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Reference Library: Tokyo Beatlemania

Beatlemania Infects Diplomats, 1966 Files Reveal
By Paul Majendie

LONDON - Newly released documents reveal that even staid British diplomats were seized by Beatlemania when the Fab Four took Tokyo by storm in 1966.

And British Embassy staffers in Japan were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief as the Beatles shrugged off death threats and performed under the watchful eye of 35,000 police, the papers show.

Charge d'Affaires Dudley Cheke's confidential memo to his diplomatic masters in London came to light Wednesday when 30-year-old state papers were at last made public.

By coincidence, the papers were released a day after ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was knighted in Britain's New Year's honors.

Cheke told how fans were enraged at being kept "ridiculously out of range" during the 1966 tour.

The Beatles, virtual prisoners in their hotel suite, never got to see the sights of Tokyo.

But Cheke, eager to boost the "Swinging Sixties" image of fashionable London, hailed the visit as a resounding success.

"The Beatles typhoon swept the youth of Japan off their feet," he declared in his telegram to the Foreign Office.

Cheke abandoned diplomatic niceties to enthuse: "They were a five-day wonder, and a Beatles mood gripped the city.

"The popularity of the four young 'pop' singers from Liverpool, at its height, was said to be the envy of Cabinet ministers."

But 35,000 policemen had to be mobilized as "fanatical opponents of the group and all they were supposed to stand for had threatened to have them assassinated."

"The Beatles, I am happy to say, were at no time in any physical danger in Japan," Cheke wrote.

He said the biggest task faced by police was comforting "the sobbing teenage girls who found that the physical presence of John, George, Paul and Ringo was more than they could take."

Cheke won praise for his lively "Fab Four" dispatch, with one official scribbling on it: "This is instructive as well as entertaining. Much of Whitehall (Britain's civil service) needs reminding that the Japanese are human."

The Beatles sang for just 30 minutes at each of their five concerts at the Budokan Hall of Martial Arts, a venue that sparked controversy among traditionalists.

"The Hall has occasionally been used for less lofty purposes but never for anything so alien to the Japanese martial spirit as an electric guitar concert," Cheke wrote to London.

Tickets were like gold dust and the diplomat's popularity soared as "various highly placed Japanese and foreign personalities had seen in us the only hope of obtaining tickets for themselves or their offspring."

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