"Shout Airborne is handly for planes if you like (no longer government patrolled) and the L.C.C.C. (Liddypool Cha Cha Cha) are doing a great thing"
(John Lennon) *
Liverpool Airport in 1968, and in 2009 (below)
Liverpool (Speke) Airport was built in part of the grounds of the Speke Hall estate in the late 1920s. Following the death of Adelaide Watts, the last private owner of Speke Hall, ownership passed to Liverpool Corporation (“L.C.C.C”.) which saw the land as an ideal site for airport development.
The original airport was a large levelled grassed area to the other side of Speke Hall from the present airport. The airport started scheduled flights in 1930 but didn’t officially open until mid-1933. By the late 1930s, air traffic from Liverpool was beginning to take off with an increased demand for Irish Sea crossings, and a distinctive Art Deco passenger terminal, control tower and two large aircraft hangars were built, forming the most impressive airport buildings in the country.
The airport was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and known as RAF Speke. Bristol Blenheims and Handley Page Halifax bombers were built at the airport and the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation assembled many types of planes here including Hudsons and Mustang fighters, that had been shipped from the United States in parts to Liverpool's Docks.
Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool 8. P51 Mustang fighter planes being transported from the docks up to RAF Speke for final assembly.
On 8 October 1940 (one day before John Lennon's birth), Speke was witness to what is thought to be the fastest air-to-air combat "kill" in the Battle of Britain, and possibly of all time. Taking off from Speke in his Hawker Hurricane, Flight Lieutenant Denys Gillam was immediately confronted by a German Junkers 88 passing across him. He shot the Junkers down while his undercarriage was still retracting, and along with Alois Vašátko and Josef Stehlík - all members of 312 Squadron - was credited with the kill.
The event has been caught in a superb painting by Robert Taylor called "Fastest Victory"
In the post war years Speke hosted an annual air display in aid of the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association charity for veterans. The displays were immensely popular and drew large crowds including members of the McCartney and Harrison families from the nearby housing estate. Indeed, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the airport was a popular destination for a day out, Liverpool families enjoying the use of the viewing balcony to admire the civil airline operations which had resumed after the war.
The city took over the control of the airport on 1 January 1961. In 1966 Prince Phillip opened a new 7,500 feet runway on a site to the Southwest of the existing airfield. This allowed the airport to be open for business 24 hours a day and is still is use today.
When the Beatles returned to Liverpool Airport in July 1964 Paul told reporters that when he was younger he would come to the airport to spot the planes, as did his brother Mike and probably George Harrison and his friends, living as they all did in such close proximity to the airport. What John Lennon failed to mention, at least publicly, was that for a time, he had actually worked here
In August 1958, a month after the untimely death of his mother, John Lennon was looking for a summer job. Julia's former partner John Dykins arranged for him to work at the airport's Viscount Restaurant for a few weeks until he returned to Art College that September. Apparently during the month or so John worked here, still grieving and at times very angry, he did the basics - washing up, waiting at tables and packing sandwiches.
The Beatles friend and press agent Derek Taylor was travelling to Liverpool with them in July 1964. He later recalled that when they were coming in to land John made a determined effort to warn as many of the people in their party as he could not to eat the cheese sandwiches at the airport reception.
On what would turn out to be a momentous day for the Beatles, John decided to tell anybody who would listen that when he worked in the Viscount as a packer he used to spit in the sandwiches out of spite.**
In 1962 the Beatles secured a recording contract with EMI records in London and the session to record their first single was booked for Tuesday 4th September. When the big day arrived it was wet, windy and not long after dawn when the Beatles assembled at Speke for their first ever flight from Liverpool Airport***. Manager Brian Epstein had promised Mersey Beat editor Bill Harry he would write an article about the day's proceedings for the paper, and to accompany the piece obligingly took a pre-flight photograph of the somewhat apprehensive and not so fab- at this time of the morning- four on the runway.
Epstein wrote that their 75 minute flight aboard the Starways Airlines Viscount propeller plane was "somewhat bumpy and tiring" and no doubt the Beatles tried hard not to think about the poor safety reputation the airline had until they were safely back on the ground in London. In Brian's photograph George looks particularly unhappy about getting on the plane. Throughout the Beatles touring years he was always extremely nervous about flying, a fear probably originating from this very first flight from Speke.
The first time we took a plane together as a group, with Brian Epstein, from Liverpool to London, the seat George Harrison was sitting in was a window seat, and the window opened... He was screaming; very strange.
(Ringo Starr, Anthology)
When we first started flying to London, we went on Starways Airline. We'd take off from Liverpool and go up over the Mersey, over Port Sunlight. I remember the first time I went on that flight: as the plane was hammering down the runway, the back window opened, right where I was sitting. I freaked out, thinking I was going to get sucked out. I shouted and a stewardess came down, got hold of the window and slammed it shut again. (George Harrison, Anthology)
Exactly one week later George had to go through it all again, flying on 11 September 1962 with the other Beatles back to London for a second attempt at recording their debut single Love Me Do, plus the b-side PS I Love You and a first attempt at a new composition - Please, Please Me. Brian Epstein took another photo of them as they were about to board the plane. George's face says it all.
