Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64

 Eyes of the Storm


Photographers, Central Park, New York, February 1964

1964 © Paul McCartney


The National Portrait Gallery




28 June – 1 October 2023






A Feature by Mary Fox Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


'Here was my own record of our first huge trip, a photographic journal of The Beatles in six cities, beginning in Liverpool and London, followed by Paris (where John and I had been ordinary hitchhikers just over two years before), and then what we regarded as the big time, our first visit as a group to America’ - Paul McCartney


When I passed through the newly renovated and expanded National Portrait Gallery's new entrance on Ross Place with its rather grand semicircular stairs, I wasn't sure what to expect from McCartney's highly anticipated exhibition or what I might feel about its contents. After all, I'd only been a real Beatles fan since December 1965, when Norwegian Wood with John Lennon's story singing against a somewhat exotic background wafted into my ears from the transistor radio under my pillow. So I wasn't really an expert on early Beatlemania. Yet, I remembered the band's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb.9, 1964 well, despite the fact that then ten-year-old me was cooly indifferent to all the hubbub, preferring novelty records like Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers and Telstar by the Tornados, which, ironically, was the first Number 1 hit in the U.S. for any British band.


Photos of The Beatles are seemingly, endless. But the fact that most of the photos in this exhibition were taken by none other than Paul McCartney, from within the burgeoning bubble of fame that the band found themselves in during the four-month period from the end of 1963 through their three back-to-back appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show: New York City, February 9, 1964, and Miami, Florida the following two Sunday nights, with an inaugural concert in Washington, D.C. along the way, offers rare opportunities for fans to share private moments when John, Paul George, and Ringo were just being themselves.


The phrase 'Beatlemania' was coined by a Daily Mirror journalist seeking to describe the pandemonium inspired by The Beatle's first show as headliners on November 1, 1963, at the Odeon Cinema in Cheltenham. While it's true that their two appearances on Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the Palladium in October of that year and January of the next would have been enough to make them household names in Britain, the trajectory that put them on the road to International fame was as follows. Three days after their first headliner in Cheltenham, on November 4th, they appeared on the annual Royal Variety Show, before the Queen Mother, seventh on a bill of nineteen, drawing rave reviews and record TV audiences in Britain, an estimated 21.2 million when the show was broadcast on ITV on the 10th of November! When one journalist pre that performance asked if The Beatles would 'tone down their broad Scouse accents for the show', 21-year-old McCartney's answer was, 'We don't all speak like the BBC you know!' The band's enthusiastic performance and glowing reviews, along with Lennon's cheeky invite to those in the expensive seats to 'rattle their jewelry' during Twist and Shout inspired the group's first-ever coverage in the American press, in prestigious Time Magazine, in a piece entitled, Singers: the New Madness. This article in well-read Time, the growing use of the term, Beatlemania in British newspapers, and manager Brian Epstein's lobbying of US Television Networks no doubt influenced U.S.TV Broadcaster CBS's decision to run a five-minute film that had already been shown in Britain by the network's London branch, about The Beatles and their manic fans, on the morning of November 22, 1963, as part of anchor man Dan Rather's news hour. Scheduled to be shown again in Walter Cronkite's news slot that evening, it was preempted by further reports on President Kennedy's Assassination, as the nation fell into deep mourning. The five-minute film was later shown in Kronkite's program on December 10th, at which time, Ed Sullivan saw it and contacted the station. That October, when passing through London's Heathrow Airport talent scout and TV host Sullivan had already seen throngs of excited teenagers, waiting for The Beatles to return from Sweden. Thus steps were set in motion for them to travel to America for three consecutive appearances on his show, a Sunday night staple in most homes, firstly, in NYC, the show's home base, then, two more appearances in Miami, Florida.

The crowds chasing us in A Hard Day's Night were based on moments like this. Taken out of the back of our car on West Fifty-Eight, crossing the Avenue of the Americas. New York, February 1964

