Gary James' Interview With New York Correspondent For
The London Daily Express Who Knew The Beatles
Andrew Fyall was in a unique position in a very exciting time in music history. He was a reporter in New York for The London Daily Express when The Beatles made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. As fate would have it, the day before The Beatles Sullivan debut, Mr. Fyall was in Central Park with his daughter
Debbie. (now Debbie Waugh) Debbie got to meet three of the four Beatles that day. (George Harrison was sick) and had her picture taken with them. Mr. Fyall talked with us about The Beatles and some of the other famous names he rubbed shoulders with, both inside and outside of show business.
Q - Mr. Fyall, you were a correspondent for The London Daily Express.
A - Yes. In fact, it's real title is just The Daily Express. We refer to it as The London Express so people in the United States would know that it was from overseas.
Q - So, when did you come to New York?
A - I was already a correspondent based in New York. I traveled there first of all to cover the Bay Of Pigs Invasion in 1961. I was a correspondent in their office. Their offices were in Rockefeller Center at that particular time when The Beatles came over for the first time. So I had already been living in the States for three or four years before they came over. There was a photographer called Harry Benson from London and Harry still lives in New York.
Q - When you left England, wasn't Skiffle the big craze in music?
A - Yes. I think it would have been, although I wasn't terribly much into that, that kind of music.
Q - But you'd heard of it?
A - Oh, yeah. Of course, I think it was the name Lonnie Donegan that cropped up every time people talked about Skiffle.
Q - By the time The Beatles reached our shores, everybody had heard of them.
A - Well, everybody had heard they were coming, but not everyone had heard their music. Although The Beatles were very popular in the U.K. and in Europe, at that time no one in America really heard of them. A lot of people didn't like them to start. Once they heard their music and saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, then of course the whole thing just took off.
Q - So, when did you first hear of The Beatles?
A - The Chief Of The Bureau in New York was a fellow called David English. David English was later to become Sir David and went on to become the editor of The Daily Mail, which was a rival to The Express. That's another story. David had been in the U.K. on vacation and he returned in '64 to say "God! Wait 'til these fellows get across. You've never heard anything like this. They'll be a sensation!" And of course, he was right.
Q - Did he play their music for you or show you a picture of them?
A - No. Not at that time. He just came and told us. It wasn't very long before he came over from his vacation that The Beatles were due to arrive, a matter of a week of two. He heard their music being played in London and came over and said "They're gonna be great!" And he was right. They were great.
Q - Prior to taking your daughter Debbie to Central Park on February 8th, 1964, had you met The Beatles before?
A - Yes, I did. I was actually at the airport to meet them when they arrived, and they had that big press conference out there. Harry Benson, the photographer, he came over with them. But before that happened, The Express, in London had signed up George Harrison to do a piece for The Express, every day for five days and of course I was to write it. So, George Harrison was to spend half an hour every day in The Plaza Hotel with me telling me what he thought about New York. Just his impressions every day. You know, a contract he had with The Express. I didn't know how much The Express paid him. It would probably be in the region of $200 / $300 a day. That's just for his time. I sat down with him in The Plaza Hotel and the deal was I would talk to him and he would talk to me for half an hour. But it didn't work out that way. (laughs) Harrison talked for a half hour the first day and then he talked about twenty minutes on the second day and on the third day I think he wanted to quit after about fifteen minutes. Each day became shorter and shorter. I have to say in all honesty he wasn't my favorite Beatle.
Q - He had some throat problems when he was in New York, didn't he?
A - Well, he had the flu. He had a bad cold. He was staying in bed. He didn't turn up that day (February 8th, 1964 in Central Park). They were all supposed to be there, but he wasn't there. I had a special pass. Any journalist who got to their (The Beatles) suite in The Plaza, and they were very few, had to have a special pass to get past the police and to get up to where they were.
Q - Who authorized those passes? Brian Epstein?
A - It would be Epstein, yeah. He was keen to get publicity and we were keen, as a British paper, to have a Beatle talk to us everyday. Harrison got pretty tired of spending half an hour of his time and became difficult. You know, a lot of show business people become difficult. I suggested to London that we should drop the whole thing. I think we ran his stuff for about four days and then we just quietly dropped it.
Q - Why do you say George wasn't your favorite Beatle? Was he sarcastic to you?
A - No. It was just that he had that attitude. He would start complaining about the material even though I said to him "I'll show it to you before it goes, before I send it." I started to ask him questions about what he'd done that day, what he thought and he became rather truculent. We got on OK, but I did say to him at one point, "George, this isn't working out. Unless I get half an hour with you, I'm not going to have enough material to write a column even for you to have your name on it." We didn't fall out completely. We just sort of drifted away. I told the Foreign Desk in London that he was being difficult and he didn't have much to say after the first couple of days anyway. I don't know for sure, but I think he was probably the best musician in the group. People have said so since. He played the instrument better than the others, McCartney or Lennon. He was a good musician, I believe.
Q - McCartney is good too.
