The Pan Am Series – Part XXV: The Beatles (1 of 2)
7 February 2014 10 Comments
The Beatles Arrive in New York on Pan Am!
Fifty years ago today, 7 February 1964, what has been coined the “British Invasion”, began with the arrival at New York’s Kennedy Airport of a British rock group, the Beatles. Much has been written and broadcast about this auspicious event. However, what should be recognized is the important role Pan American World Airways played in this trip. Most noteworthy is the fact that the Beatles were in the exclusive care of Pan Am from London Heathrow (then London Airport) up to their first news conference after arriving at Kennedy. This aspect the Beatles historic visit will be covered here.
The Flight from London
One of the unique features of working for Pan American during its heyday was, particularly for the flight crews, the opportunity to meet famous personalities in business, government and entertainment. And the one Pan American trip where that could happen frequently was the airline’s daytime New York-London rotation, flights 100/101. A previous post, “The Pan Am Series – Part X”, describes this flight in detail. It was the best Pan American offered in terms of aircraft and service and because of this the giants of industry, government and entertainment were regular customers.
One Pan Am flight attendant, Gillian Kellogg L’Eplattenier, who was working her second flight, was assigned to flight 101 on 7 February 1964. She did not know that on that day she would be flying with a very special group of passengers. She shares her experiences in a story featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Here is an excerpt:
“The Pan Am crew bus picked up twelve of us from our designated London ‘layover’ hotel, the Athenaeum Court, to work the scheduled Flight #101 to New York on February 7, 1964. It was anticipated as a normal day and a normal flight. However, what was not normal was to have two extra stewardesses (flight attendants, today) in our crew. But no one questioned the two extras, as this was often the luck of the draw – except for the Captain, who was briefed about our special flight.
“All of us were settled into our seats, the cockpit crew sitting forward in the bus (as they usually did), and ready for the fifty minute drive to Heathrow Airport. Just as our bus pulled out into traffic, the first officer stood up facing us with a clearly recognizable mask on his face. Was this a joke? As he sang a rather poor rendition of the song ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, he exclaimed, ‘Guess who we have on board with us today?!’
“’The Beatles!’ we all cried out with excitement and disbelief.
“The remainder of the bus ride was more than just exciting. Many of the stewardesses were not much older than the Beatles themselves and were reveling in the liveliness and the unusual of what was to ensue this day. Even the cockpit crew, in their dignified way, was animated. This prompted a contest as to who could remember the most songs and hits of Britain’s Fabulous Four. * * *
“As our crew bus approached Heathrow Airport and our departing terminal, all around there was a fevered pitch with hundreds of people all over the place. The air was electric.
“The cockpit crew went in for their flight briefing and the rest of us went out to the aircraft to check the provisions. We also learned en route to the airport that our plane was configured differently. Usually there were only 12-18 seats in First Class with the balance in Economy. That day, however, we had (if memory serves me correctly) 36 seats. I had been assigned to work the First Class section and thought, ‘Oh, my God, what an enormous number of people for whom we would have A-1 service.’ I felt a bit apprehensive.
“After our purser viewed the Passenger Manifest, we learned some of our ‘guests’ besides, John, Paul, Ringo, and George, were John’s wife, Cynthia, Brian Epstein, the group’s manager, a few other Beatles’ girlfriends and the remainder, important persons from the media, journalists and photographers….all together thirty-six First Class passengers.
“Before we knew it, passengers began to embark onto our 707 – only the First Class passengers, came up the stairs to the forward door while economy passengers were designated to embark only through the aft cabin door. Once our four notables and news media were seated it seemed like the balance of the trip was a seven and one-half hour un-staged play of excitement, bustling around, picture taking, laughing, talking (no singing) and trying to keep our Fabulous Four in their seats for the meal and cart services. That was a major challenge.
