It was 50 years ago: Auckland's fab Beatles welcome

The Beatles at the Auckland civic reception with Mayor Robbie (John Baker collection).
The Beatles at the Auckland civic reception with Mayor Robbie (John Baker collection).

Controversy was waiting for the Beatles before they even set foot in Auckland. Councillors were full of civic pride when the city celebrated its half-million population mark the month the moptops arrived - even though the council's finance committee had refused to contribute to the proposed celebrations

When it was announced that the mayor would give an informal civic welcome for the Beatles at the Town Hall, tentatively planned for 24 June and restricted to teenagers, the storm clouds gathered. Robbie's chief adversary was Auckland Rugby Football Union president, Tom Pearce.

"Last evening I welcomed home a team of footballers," he informed the city council. "They were all fine young men but there was no civic or mayoral reception for them. If we are going to pander to the hysteria, antics, adulation, rioting, screaming and roaring, and all the things these bewigged musicians engender then I think we should make a point of honouring any youths with a sporting background who are at least endeavouring to act in the best traditions of the young men of this nation."

Sir Keith Park insisted that future civic receptions and welcomes should be limited to "very important people" in order to conserve public money and the time of council staff, weighing in with "I have nothing to say against the Beatles. They give an immense amount of pleasure and fun to thousands of young people. It is not up to us older ones to deny them this childish entertainment."

Telephone calls and letters, both for and against, flowed into the mayors office as well as a five pound donation from a prominent Aucklander, George F. Joseph, who wrote in his covering letter, "These young folk who will welcome the Beatles are those who will be called on to sacrifice their lives should World War III eventuate. So let them have their hour of excitement."

It is a chance for you to let your hair down. The Beatles seem to have done that already
Mayor Dove-Myer Robinson

In a party including the mayor and mayoress, promoter Sir Robert Kerridge, and Sounds Incorporated, the Beatles emerged from the Town Hall ten minutes after the start time, to be met by a tremendous roar that echoed around Civic Square for a full five minutes - gestures of quiet from John and Paul having no immediate effect.

Standing among Beatle fans in the afternoon drizzle were vociferous factions of the anti-brigade - some University of Auckland students had dragged along a Sphinx-like papier-mache effigy of Beatle basher Tom Pearce that had originally been constructed for the annual capping parade. Their banners were grabbed and stomped on by irate girls resulting in a few scuffles but overall the mood was good-natured.

Quip of the day came from Mayor Robbie when addressing his citizens. "It is a chance for you to let your hair down. The Beatles seem to have done that already."

A Maori Concert Party sang songs, did the haka, presented each Beatle with pois and three of the girls rubbed noses with the moptops. "The reaction of the Beatles delighted even the cynics," wrote The New Zealand Herald. "They made ineffectual attempts to twirl the pois, recoiled in mock horror from the grimaces of the Maori warriors, and shook their long hair violently during the nose rubbing." After being on show for 25 minutes, the Beatles stood on their chairs to give the crowd one last look while Robbie asked the crowd to "say goodbye," ineffectually leading them in a rousing Now is The Hour.

Edited extract From Half A World Away: The Beatles' Australasian Tour 1964 by Greg Armstrong and Andy Neill.

Stay tuned: nzherald.co.nz will be running a series of stories this week on The Beatles' 1964 tour of New Zealand.

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