A - McCartney was very good. McCartney and Lennon were in the suite, sitting in the corner, strumming away. It was usually the signal they did that it was time for us to leave. So, I'd be up there for half an hour on each occasion. And of course
Cynthia was there as well, Lennon's wife. It was sad. She was kept very much in the background. I felt very sorry for her because she was a lonely sort of girl. A nice person, but obviously bored. They didn't really want her to be on the scene. He was the only Beatle that was married, John Lennon.
Q - And the world found that out when the sub-title Sorry Girls. He's Married appeared when John was singing on the Sullivan show.
A - That's right.
Q - Did you spend any time with John?
A - Yes. I talked to him a little bit. Not a great deal. He was always very friendly. Lennon was the one who hoisted Debbie on his shoulders.
Q - Right. I know that.
A - My wife and daughter had nothing to do that day. I said "why don't I see if I can get you into Central Park." It was OK. Epstein was around and of course he knew me and I introduced all the guys around to The Beatles. My wife and Debbie were the only outsiders, apart from The Express and the writers and cameramen.
Q - What did you think of Paul? What did you think of Ringo? Did you like them?
A - Yeah, I did. They were friendly. In contrast to George Harrison, they're sort of night and day. Harrison was just difficult. The others were perfectly normal. Ringo was a funny man in the group. Lennon and McCartney were a little more serious. But there were anxious to know a lot about America. They were very inquisitive. They took the whole thing very seriously. Ringo was always good for a laugh.
Q - It's interesting what you're saying. People who I've interviewed said John and Ringo could be difficult. Paul was always described as "Mr. P.R."
A - That's definitely right. Paul was always very easy to talk to. In my personal experience, Ringo and John Lennon were equally as nice, as far as I was concerned. Further on they might have gotten fed up with Paul. While they were big stars at home, they found themselves to be much bigger stars when they reached the States. They moved up a notch. More than a notch. They moved up considerably. But I never had any trouble with them. I never found them to be moody or unhelpful or un-communicative. As I said, George Harrison was the only one who started to be difficult and that is I'm sure because he'd made an agreement and suddenly he didn't want to carry it out.
Q - On February 8th, 1964, how did you find out that The Beatles would be in Central Park?
A - Oh, Epstein arranged it. He arranged a photo call. I don't think there were any interviews done that day. It was just for camera people. So, Epstein had told everybody. I went along because Harry Benson was really close to them. Closer than any other cameramen and any newsman. Harry knew them well. Harry said, "C'mon." I need not have gone there, but we decided, OK, let's go. It was just sort of a fun day. It was cold day as well. (laughs)
Q - Any idea why Brian Epstein selected Central Park as opposed to say Times Square?
A - I think it was because the New York Police Department had said this would be the best place to hold it. They could controlled the entry and the exit to where The Beatles were. Also, it was very close to their hotel. That was one area where I'm sure the police exerted a great deal of influence on where they ought to do this. And it was appropriate.
Q - Was there in fact a lot of security there that day?
A - Yeah. There was always a great deal of security around The Beatles from day one. There was police security there. I'm sure there were quite a few plain clothes people there as well. We never had any trouble. I have a book we picked up off the news stand quite recently called The Beatles. It's written by a guy called Tim Hill. In it, there's the only photograph of my wife and Debbie and me together with the other Beatles having their picture taken by other people. That's the only woman as well, which is my wife.
Q - When you had Debbie's picture taken with The Beatles, what did you think was going to happen with that photo? Did you think it was going to go out over the wire services?
A - Oh, I knew it would go to The Express. I was pretty certain that it would also go out on the wire because there were so many American photographers there, representing you name it. As it were, two freelancers were there as well. So I knew the picture would run and run. Back then there was a bubblegum company that had these little cards. Debbie's picture appeared on that one as well.
Q - I know. I have that card!
A - I phoned them up and said "No one mentioned to me that you're going to use her picture, my picture. Send me $400. They claimed that they got permission from her parents to run the picture. I said "no." They said "We'll send you a check for $400." I said "Sure." I didn't really care very much either. $400 was $40.
Q - Where you made at all?
A - No. I wasn't angry about it at all. I was very relaxed about it. I didn't know it (the picture) was going to go out in a bubblegum wrapper. Our office secretary, whose brother was a lawyer, said to her, "Hey, I hope that company paid Andrew and Debbie some money for that because these guys are putting it out to make bill." He said "Get 'em to phone up here for help." So I phoned up the company and said "First of all, the father never gave permission because I'm the father." Then they offered me $400 and I said "OK. Send me the check. That's enough."
Q - How much money do you think they made off that picture?
A - I don't have the faintest idea. I just don't know how much they could have made. I wasn't in it for the money I wouldn't have gone to court or anything like that. I just figured she (Debbie) had her picture taken on John Lennon's shoulder and it was good fun. She didn't know who John Lennon was really. She did after that, mind you. (laughs) Once everybody started to sing The Beatles' songs, she learned just about every one.
Q - Did you ever have any contact with The Beatles after that day?