“One must remember that this was the Beatles first trans-Atlantic ‘voyage’ and they were like young guys just having a grand old time! But this was just the prelude for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show the next day, and following that, many years of being one of history’s most popular and successful singing groups and songwriters. Our four-some were not particular to any choices of entrees, just saying, ‘I’ll take whatever’. The elegance we provided only mildly impressed them as it was something they were not yet used to.
“Paul was the most active of the group, not only talking to others, but also photographing passengers and crew alike, myself included. I often wish I had some of those photos…..what fun to cement a lifelong memory! John was the quietest of all while Ringo and George seemed to be enjoying themselves, moving around and talking with other passengers.
“There was literally no time for us as crew to interact with our passengers, due to the amount of service and the large number of people to serve and need to convince them to stay in their seats! Service carts and passengers in the aisle was an impossibility!
“Meanwhile, passengers in the economy section were so excited to be on board this flight and they were continuously asking the stewardesses in that section to please take their menus forward for the Beatles to autograph. The hours just flew by and the atmosphere aboard did not lose its magnetism. We were just able to finish the service, clean up, and get all carts and gear secured when we were already halfway in our descent into Kennedy Airport. Cheers were heard throughout the airplane on landing.
“Taxiing up to our gate produced another glimpse of their unprecedented popularity. We opened the cabin doors to about five thousand loud cheering fans, some screaming, sobbing and waving signs, ‘We love you, Beatles’. This was truly the beginning of the ‘Beatles Invasion’. And it was the unbelievable beginning to my career with Pan Am.”
Some interesting memorabilia have emerged from that trip, including a letter from Gerry Shea, who was also working on the flight, to a friend in England:
These items are described in the Beatles Autographs Website founded and owned by Frank Caiazzo:
“Friday, February 7, 1964. It is arguably the most decisive day in the history of The Beatles. At 11:00 a.m., the group and their entourage boarded Pan Am flight 101 at London’s Heathrow Airport and embarked on the trip that would change the world forever. This was their first journey to America, and they were on the way to make their groundbreaking appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Fading in the distance behind them was their native England, the country they had taken by storm throughout 1963.
“Through chart-topping records, television, radio and concert appearances, they had well-established themselves as the most heralded act in all of British entertainment. In just a few hours, they would arrive in the United States – America – the one domain that no British act had ever conquered. During the flight, The Beatles were virtually caught between two realms – a past that saw humble beginnings, a demanding musical apprenticeship in Liverpool and Hamburg and a meteoric rise to fame in Britain … and an unfathomable future that not even the most vocal devotees could have predicted. This was more than just a flight to New York City. This was a flight to their destiny. Once they stepped off the Pan Am . . . Clipper and onto the tarmac at JFK Airport, nothing would ever be the same again.
“It’s been often said that an autograph is a moment frozen in time. If there was ever a Beatles autograph set that captured an epochal moment, this is it – a Pan Am postcard signed by all four Beatles in mid-flight just an hour before that momentous landing in New York. All have signed their full names beautifully on the reverse side of a Pan Am postcard in blue ballpoint pen. George Harrison has additionally written an inscription: ‘Dear Monica Best wishes from the BEATLES’.
What is most remarkable about this signed postcard offering is the letter that accompanies it. Rarely has such impeccable provenance been provided with a Beatles autograph set. Amazingly, the note, written by a member of the flight crew (Gerry Shea), is on a sheet of Pan Am letterhead and boasts all the written pedigree that collectors dream about. It’s as though Gerry knew that detailed provenance would be critically important over four decades later.
