The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show drew a record 73 million viewers, writes Ian Searcey. It is considered a milestone in popular culture, and marked the beginning of the “British invasion” of pop music in the US.
After seeing big home-grown stars like Cliff Richard and Adam Faith cross the Atlantic only to end up as support acts for teen idols such as Fabian, the Beatles told their manager they had no intention of going to the States until they had a number one.
As the singles that dominated the British charts throughout 1963 had flopped in US, Brian Epstein must have been relieved that, having persuaded the influential Ed Sullivan to book the band for three headline spots (for no money!), by the time the Fab Four flew out to New York in February 1964, I Want to Hold Your Hand (a song written to break the US market) was at the top of the Billboard charts.
This ITN interview at London Airport finds the Beatles in fine form, laughing and joking.
Arriving to unexpected mass hysteria, the Beatles topped the bill for three successive Ed Sullivan Sunday TV shows, on 9 February and 16 February, plus a recorded performance shown on the 23rd, as well as giving concerts at the Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall in New York. They also found time to meet Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston and take a holiday in Miami.
On their return to England, they were of course immediately quizzed on their trip. This ITN interview at London Airport 22 February finds them in fine form, laughing and joking about borrowing millionaires’ houses for a holiday, the weather in Miami (they’ve got rid of the sun in Liverpool, quips Ringo), John’s wife (“Don’t tell anyone he’s married… it’s a secret!”), the taste of the American fans (“I never bit any…”), the interviewer spitting on them, their millionaire status (“What money?” asks George) and the British embassy reception that ended up with Ringo getting his hair snipped.
Success in the States added to an already gruelling programme of touring, recording and filming that would exhaust the Beatles until they decided to put an end to touring after their third US Tour in 1966. But in February 1964, at least, it still seemed like a lot of fun.