The Beatles continued to fly into Liverpool Airport throughout 1963.
On 29 August 1963 the Beatles were filmed at Speke Airport descending the steps of an aeroplane in which they hadn't flown. They were faking an airport arrival scene for the BBC documentary The Mersey Sound filmed at locations in Southport, Manchester and Liverpool between 27 and 30 August 1963. Several photographs were taken during the day.
George, happy he only has to pretend to get off the plane
At the end of 1963 the Beatles were engaged in a three week run of The Beatles Christmas show at the Astoria Theatre in London. Brian Epstein chartered a plane for those artists who wished to spend Christmas day with their families back in Liverpool.
Passengers included Brian himself, Ringo, Cilla Black and Mal Evans the Beatles faithful assistant (seen sitting behind Ringo). Ringo looks like he's been offered something off the in-flight menu that's only available to a famous Beatle.
Two of the most famous noses of 1963
By the end of 1963 Ringo was so famous that they even let him pilot the plane home!!
'Will there be anything else, sir?'
Perhaps the most celebrated Beatles return to Liverpool airport was on Friday 10 July 1964. Their first film, 'A Hard Day's Night' had premiered in London on July 6th. Four days later the Beatles arrived in Liverpool for the northern premiere, coinciding with the UK release that day of both the 'A Hard Day's Night' single and soundtrack album.
I remember us flying up there. I think by the time we went up for the premiere they'd started using the Dakota turbo-prop planes. (George Harrison, Anthology)
George is half right. Starways had started used Dakotas. I remember my Mum telling me that the first time she ever flew to Majorca in 1964 she went on a Dakota and I looked at her in bewilderment. Dakotas were the planes that Allied paratroopers jumped out of during World War 2. The cabins weren't pressurised. She went on holiday on one of them?! And yet the photographic evidence above confirms it (pity my Mum's not on the photo). Apparently if you travelled on one of them, you were put off for life!
Thankfully Starways did not assign one of their Dakotas to our favourite band of brothers when they returned to Liverpool on 10 July 1964. Instead the Beatles flew into Speke on a British Eagle liveried Bristol Britannia and were greeted at the airport by 3,000 fans crowding the viewing balcony.
By 1964 they'd even let George fly the plane!
Ringo suddenly remembers he's met the air hostess before
In the preceding two months, there had been British press reports stating that the Beatles' Liverpool fans had become disenchanted with them, inferring that it had been too long since the band's most recent public appearance there.
One month later, Paul McCartney would state during a press conference in Vancouver: "Before we went to Liverpool last time for the Northern premiere of the film, we'd been down in London a lot because we'd been doing the film and TV and things. And everybody was saying, 'I've just been up to Liverpool and they hate you up there, and it's terrible. Nobody likes you anymore.' And we believed 'em, you know, 'cos we read the paper same as anyone else. And we went up there, and it was the most ridiculous reception we've had anywhere, you know. So I give-in believing these rumours."
In fact, 200,000 people filled the streets to cheer the group's hometown return.
We couldn't say it, but we didn't really like going back to Liverpool. Being local heroes made us nervous. When we did shows there, they were always full of people we knew. We felt embarrassed in our suits and being very clean. We were worried that friends might think we'd sold out - which we had, in a way. (John Lennon, 1967. Anthology)
Thirty years on, Paul had a different recollection, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight.
We weren't really apprehensive about going back to Liverpool, for the other premiere. We'd heard one or two little rumours that people felt we'd betrayed them by leaving, and shouldn't have gone to live in London. But there were always those detractors. (Paul McCartney, Anthology)
The Beatles with David Jacobs, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor take in the fanatical reception at Liverpool Airport 10 July 1964
The Beatles looked genuinely thrilled, and relieved, at their reception. After being presented with bouquets (?!) and struggling through the throng of photographers and pressman on the apron they made their way inside the airport terminal and gave a press conference and a series of interviews for the assembled TV crews.
(Above) Paul goes on a charm offensive. (Below) A familiar face in the crowd. Cavern DJ Bob Wooler in bow-tie stands behind Paul and John (centre). Wooler was probably under strict instructions NOT to ask Lennon if he'd been anywhere nice on his holidays since their last meeting.
Paul in particular looks very much up for it. John's still thinking about those sandwiches
The Beatles were interviewed for both BBC televison news and Granada TV's "Scene At 6.30", the latter of which is transcribed below:
Q: "Welcome home boys."
RINGO: "Thank you."
Q: "What does it feel like to come back to a big civic reception like this?"
JOHN AND RINGO: "Great."
GEORGE: "Very nice."
Q: "Did you ever imagine that this day was coming?"
PAUL: "Never like this! I mean, you know-- We used to come here spotting the plane numbers and things.. .never imagined, you know, we'd come back to this!""