“At the top, . . . the letter [is dated] ‘Friday, February 7, 1964’ and . . . the time (‘5:30 p.m. London time, 12:30 p.m. New York time’) as well as ‘Flight 101, Boeing 707’. The body of the letter reads:
‘Good news – I have the Beatles on board and we are up in the air now about one hour away from New York. The flight has been a good one so far. We left London airport at 11 a.m. and sure enough there were hordes of screaming girls – The B’s boarded safely however – They are very nice Monica, fine lads – I had a chat with each of them and told them of you – I told Paul especially that he was your favorite – They all send their greetings to you and don’t be surprised if they all pop into Woolworths to see you someday – Excuse my poor writing as the air is a little rough here. I am enclosing the card they signed just for you. They said they were delighted to do it. I sure hope you are still living at this address because I would not want your autographs to get lost – The Beatles are going to be in N.Y. 10 days – They did some singing in the lounge on the plane – quite good too. I hope you, Ann, Mrs. Voss, Olive, etc. etc. are well – Please give my best wishes to all of them & to Mary White if you get to see her. Hope to be seeing all of you again at the end of the month – Both the Beatles & I send our love to you – Keep well
‘Gerry Shea ‘
“As if this isn’t enough provenance, the letterhead reads ‘In Flight…Pan Am Jet Clipper’, further cementing the fact that the set was signed during the flight.
“One of the most fascinating passages in Gerry’s letter is one mentioning an impromptu show held by the group in the plane’s lounge. One can only imagine them doing an ‘unplugged’ rehearsal of their Sullivan set!
“Interestingly, as Gerry was obtaining The Beatles’ autographs on this postcard, the band’s road manager Neil Aspinall was elsewhere in the plane busily adding his own version of their signatures to a stack of publicity photographs in an effort to fulfill what would certainly be an avalanche of autograph requests from Manhattan police and city officials. After a while, he tired of signing in full and proceeded to sign the balance of the photos in first name only.
“The postcard and letter are accompanied by the original Pan Am envelope which has been addressed to the recipient in London, Monica Conway, and is postmarked ‘FEB10 ‘64’ (mailed from Jamaica, New York – which is just next to JFK airport). * * *
“In every detail, this remarkable assemblage of items represents the calm before the storm. Even the most discerning collectors would be hard-pressed to find a Beatles autograph set with better provenance or one that captures a more important moment in The Beatles’ extraordinary history. This is a truly unique opportunity to own what is one of the best-documented and historic sets of Beatles autographs ever to surface…..$35,000″
According to the website, these items have sold.
Pan Am’s Marketing Coup
This trip could also represent a major airline first: Brand Recognition. The bold and prominent display of the Pan Am logo and Blue Ball throughout the event was clearly designed to gain maximum exposure for the airline and hammer out the message that it was Pan Am that brought the Beatles on their first trip to the United States. In nearly all news photographs of the event, the Pan Am logo and Blue Ball are clearly visible as well as the Beatles being seen toting clearly labeled Pan Am carrying bags. A very powerful message was put across.
The Blue Ball eventually became one of the most recognized symbols around the world, and the value of that recognition could easily be traced back to the Pan Am brain-trust who originally organized the Beatles flights. Airlines displaying their logos or symbols as a marketing tool has transcended over the years to the point where its has become an art, primarily through sponsorship, and has been perfected by Emirates Airline. At nearly every major world-wide sporting event, the name “Emirates” is strategically placed for maximum exposure. What Pan Am did during that February in 1964 was the genesis of what Emirates is doing today.
Pan American recognized the value its association with the Beatles meant to its global recognition. The two images below illustrate this. The photograph below left was taken well after the Beatles first trip to the United States. Behind John Lennon’s left hand can be seen part of the word “Beatles” on the fuselage of the 707. Undoubtedly the aircraft was given the name, albeit temporarily, Clipper Beatles. Below right is another photograph taken a few years later. Looking at the nacelles of the 707, it appears to be a later version of the 707, the 707-321, as opposed to the 707-121 used in 1964.
In the next posting, the story will be told how Pan American managed to land a marketing coup that shaped its global recognition for the years to come and also how the Beatles came to fly Pan Am rather than their own national carrier, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
For additional information about Pan American World Airways:
The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.
Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People
Also available in a Kindle Edition
For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline.
For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation