The Beatles' chaotic day in Devon as John Lennon lost his rag

The Beatles were heading for Widecombe-in-the Moor in their Magical Mystery tour bus when it got stuck on this narrow bridge on the edge of Dartmoor
-Credit: (Image: David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)


The Beatles' bright yellow and blue tour bus, carrying more than 46 people, once wound its way through the Devon countryside towards Widecombe Fair. It wasn't quite Uncle Tom Cobley and all, but it was a diverse group.

Paul McCartney had envisioned that the ancient village celebration would serve as an intriguing and potentially inspiring stop on their famed 1967 road trip, which later became their TV film Magical Mystery Tour. However, they never made it to the fair.

Just weeks after the tragic loss of their beloved manager Brian Epstein to a drug overdose and following the release of the iconic Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Paul, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr embarked on an extraordinary journey.

With no script and only a vague plot inspired by Paul's vision of mystery coach trips originating from their home city of Liverpool, and influenced by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' psychedelic bus in America, they set off.

On Monday, September 11, the party, comprising over 40 cast and crew members, left London and were scheduled to stay at the Royal Hotel in Teignmouth that night. En route, they learned that 400 fans were braving the drizzle outside the hotel, hoping for a glimpse of their idols.

To avoid the crowds, the four band members switched to an ordinary car just outside the town and quickly entered the hotel while the fans were still waiting for the coach.

The Plaxton Bedford VAL coach containing members of The Beatles becomes stuck on a stone bridge causing a traffic jam near Widecombe, Devon during filming of the television musical film 'Magical Mystery Tour'
The Plaxton Bedford VAL coach containing members of The Beatles becomes stuck on a stone bridge causing a traffic jam near Widecombe, Devon during filming of the television musical film 'Magical Mystery Tour' -Credit:David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

The following morning, Paul announced that the group would be heading to Widecombe-in-the-Moor on Dartmoor to attend the popular Widecombe Fair. However, London coach driver Alf Manders, like many others, underestimated Devon's narrow country lanes and decided to take a route he believed would bypass the heavy traffic heading towards the village.

After leaving the A38 at Ashburton, he tried to cross New Bridge over the River Dart, but ended up getting the bus stuck on the ancient stone structure, unable to move forward. The trip had hit a snag on what is known as the "most hit bridge in the country", causing a traffic jam behind them.

From left, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr sit together on Plymouth Hoe during filming of the television musical film 'Magical Mystery Tour' on 12th September 1967
From left, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr sit together on Plymouth Hoe during filming of the television musical film 'Magical Mystery Tour' on 12th September 1967 -Credit:David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

As tensions rose on board, John Lennon disembarked and tore off the Magical Mystery Tour signs from the side of the coach. The plan to visit Widecombe Fair was quickly scrapped, but it took a significant effort to free the large Plaxton Bedford VAL coach.

The driver had to reverse at least half a mile before he could turn the vehicle around.

At some point, they stopped for fuel and snacks at the Moorlands Garage and Cafe, where they posed for photos, before returning to the A38. As it was nearing lunchtime, they decided to stop for a meal in Plymouth, approximately 24 miles away, a city where they had performed shows at the ABC Cinema in 1963 and 64.

The group was trailed by a swarm of press photographers and reporters in cars. They drove along the Embankment and into Plymouth city centre, with the coach finally stopping on the Hoe outside the Grand Hotel, then known as the Berni Grand.

After dining in the Duck Bar, Paul, John, George, and Ringo decided to hold a photo session on the Hoe to appease the photographers. This resulted in some of the most iconic images from the tour.

Taking time to sign autographs for fans who had heard about their visit, The Fab Four lounged on the grass under the sun, taking in the sea views with the then plain white Smeaton's Tower in the backdrop.

Local BBC TV reporter Hugh Scully interviewed the band at the location, and it was broadcast the following evening on Spotlight South West. By that time, the coach party had crossed the Tamar into Cornwall and embarked on three days of filming in and around the seaside town of Newquay.

Although there was no footage from Devon in the final film, which premiered on BBC1 on Boxing Day 1967, their escapades in the county will always be remembered.

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