Ailsa Avenue is an ordinary street in suburban Twickenham, remarkable only for having been the setting for a memorable scene in one of the Beatles’ films. It’s where the girls in the photograph are waiting for a glimpse of John, Paul , George and/or Ringo. This is 1964, Beatlemania is at its height, and the group are in the middle of filming their second feature film.
There was a time when the members of the Beatles spent more time in Twickenham than at their own homes. Twickenham Studios were the headquarters for A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, for some of their early promotional videos, for the promos for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”, and for the early sessions for Let It Be. Ailsa Avenue was where, under Dick Lester’s direction, they shot the exteriors for the scene in which the Beatles enter four adjacent terraced houses, only for the next shot to reveal that, in a nice little piece of self-satire, the interiors have been knocked together and fitted with a sunken bed, a mighty Wurlitzer organ, a sandwich automat and other pop-star necessities. They hadn’t, of course. That bit was built at the studios. forever disappointing those Beatlemaniacs who turn up and knock hopefully on the doors of numbers 5, 7, 9 or 11.
The dark-haired girl with the duffel coat and the serious expression in the middle of the photograph is called Susan Kilby. She was about 14 years old then, and such a fan that she and her friends would get up at three o’clock in the morning to walk to Heathrow airport in order to welcome the group back from one of their foreign tours. She is one of those who have contributed their memories to an exhibition called The Beatles in Twickenham, which opened last week at the Exchange theatre, part of St Mary’s University, a few hundred yards from Ailsa Avenue and the film studios
The exhibition is mostly photographs and posters, plus a couple of pages from the shooting schedule for Help!, and some interesting testimony from witnesses to the events in question. But at the opening the other night there were film clips on show, including an amazing sequence from Let It Be in which Yoko does some free-form yowling while John plays the “Watch Your Step” riff and Ringo thunders away like the world’s greatest heavy metal drummer, and the “Revolution” promo, from which I learnt — very belatedly — that it was John who played the scorching Chuck Berry lead on his Epiphone Casino while George took the rhythm part. The 1965 promo films shot at Twickenham Studios included “I Feel Fine” and “Help!”, which broke barriers by having Ringo pedalling an exercise bike or holding a parasol instead of miming the drum part. I suspect they were the first clips of their kind in which the pretence of miming was completely undermined; no doubt someone will put me straight.
* The Beatles in Twickenham is at the Exchange theatre until August 16 (exchangetwickenham.co.uk). The Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn will be speaking on May 17, and there will be a screening of the tour documentary Eight Days a Week on May 21.