© 1964 Paul McCartney



McCartney makes the most of this opportunity to take fans and rookies alike on an exciting journey through those life-changing months in 1963-4 in which The Beatles grew from being the most popular band in Britain to the most sought-after stars in the world. This is a real privilege for those viewing this journey via the lens of his Pentax camera, especially since McCartney only re-discovered the contact sheets and negatives of the 1,000 photos he'd taken during that period, during lockdown 2020 so this exhibition is also, along with us, the first opportunity he's had to enjoy his photos on the walls. Some of the photos on show in the exhibition were printed from sheets of proofs as the negatives had been lost. Those are the images carefully noted with a tick or x to mark them as favorites. McCartney's intention was to have those he'd marked made into prints at a later date, but that date never presented itself as The Beatles' popularity took off to even greater heights and spare time became more of a limited commodity than ever. Like many creative young people, of any era, McCartney was influenced by the new, in his case, the New Wave which creatively bled into the Angry Young Man period of novels, theatre, and, cinema, more or less setting the stage for expansion to include music as well. Prior to The Beatles breaking the capital's class barrier, no Northern group had ever infiltrated the London-dominated music scene. Their eventual acceptance throughout the U.K. set the stage for the British Invasion of the U.S.


Just in case any of the aforementioned isn't enough to pique your interest, McCartney has also included some very prestigious professional photographers along for this ride, trusted talents all, among them, Robert Freeman, whose artfully shot cover photo for their first LP, With the Beatles and its US counterpart, Meet the Beatles are iconic in both cases. Daily Express photographer, Harry Benson, who had instructions to take a photo a day of The Beatles during that period, and also went on to photograph them throughout their career is represented. As is Dezo Hoffman, whose amiable photos are still circulating on Beatles online fan pages today, having worked with them from their formative days, shortly after Ringo joined the band and beyond. One of their most valued Hamburg friends, German photographer Astrid Kirshherr's clearly composed portrait of the group together, their first formally posed one, is a stunning standout as it seems to convey the varying characters of each band member. The Beatles must have agreed, as it was chosen to be part of the poster art for their Paris residency at the Olympia Theatre.


But it is only McCartney's photos that take us into the heart of The Beatles' inner sanctum, where he and his friends' moments of fun, wonder, contemplation, and exhaustion dwelled. An upbeat shot of Ringo, in the early part of their 16-night Christmas Show's run (Dec. 24, 1963 - Jan 11, 1964) at Finsbury Park's Astoria Cinema, caught my eye, as did a striking Noiresque photo of George smoking a cigarette with John out of focus in the background, at the Liverpool Empire in December of '63. McCartney's grouping of photos of John Lennon here reveals sides of his songwriting partner that many may feel have been hitherto unknown to his fans. And there are similarly unique photos of Brian Epstein, likely the most real ones of The Beatles manager you'll ever see, conveying a sense of the sensitive soul beneath his gentlemanly, rather posh demeanor. And a portrait of McCartney's father, Jim, standing in front of the detached house with surrounding gardens on the Wirral that his son had recently bought him on The Beatles' return from their first tour of America, is a picture of one very chuffed Dad indeed. Long-term Beatles pal and former Cavern cloakroom girl turned top-class singer, Cilla Black is also pictured here, in a couple of early shots. Black shared the bill with The Beatles during the run of their London Christmas Show in Dec and Jan of '63-'64. Featured too are photos of other people pivotal to The Beatles story, among them, actress Jane Asher, McCartney's former girlfriend and songwriting muse, whom he met in 1963 and whose family home on Wimpole Street, he lived in the garret room at the top in 1964-66 until he purchased his own home around the corner from EMI Studios. There is a carefully framed, pensive portrait of stylish Asher here, alongside a contrastingly human one, in which she's struggling to tease her hair on the way to her final fashionable look. Her brother, Peter of Peter and Gordon fame appears with her in one photo, and both look happy and comfortable with their photographer. Perhaps the proudest face on show here is that of George's beaming older sister, Louise, taken when she visited NYC to watch her younger brother and his bandmates perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. One of the many things Louise did to try to help The Beatles break in the U.S. was to write lengthily, weekly letters to Brian Epstein, filled with news and tips about the U.S. music scene, which she'd found vastly different to that in the U.K. George had become the first Beatle to touch down on U.S. soil when he visited his sister in Benton, Illinois earlier that year with their brother Peter, having first visited New York City and St. Louis. They hadn't met since she'd emigrated to the States from Aberdeen when he was twelve, so their reunion must have been quite an occasion. Louise's P.S. on her letters to Epstein had always been 'Get The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show' so she must have been overjoyed that they had been booked on not one, but three episodes of the popular variety show. Although Sullivan's and possibly Epstein's original intention had been to book them for one episode of the show, Sullivan initially balked at Epstein's asking price for their performance and compromised by agreeing to it, only if The Beatles performed on three back-to-back shows. George's parents, Louise and Harold as well as Ringo's mother and step-father and John's Aunt Mimi are also shown here.


