What was it like to be on the receiving end of Beatlemania? Nigel Robinson thinks he has some idea. Fifty years ago, the sixth-form student from Leamington Spa discovered that his English accent – aided and abetted by a pair of Chelsea boots and a John Lennon-style cap – made him an instant celebrity when he joined the 55,000-strong audience for the celebrated concert at New York's Shea Stadium that cemented their US and global success.
The boy, who was staying in New York with a family friend, was already a fan of the Liverpool band. He didn’t have a mop top – his private school wouldn’t tolerate it – but his hair was longer than the crew cuts sported by most of the American boys his age.
On 15 August, 1965, accompanied by his schoolfriend David Treadaway (father of the acting twins Luke and Harry Treadaway), he set out for Shea Stadium. The two 17-year-olds didn’t have tickets for the concert – those had sold out weeks ago – but they figured thought it was worth turning up to “soak up the atmosphere”.
“We realised it was a big deal,” said Mr Robinson, now 67. American radio stations were playing Beatles songs back-to-back and a phalanx of hysterical girls had laid siege to their Manhattan hotel. “Up until then groups had played town halls and theatres,” he said Mr Robinson. “In those days this [size of concert] had never happened.”
The boys’ English accents proved an asset soon after they arrived. Two American boys from Boston heard their well-rounded vowels and offered to sell them their tickets because their dates hadn’t turned up. The English duo didn’t have enough cash, but when the crowd inside the stadium roared, the American teenagers figured they’d better close the deal quickly, and handed over the tickets for loose change.
“They [tickets] were changing hands for God know’s what and we got in for a few dollars,” said Mr Robinson. When the Beatles finally appeared “mass hysteria broke out” and the English boys managed to fight their way to the front. Mr Robinson began taking pictures on his Instamatic camera as the Beatles, drowned out by their massive audience, began larking around.
“It was totally deafening,” said Mr Robinson. “As the band came running out the noise was so extreme even the police had their hands over their ears. They were only on stage for 30 minutes and when it was over the girls flopped on their seats and wept and fainted. It was probably the most exciting night of our lives.”
There was more excitement to come, however. As the boys made their way out of the stadium their English accents – “Sorry, um, excuse me …” – attracted the attention of the American girls.
“They said ‘Oh my God, are you English?’ They started taking our pictures and giving us programmes to sign. That was the extraordinary effect the Beatles had.”Their newfound celebrity followed them back to Manhattan. They were feted at parties where they were asked if they knew the Fab Four, or Cilla Black perhaps? They didn’t, of course, but in a small way, they knew how they felt.
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