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50 years since the Beatles psychedelic Magical Mystery Tour in West Malling

By Claire McWethy

It was 50 years ago today that the Beatles rolled into West Malling on their psychedelic Magical Mystery Tour.

John, Paul, George and Ringo spent nearly a week at the town's former RAF site in 1967, after being unable to hire any London film studios at short notice.

The movie, which was largely unscripted, used aircraft hangars for many of the scenes, including the ballroom sequence for Your Mother Should Know, while the video for I Am The Walrus was shot at two locations on the airfield, including atop the anti-blast concrete walls.

Some of The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour was shot in the West Malling area
Some of The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour was shot in the West Malling area

The race scene took place on the main runway and perimeter road.

The Fab Four also filmed in West Malling town centre, including the newsagents in the high street where Ringo can be seen buying tickets from John.

The building is now The Rain Grill kebab house, and has its own blue plaque to mark the historic event.

And the former airfield was once again been the centre of Beatlemania when another bus pulled up, this time full of 30 super fans.

They had taken the long and winding road from Germany to Kings Hill, a journey of more than 450 miles, to visit the set of the famous film to coincide with the anniversary.

The commemorative tour was led by Simon Mitchell, who appeared in the film when he was seven, before his family moved abroad in 1977.

The 57-year-old, who now lives in Hanover, claims to have one of the largest collections of Beatles’ memorabilia in the world including a fully liveried Magical Mystery Tour coach, which he believes is the original used in the film.

The Beatles in West Malling in 1967
The Beatles in West Malling in 1967

Sadly it was not in good enough condition to make the journey, as originally planned.

Mr Mitchell said: “It is the first time I have been back to West Malling since I was a child, so it was even more emotional for me.

“It has changed so much. I have spent 30 years collecting all I can, listening to their music constantly, following tribute bands around Germany.

“I have probably spent the equivalent of a house or two on it.”

Simon Mitchell and his group of tourists on their Magical Mystery Tour at Kings Hill
Simon Mitchell and his group of tourists on their Magical Mystery Tour at Kings Hill

As well as visiting the filming locations, the tour group heard from residents swept up in the production.

Among those to share their experiences was 70-year-old Tim Baldock, who sold Ringo Starr a pair of wide-leg trousers and a round-collared shirt from his shop, Baldocks, in West Malling High Street.

He said: “I was in the film as an extra, as were so many local people.

“One thing I remember is that we thought we would never be seen in the crowd so every third step me and my friends would jump.

“In the film you could just see these three heads appear above the rest.

The Beatles' signatures on a comp slip from The Great Danes hotel
The Beatles' signatures on a comp slip from The Great Danes hotel

“John [Lennon], when he was selling tickets, was wearing a hat which he nicked off one of the old boys from the town, which was originally from my shop.

“I think it sold for £3,500 at auction recently. We had a good time that summer.”

As well as a tour of the sites used in the film, the fans walked in the footsteps of the famous foursome by booking into the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes hotel in Hollingbourne, where the band stayed during the filming and reportedly shunned the a la carte menu for fish and chips.

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