Ringo Starr, London 1963-4

© Paul McCartney


Although top NYC D.J. Murray the K, who accompanied The Beatles on this tour all the way to Miami, and appears in some of the photos in the U.S. segments, was instrumental in helping the band's popularity grow, studies have shown that he wasn't the first U.S. D.J. to play a Beatles record on the radio. In recent years, extensive, painstaking research of the radio logs of all of the D.J.'s and Stations making that claim has revealed that it was in actual fact, WFRX in West Frankfort, Illinois, a station George's sister, Louise had given a copy of Please, Please Me to that her mother had sent her from Liverpool, where the first ever Beatles record was played, in June 1963, a good few months prior to Murray's claim.


McCartney's brother, Mike, who shared his interests in music and photography provided me with one of my most enduring memories of my first visit to Liverpool in 2012 when the city was celebrating 50 Years of The Beatles. As I and a very limited number of fellow fans made our way into the Childhood Homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney one November day, we reverently took turns pausing in firstly, what had been John's former bedroom, with its actual boyhood artifacts, before moving quietly through Paul McCartney's family home at Forthlin Place, where snapshots on the walls and in an album on a table caught my eye. The one photo I never forgot was a poignant, very personal black and white one of young Lennon and McCartney, their heads nearly together in concentration, songwriting on an A4 legal pad in the living room, many years before. Happily, that photo is on show here.


There is a distinctly artistic flavor to photos displayed in the room showcasing the Parisian leg of this tour, with its enlarged image of the Olympia Theatre's marquee featuring Les Beatles gracing one wall. The crowds shown in the photos there surround the band on the street, and though curious, look much more subdued, compared to the wildly enthusiastic British and likewise, U.S. fans. Though, from what I've heard, after the fact, some of the younger fans made up for that captured decorum when they attended their live concerts.


Self-portraits in a mirror. Paris, 1964 

© Paul McCartney


The Beatles played 39 concerts in all at the Olympia Theatre in the City of Lights, two, and sometimes three shows a day, albeit, matinees slightly shorter, with only two days off during their entire 18-day residency, 16 January - 4 February, at times sharing top billing with 17-year-old French superstar, Sylvie Vartan, then, in her words, 'the only girl singing rock n roll in Paris,' or America’s Trini Lopez, then enjoying a worldwide hit with his upbeat version of Pete Seeger's song, If I Had a Hammer. The idea of that triple bill, Vartan stated years later, had been to showcase hot acts from America, France, and the UK in the same show. One of the most lighthearted aspects of this section is the selection of photos of The Beatles wearing various French outfits and hats. One photo of Ringo in a Napolean hat somehow made its way onto Beatles bubblegum cards in the U.S. I know, because I have a copy of it among my own carefully stashed group. During that very busy time, among other things, The Beatles were tasked with writing six new songs for their upcoming film, A Hard Day's Night which is why Lennon and McCartney uncustomarily roomed together and a piano was brought into their George V hotel room. It was in Paris, on January 15, 1964, that a telegram arrived informing The Beatles that I Want to Hold Your Hand had reached number 1 in America. They had wisely decided not to go there until that happened.



John in Paris, January 1964

© Paul McCartney


Among my favorite photos in this exhibition are McCartney's ones of regular folk, mostly shot from car windows along the way, or as asides to photo shoots, going about their day-to-day tasks, some smiling and laughing with pure delight at the outrageous break in routine the mayhem surrounding these long-haired young men unexpectedly created. Several such photos from their first New York trip feature policemen, and as McCartney himself noted,' I like these portraits of New York's finest. They capture the friendly and curious gaze we found ourselves under every day.' Also evocative are the New York City landscapes, among them, 'View Across Central Park' in which no people are visible, only the snow, trees, and buildings forming a backdrop to the hotel window McCartney captured them from.


The NYC photos conjured up unexpected memories of my first visit to NYC in 1973 when I was 20 and felt overwhelmed by the sheer size, scale, and relentless busyness of the place. If I felt that way coming from comparatively scaled-down Philadelphia, a mere two-hour train ride from NYC, I can only imagine how strange it must have seemed to these ever-followed and photographed young Liverpool lads, so far from home nine years earlier.