Q: "Well, now you've all made a fortune-- Have you got any future ambition in mind?"
JOHN: (jokingly, feeling his pockets) "I haven't got any on me. Oh."
Q: "No, no. I don't want to borrow any, John. Have you got any future in mind now? Any other ambitions?"
JOHN: "Don't know... like to make more films, I think. We'd all like to do that 'cos it's good fun, you know. It's hard work, but you can have a good laugh in films."
Q: "What about you, Ringo?"
RINGO: "Same. I enjoy films."
Q: "You did?"
PAUL: "Well I think, you know, all of us want to do, sort of... a good film. One that we all think is good. And make more good records."
GEORGE: (jokingly) "Don't you think this one's any good, then?"
PAUL: (to George) "Well it's OK, you know what I mean."
JOHN: (giggling) "Not as good as 'James Bond' though, is it."
PAUL: "Oh, not as good as James Bond."
Q: "You fancy yourselves as actors, then, do you?"
JOHN AND GEORGE: "No."
GEORGE: "No. Definitely not."
JOHN: (jokingly) "Do you?"
GEORGE: "But I mean, but we enjoyed making the last film, and especially, the director was great, you see, and it made it much easier for us. None of us rate ourselves as actors, but you know, it's a good laugh and we enjoyed doing it. So we'd like to make a couple more."
Q: "Jolly good. Now it's about seven months since you were in Liverpool last-- appearing."
Q: "Yeah, and some of the fans have been saying that, you know, they feel that you've deserted them. What do you feel about that?"
JOHN: "Well they're mainly the ones that never came to see us....the people that are moaning about us not being here are people that never even came to see us when we were here. You know, we could count on our fingers the original fans we had here, and the ones that really followed us. And most of them gave up being teenagers anyway. They're all sort of settled in and different things. The ones that are moaning never...probably came to see us about once, or after we'd made records."
PAUL: "The only thing is that we've gotta do a lot from London, 'cos a lot of the TV shows are down in London, you know. And so, we're forced to do a lot down in London. I mean, it's like someone said the other day-- Why doesn't Harry Secombe go to Cardiff? You know, he never does. But no one ever moans about Harry never going... You know what I mean?"
JOHN: (jokingly) "Doesn't he go now-- Harry?"
PAUL: "He doesn't go back to Cardiff very often. (giggling) Oh no!!"
You can watch the video of the arrival and "Scene At 6.30" interview here:
After the premiere at the Odeon cinema on London Road, the group returned to Speke Airport, had another reception and then flew back to London.
Clutching sleeves for the album 'A Hard Day's Night', released that day.
Liverpool was the place we loved, and the reception was great. There was apparently a little bit of sour grapes on the day, but it served only to give the newspapers their story. (Paul McCartney, Anthology)
Following the premiere of their first film, the Beatles would make concert appearances in Britain and Sweden before embarking on their 1964 North American tour in August. The Beatles would return to Liverpool later in the year on November 8th for a hometown concert at Empire Theatre.
The Building today
A modern passenger terminal adjacent to the new runway was opened in 1986. This redevelopment resulted in the closure of the original 1930s airport terminal which then stood derelict for 14 years. During this time, the building was featured on the cover art of the Oasis single Don't Go Away (released in Japan only in 1998).
The original terminal was bought by Neptune Developments in 2000 and following renovation opened in 2001 as the Marriott Liverpool South Hotel, carefully preserving the Grade II listed Art Deco Style. I hadn't realised until it was pointed out but the adaption involved adding two new bedroom wings on the frontage of the hotel, so seamlessly and tastefully carried out that one would have to study the building to realise they were added 70 years after the original terminal was built. The airside aspect of the terminal has been preserved intact.
A partially restored Bristol Britannia like the one the Beatles flew on in July 1964 is also on the platform.
The two art deco style hangars that flank the terminal and apron have also been converted for new uses. One is now a David Lloyd Leisure centre, whilst the other has been adapted as the headquarters of the Shop Direct Group, and is now known as Skyways House.
Fifty years and 3 days after the Beatles returned for the northern premiere I was given a tour of the old airport building:
My son - a born Leverpuller - eyeing the levers in the cockpit of the Bristol Britannia.
Some of the fantastically restored art-deco features of the old airport building:
The viewing platform:
The hotel offers Beatle style weddings where the happy couple can honeymoon in the Ambassador suite - a Beatles themed bridal suite inside the former control tower - and have their wedding photographs taken in the exact spot where the Beatles stood when they flew into the airport on 10 July 1964!
All You Need Is Love!
*Shout Airborne is a Lennon pun on Speke Airport from his written piece "Around and About",published in Mersey Beat: September 14 1961.
** I bet they never knew that when they decided to name the airport after him, incidentally the only airport in the UK named after an individual.
*** The Beatles first flew as a group in May 1962 to Hamburg. They flew from Manchester Airport on that occasion.