A - Yeah. I met 'em again at Shea Stadium. I covered the Shea Stadium event, again with Harry Benson. We were given a position right up against the stage. I think we were the only people who heard The Beatles sing and play that day because there were 50,000 people in that stadium and they never stopped screaming from the moment they walked on until the time they left. Lennon said "I think we could have mimed the whole thing." Although they had these huge amplifiers, the sound of the audience drowned out the crowd of the music. But it was a very memorable occasion, obviously. People still talk about it.
Q - That would've been 1965?
A - That's right.
Q - Did you get to meet other Rock 'n' Roll stars of the day?
A - Yeah. You might say the other group coming along on The Beatles' coat tails was Herman's Hermits. Have you heard of them?
A - I'll tell you a funny story. Harry (Benson) and I had been covering the Indianapolis 500. Then we were diverted to Chicago immediately after Indianapolis was over. Herman's Hermits were giving a concert at McCormick Place. It's a huge auditorium in Chicago, on Lake Michigan. We went down there and covered it. We interviewed the band, but mostly Peter Noone. He was the one who wanted to talk. It was an easy interview. He was very friendly, very helpful. Harry said "Why don't we go out for a drink?" He was happy about that. He said "OK. Let's go to the Bunny Club." The Chicago club, I think was the very first one. Anyway, we went along there. Harry and I got in and then the girl suddenly stopped Peter and said "You can't come in here. You're not old enough." So Peter was turned away. (laughs)
Q - He was 17 years old when he came to the States?
A - I think he might have been older. But I think you had to be 21 to get a drink and 21 to get into the club. We didn't go in, obviously. Harry and I took him back to the hotel for a drink. He laughed about it. The guy whose band could fill a 5,000 seat stadium, auditorium in Chicago and big, big news, could be turned away at the Bunny Club.
Q - Now see, if Herman's Hermits had Brian Epstein as their manager, he would have found a way to get him in.
A - Well, that might have been. Who knows (laughs) Although we did say "this is Herman' Hermits," but it didn't matter. They just said "No. That would break the law. We can't have him in here." So we returned to the hotel.
Q - What did you think of The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein?
A - He didn't intervene. He wasn't controlling influence, at least not physically. He obviously had great power and he looked after them very well. But then he knew we weren't going to do something wrong towards them anyway. He was pretty good to everybody.
Q - Since you were over here in 1961, did you ever meet JFK?
A - I attended one of his press conferences in The White House. Just after the Bay Of Pigs Invasion in Cuba. I used to stand in for the Washington correspondent when he went on vacation and this was one of those occasions. I was there in the same room as Kennedy, but I never shook his hand. He was a magnetic guy. I don't think you could have met Kennedy and not been impressed. He had presence. He had charisma, as far as the press was concerned. They had an un-written rule at the time that overseas correspondents didn't ask questions. I don't know why. If you had a question you wanted asked, one of your American colleagues would ask and you'd get your answer anyway.
Q - How about Martin Luther King; did you ever meet him?
A - Oh yes, I did. I was very lucky. I marched the streets with him. I was in the church in Montgomery the night that the Ku Klux Klan and their followers were trying to get in. That was a pretty hairy moment. Martin Luther King was on the phone to Bobby Kennedy. I was standing at Martin Luther King's elbow and he was pleading with Kennedy to turn out the National Guard. He said "If they storm this building, there's going to be fatalities." And Kennedy eventually mobilized, much against his wishes. He didn't want it to go that far, but it had to. He mobilized the National Guard and I was able to leave the church without being shot at. The church was packed. They closed the doors, but you could never be sure that somebody wasn't going to get in there and do an awful lot of damage. Fortunately it didn't happen. I managed to get a long interview with him when he was flying from Atlanta to Jackson, Mississippi. He was quite keen on talking to foreign correspondents 'cause he wanted to get his message out beyond America.
Q - Did you ever meet Marilyn Monroe?
A - No, I never did. Two of the nicest women in the movies I met were Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall. They were wonderful. I met Barbra Streisand and she was a bitch. I didn't like her at all.
Q - Did you ever meet Frank Sinatra?
A - I have a funny story about Sinatra. Sinatra hated newsmen. If you approached Sinatra, you were liable to get punched in the mouth. We had friends staying with us in New York and they were from the U.K. and we decided to go to P.J. Clarke's. It was a bar that served good hamburgers. It was empty because lunch was over. The young daughter wanted to see any show business people. Lots of show business people used to go there for a drink before going on to the theatre. When we got to the place, the only two people in the bar were us and the door suddenly opens and in walks Frank Sinatra. He said "Hi" and was in great spirits. He was with a few of his minders and a big Cadillac outside waiting for him. He had a couple of drinks. He talked to everybody and I thought "should I tell him or should I not?" I thought "no, I'm not going to. He might not be too happy if I go and say Hey, I'm from the Daily Express in London. You ought to talk to me." So I didn't. But I cheated a little bit. The minders kept saying to him "C'mon Frank. Time to go. The place is waiting." He had a few more drinks and he chatted, even though he was a yard or two away from where we were. He was very friendly. We didn't get into deep conversation or anything like that. But then he flew out from Kennedy that night and flew to Las Vegas and married Mia Farrow the next day. I was a little bit cheeky and said "I was at Frank Sinatra's stag party last night, only he didn't know it." (laughs)