When The Beatles helped unite the world

And the previously unseen behind–the-scenes pictures from that history making moment.

Chris Anderson March 30, 2017

In 1967, the Beatles helped unite the world with a live international TV broadcast that saw them debut All You Need is Love to more than 400 million viewers. Today, 50 years later, previously unseen photographs highlight that their message has never been needed more 

In the age of Netflix and TV on demand, this wouldn’t happen today – a two-and-a-half-hour live TV special shown all over the world, hopping between different countries, with each offering entertainment and cultural insights for their own time slot. The logistics and coordination involved in bringing the nations together on this scale – especially in the 1960s, before email or the internet – would be a headache-inducing task, but somehow it worked. Our World, broadcast on June 25, 1967 across 24 countries, was a success, with more than 400 million viewers tuning in.

The idea had originated from the BBC in London, who wanted to make use of the satellite technology orbiting the Earth. This would be the world’s first live international satellite TV broadcast, described by the BBC in a statement as “linking five continents and bringing man face to face with mankind, in places as far apart as Canberra and Cape Kennedy, Moscow and Montreal, Samarkand and Söderfors, Takamatsu and Tunis.” 

The content of the show was varied, with performances from opera singers, an appearance by artist Pablo Picasso, and shots of Spanish fishermen and Japanese construction workers. For its own segment, the BBC had no problem deciding who it wanted to represent the UK – the biggest band in the world at the time, the Beatles.

“That took 90 phone calls, to get the Beatles to participate,” project head Aubrey Singer revealed during a 1996 magazine interview. “They were just so obdurate. Is that the word I want? They didn’t feel it was important to them. Thankfully, we got them, because we needed something like that to lift the whole thing.” 

It would certainly have given the show added publicity, especially as it promised the debut of a new Beatles song. At the time, the band had only just released the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, but were asked to come up with new material for the broadcast – something with a positive, global message. 

Not even the surviving band members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, can recall if John Lennon wrote All You Need is Love specifically, or if he had already been working on it, but that was the song they chose for the ground-breaking TV show.

When Lennon first played it to the rest of the group, in the weeks before the broadcast, with its message of ‘love, love, love’, George Harrison apparently commented, “Well, it’s certainly repetitive.” Paul McCartney was more accommodating, saying years later, “The chorus, ‘all you need is love’ is simple, but the verse is quite complex. In fact, I never really understood it.”

Ringo Starr was perhaps the most positive of all, seeing All You Need is Love as a protest against the Vietnam War, which had started to dominate the news. “It was for love and peace,” he said. “I even get excited now when I realise that’s what it was for: peace and love, people putting flowers in guns.” 

The global theme of Our World influenced the inclusion of the orchestra playing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, at the start, and as the song comes to a close the chorus to She Loves You, a previous Beatles hit, can be heard – this was an improvisation by Lennon in one of the show’s rehearsals, with Yesterday and She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain also considered.

The Beatles would play the song from their spiritual home of EMI’s Abbey Road as the broadcast’s final segment. The band sat on stools, holding their instruments, as a 13-piece orchestra crammed in behind them. To create a party atmosphere, the area was decorated with colourful balloons and flowers, while messages of love were written in different languages on boards for the various countries to see – the so-called ‘Summer of Love’ had arrived. Friends and family were invited to share in the moment, sitting on the floor around them, including Marianne Faithful, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Keith Moon, Graham Nash and Mick Jagger.

Getting to see the spectacle unfold was photographer David Magnus, a close friend of the band’s publicist, Tony Barrow, who was invited to Abbey Road that weekend. As well as the live performance, he took photos of the band rehearsing the day before, and also away from the studio, relaxing in the canteen. The images are the subject of an exhibition launching in London this month at the Proud gallery in Chelsea, The Beatles Unseen: Photographs by David Magnus

Captured through his lens was the band’s keen fashion sense, with Ringo Starr wearing silk, suede and fake fur. “It was so heavy,” said the drummer later. “It had all this beading on and it weighed a ton.” The patterns on Paul McCartney’s shirt were also eye-catching. “I stayed up the night before, drawing on that shirt I wore,” he revealed. “I had these pens, and you could draw on the shirt, launder it, and the pattern would stay on. It got nicked after the show. Still, easy come, easy go.”

In one of Magnus’s photos, McCartney can be seen creating a sign with the words ‘Come Back Milly’ on it. Milly was McCartney’s aunt, visiting her son and grandchildren in Australia, but the family had no way of contacting her to make sure she was okay. According to rock ‘n’ roll legend, she spotted the sign during the show and decided to fly home.

Today, the clip of the performance that night can be watched on YouTube. Originally broadcast in black and white, colour was added later for a 1990s documentary. All You Need is Love was released as a single shortly afterwards, with Baby You’re a Rich Man as the B-side, and it went to number one in every country that Our World had been screened in. They may have been reluctant or unsure about the show to begin with, but the Beatles had made history again. 

Photos by David Magnus

The Beatles Unseen: Photographs by David Magnus exhibition is at Proud Chelsea, London, until May 14.