Friday, November 22, 1963. One of the most unforgettable days in world history. It was, of course, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
At the time, a newly popular British group called The Beatles were in the middle of their fourth European tour. The November 22nd concert by the soon-to-be-dubbed "Fab Four" had been anticipated with great excitement by Beatles fans.
By an odd and incredible coincidence, the Beatles' second album With The Beatles was set to be released that same day. The album already had advance orders of half a million (by 1965, it was to sell over a million copies in the UK, making it only the second album to ever do so).
With The Beatles featured seven new songs by the world's hottest new composers, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and also featured George Harrison's first-ever Beatles composition, "Don't Bother Me." With The Beatles was to soar to the number one spot on the charts and stay there for 21 weeks.
As the Beatles' first album Please Please Me had already had a 30-week run at the top spot before being replaced by With The Beatles, this meant the band held the #1 spot on the British charts for an incredible 51 consecutive weeks.
Excited Beatle fans were gathering outside Stockton's Globe Cinema for the first of two concerts to be given that night, the first at 6PM. Also featured on the bill that night were the Kestrels, Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers, The Vernon Girls, The Brook Brothers, and the Rhythm & Blues Quartet. Obviously, these fellow entertainers were not to have quite the same level of musical immortality the Beatles were to obtain.
The entertainers all heard the tragic news from four-and-a-half thousand miles away of the US president's assassination before they took the stage that evening. According to Geoff Williams of The Kestrels, "We heard the news that JFK had been shot before we went onstage. That would have been around 7PM. It wasn't until afterwards that we heard he was dead. I don't think there was a TV at the cinema. It would have been just word-of-mouth."
Peter Jay recalled: "We had a job to do. People were there …and we had to carry on." (JFK was shot at 12:30 PM in Dallas; 6:30 PM in England.)
Half a century ago, without the now-round-the-clock television news reporting, the internet, cell phones, and text messaging we are all so accustomed to, many of the audience members probably weren't even aware of the tragedy across the pond.
Williams added, "I honestly don't think the audience reaction to that second show was any different from any other night of the tour. It might sound strange, but this was an audience of young people who loved the Beatles, and they had come along for a good time. They were too young to have understood the implications of what happened. They didn't understand about politics. We had to carry on."
Vernon Girl Jean Owen, now Samantha Jones, recalls: "We were about to go onstage when John Lennon said, 'Have you heard, John Kennedy's been shot?' Maureen replied, 'Oh, John, don't be so sick!' It was only after we came off that we found out it was true."
Samantha also remembers, "Your first thought is- God, the audience will be crap tonight. You still have a job to do. I can't recall the audience being any different that night." The crowd's reaction to the Beatles performance was completely usual.
A photo exists of the evening's concert, showing the Beatles (George and Paul, at least) beaming happily to the crowd. Another photo shows a girl Beatle fan who had fainted being carried off by an usher to see the on-duty nurses. Another shows two girls who had fainted being tended by nurses (several hundred girls fainted during the two concerts). A fourth photo of the historic day survives, picturing four serious-faced Beatles posing casually with local promoters, which was perhaps taken earlier in the day.
Melody Grainger (now Bahou) was a 16-year-old witness to this strange concert. She recalls: "There was a whole busload of us. I remember being picked up at the end of my street and hearing someone say, 'Tell Melody President Kennedy's been shot.' I was shocked and yet there was no further discussion that I can remember."
Melody says of the concert: "I couldn't see much …I couldn't hear much either, for all the screaming. What else can I say? It was The Beatles, live in person. I was screaming, too. Lord knows why, and tears were streaming down my face. I liked John, the sexy one, didn't care much for Paul, the baby face. Then it was all over, we piled on the bus and headed home. We hashed over the songs they sang. Next day it was confirmed that John Kennedy had been shot dead in Dallas."
The Beatles were abruptly halted that night, but not out of any mark of respect for Kennedy. A girl three rows from the front somehow burst through the security guards and made a mad dash of rate stage. She flung herself across the ten-foot wide orchestra pit, scrambled onstage, and made a beeline for George.
She held him in a tight embrace for a few moments before turning her attention to John, who was belting out "Twist and Shout." She grinned up at him and was about to pounce when the guards caught up with her and bundled her off stage. As they did, the curtains unexpectedly dropped, with John still in mid-song. The Beatles escaped the frenzied crowd and were whisked off in a police car.
The haunting irony of the long-ago concert was not lost on those who were there. After the concert, Geoff Williams remembered, "We were all staying in the same hotel that night, the Beatles included, and that was very unusual. We all agtehred around the television and watched it together and we were all stunned into silence. It was so poignant when John Lennon got shot, because of course, we were with them when it happened to JFK."
Melody Bahou said, "It was past eleven when I got home. I had been screaming and crying tears [over the Beatles] while Jackie Kennedy had been doing the same, only in bitter anguish. And my lovely John, murdered in America 17 years later."
The newspapers the next day were, of course, filled with storied of JFK's tragic assassination. But the story of the girl who jumped the orchestra pit and hugged George was carried on page seven go Saturday's Daily Express, complete with a picture of her about to make a lunge at George. Her friend, quizzed later by journalists, piped up innocently that she had told her she was determined to kiss a Beatle. The theater staff were embarrassed by the girl who beat their tight security.
[Ed. note: Friday will be the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination.]