have been very bad. It was very, very scary, and nothing like this had ever happened before—and nothing like it has ever happened since.”
The group had already boarded the plane and was awaiting their Argo-style escape when an ominous message pierced through the loudspeakers. “Mr. Tony Barrow and Mr. Malcolm Evans must return to the departure building.” The publicist and the road manager deplaned, uncertain of their fates. “Tell [my wife] Lil I love her,” Evans asked the rest of the group, only maybe in jest.
It turned out there was a plausible excuse for holding Barrow and Evans. Since The Beatles entourage had not gone through the normal immigration procedure when they had arrived, the papers of Barrow and Evans had yet to be processed. Perhaps they could have been detained further if the Marcoses wanted to. By this time though, Benjamin Romualdez was at the airport, deployed to take charge and end the drama. He would later hold court at his own embassy in Washington D.C. as Philippine Ambassador to the United States, but then, he was powerful enough simply as Imelda’s brother. Romualdez confronted one of the goons at the airport, telling him to let the Beatles be.
They remained unnerved in the plane while waiting for Barrow and Evans to return. Epstein was hurting, bleeding. Vic Lewis came over. Did Brian get their share of the gate receipts? That’s nearly 50 percent of the performance fee, you know. Epstein erupted at Lewis. “Is that all you can think of, Vic? Bloody money at a time like this?” Lewis was having none of it from Epstein, all of this was Brian’s fault. He may have been the advance man charged with arranging the on-the-ground arrangements, but he believed it was Brian who had screwed up the invitation. He charged at Brian, “I’ll fucking kill you!” The others had to separate them.
At 4:45 in the afternoon, with Barrow and Evans on board, The Beatles soared over the Manila runway. There was applause.