In addition to the photos on the walls, there are glass cases housing programs, and other related items of interest to help deepen our experience. I especially appreciated the program from The Beatles' Paris run with its proclamations of Magnifique!




John and George, Paris, 1964

© Paul McCartney


Much like Dorothy landing in color-drenched Oz from humdrum Kansas, in the final room of this exhibition, we emerge, sans shades, into Technicolour Florida, with its blazing blue skies, almost palpable heat, and mandatory call for fun in the sun. And I'm sure if that fun meant relaxation, it would have been most welcome by then! With two more appearances on The Ed Sullivan Shows to prep for, and their first U.S. concert in Washington, D.C. under their belts, The Beatles may have felt a bit like seasoned travelers by then.



George looking young, handsome and relaxed. Living the life.

© Paul McCartney


There is much speculation about why and how The Beatles developed such a strong hold on the public's imagination in the U.S. A. seemingly, so quickly, one being that as a people, we were badly in need of sunshine after the sorrow of JFK's assassination. I won't dispute that. But having grown up in a working-class, immigrant neighborhood in Philly in the '60s, I must also add that not only were and are most Americans in love with the idea of underdogs beating the odds, but also, at the time of their arrival on U.S. shores at least, the dream of working-class people achieving fame being actively realized before our eyes, was possibly, yet another irresistible factor in The Beatles seemingly instant endearment upon landing.


I learned several things about that first tour from McCartney's exhibition that I didn't know before, one thing being that George Martin, who appears in photos here with his future wife, Judy, accompanied The Beatles on this tour, working with them in an EMI Studio in Paris where they made a preliminary recording of Can't Buy Me Love. Another is that The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on 3 consecutive Sunday nights. So much has been made of the band's first appearance on the show in NYC, that I wasn't even aware of the fact that they also performed on two more shows in Miami. And last, but not least, McCartney's brother Mike, himself a photographer and musician scored a Christmas Number 1 in 1968 with his poetry-music band, The Scaffold. This and many other nuggets of Beatles wisdom await you as you wander down memory lane, circa '63-4 Liverpudlian style.


Over time, though I doggedly ignored their debut, I've since come to appreciate The Beatles' early records, hits and all, for the purely joyous pop-rock classics they are. And, I still love that song by their comrades, Gerry, and the Pacemakers, Ferry Cross the Mersey, that I thrilled to as an adolescent. But when I finally got into The Beatles, I dug deeper, because they inspired that in their fans, and as a result, they became unknowing mentors for me, and thousands, likely millions of teens around the world who looked to them for their wit, ways of handling people and themselves, fashion sense, experimentation on many levels and eventually, via Lennon and Ono, political ideologies But first and foremost, to the world, The Beatles were ever true innovators and practitioners and promoters of peace and love.


If you value perfection over joie de vivre, you may not be able to grasp the magic of this exhibition. But even on a purely practical note, if you pause long enough to realize that these photos were taken by a 21-year-old working-class man, with what could well have been his first decent 35mm camera, not only on his first trip across the Atlantic, but on a one-way ticket to ride that would irrevocably change the rest of his life and those of his fellow bandmates, along with millions of fans the world over, you're starting to grasp the bigger picture. Those were days when what you saw through the lens wasn't always what you got when your photos were developed. It took a good eye to capture true reality.


That the power and allure of The Beatles, both on musical and purely humanistic levels will never die became even more apparent than imagined as I moved through this exhibition for a second time, appreciating the innocence that McCartney had cited in regard to that first go on the merry-go-round of fame for myself. Despite everything that's happened and all the intervening years since the events pictured occurred, it's been a long ride that shows no signs of abating and I have Paul McCartney to thank for taking me back to where he and his fellow Beatles once belonged.


Paul McCartney, self portrait, London 1963-4

© Paul McCartney



The National Portrait Gallery

St Martin’s Place London, WC2H 0HE


+44 (0)20 7306 0055



Singers: The New Madness Time Magazine November 15, 1963,33009,873176,00.htm


Who Played the Beatles on American Radio First?




Related Features by Mary Fox Couzens:


Linda Mc Cartney Retrospective - Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - Glasgow Linda McCartney Retrospective 2019


Double Fantasy - John and Yoko - Museum of Liverpool Double Fantasy John and Yoko 2018


50 Years of The Beatles in Liverpool Celebrating the Lives and Legacy of-the Beatles in Liverpool 2012


Mary Fox Couzens - Editor


Creative Writing on the Arts
Since 2005


Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved