Harold Kelley interviews the Beatles in Paris in 1964.
Harold Kelley interviews the Beatles in Paris in 1964.
(Editor's note: John Collins wrote this story for The Sun's former sister paper. It was published on Jan. 29, 2004.)

NASHUA - He remembers, yea, yea, yea.

Harold B. Kelley walks and talks much slower than he once did.

After all, he turned 85 this on Dec. 12.

But if Kelley, a Nashua resident since 1990, should live to be 185 there is one "fabulous" event he will never forget.

It took place in a swank hotel in Paris on a late January afternoon, 40 years ago this week. That was when Air Force Master Sgt. Hal Kelley, stationed in Europe for more than 30 years as a radio correspondent with the Armed Forces Network, entered a suite of the George V Hotel on the Champs Elyses toting a studio-quality "Nagra III" tape recorder.

He was there to interview the Beatles.

Listen to the interview here http://soundcloud.com/afneurope/beatles-afn-interview-in-1964

"I had been following their progress by reading the Herald-Tribune, Paris edition," says Kelley, his eyes sparkling behind large owl-glass lenses as he retells the tale of his (literally) 15 minutes of fame. "They hadn't been to America yet. They had just come back from a Scandinavian tour."

In fact, it was only 10 days before the Fab Four were to make their historical first "invasion" of the United States with an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in early February 1964.


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"I scooped Ed Sullivan," Kelley says. "I had called their agent to ask for an interview. He told me, 'Look, you can come over, but I think they're going to pull your leg. You won't get much from them.' Well, they ended up surprising both the agent and me by being quite sincere."

At this, Kelley offers to play back either a reel-to-reel or audiocassette copy of his four-decades old Sullivan scoop.

Cassette it is.

The sound quality of the recording Kelley made of his conversation with Paul, John, George and Ringo as they rubbed sleep from their eyes the day after a late-night concert at Olympia Stadium in Paris, is astounding (as one listener remarks).

The interview, it turns out, has been heard previously only by the most hard-core Beatlemaniacs around the world, but it was almost never heard at all.

"Frankfurt, Germany, was the headquarters for our network," Kelley explains. "Following the interview, I sent the tape by mail to our headquarters. It was received by a guy in charge of special events, Eddie Pennypecker was his name I think. He had never heard of the Beatles . So, he took the tape and just put it up on a shelf."

Eight days went by and Hal Kelley's Beatles tape had not yet aired.

"I called a friend of mine who was an AFN program director, and said, 'You know, these guys are going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show in a few days. Don't you want to use it?'"

AFN aired the Beatles interview the next night.

In the interview, in which Paul does most of the talking, the group's still innocent enthusiasm shines through. And knowing as all of us do now, about the once-in-a-humankind phenomenon that the Beatles would go on to become, starting with their Big Shew appearance 10 days later, Kelley's introduction of the group is downright comical in hindsight.

 

"This afternoon, we're visiting with four young men who, if I just mentioned their first names George, Paul, Ringo and John I doubt if you'd know about who we were speaking," Harold Kelley began. "But if I said, 'We are here this afternoon with The Beatles ' and we were in England I think we'd get a great big rousing 'Hurrah!' Wouldn't we boys?"

At this, two or three of the sleepy-tongued band members laughed, replying together, "Yeah. Oh yeah."

"Well, let's see," Kelley continued. "To my right here, we have Paul McCartney. Paul, why don't you tell us how the Beatles got going."

Seated as he was, in fact, to Kelley's right, McCartney was the only one not shown in a photograph taken of the AFN interview by the Beatles ' own publicist. The black and white shot was later featured in Ron Schaumburg's coffee table tribute book, Growing Up with the Beatles , of which Kelley owns a copy.

McCartney answered Kelley's how'd-you-get-started query with a rambling "really" filled answer. (Clearly, the young and perhaps old Paul McCartney's "really" favorite word.) Paul recalls how he, George and John began playing guitars together as young schoolmates.

 

Throughout the question and answer session, Kelley never wavers from a professional, hard news and by today's standards especially very conservative approach.

"Let me ask George Harrison... George, what is the status of rock 'n roll in England? Is that what you call your music?"

Conversely, the Beatles responses seemed in keeping with their groundbreaking songwriting abilities and radical moptop hairstyles. That is, they exuded down-to-earth, breezy confidence and a joking method of handling such formal interviews that was well ahead of their time.

"No, not really," Harrison responded to Kelley's rock 'n roll question. "We don't like to call it anything, except the people who write about it have to call it something... So they decided to call it 'The Liverpool Sound,' which is stupid, really."

A playback of Hal Kelley's January 1964 Beatles Q & A, makes it understandable that some Beatles fans can probably gain more enjoyment from listening to one of these undiscovered joint interviews of the band above what they'd get from hearing one of the Beatles old tunes again.

(The following is an excerpt of Harold B. Kelley's January, 1964, AFN interview with the Beatles in Paris, France, edited down some, for length.)

 

HAROLD KELLEY: When anyone ever sees your pictures, the first thing that strikes them is, naturally, your hairdo. Eh?

PAUL: Or hair-don't.

HK: (Laughs) Yes, or hair-don't! You've been referred to as having the "sheepdog cut," or perhaps an "early Caesar." What do you call it and how come you cut it that way?

PAUL: Well, to us it just seems a natural thing, really. Because ... you know, (how) it all arose is we came out of the swimming baths one day and you know how it is your hair sort of flops about when you come out of the swimming baths. We never thought to comb it. So we never really called it anything. Until the papers got ahold of it and they call it the " Beatles Style."

HK: We've been told that there's this Beatlemania going on. How would you describe it? That all the girls scream whenever they see you? And perhaps faint while waiting in line? Let's perhaps be immodest a moment. Just what is the attraction?

(Group laughter)

JOHN: George's dressing gown is definitely a big attraction.

PAUL: No, I don't know if any of us really know what it is. Um, we've been asked this question an awful lot of times. I think it's a collection of many different things: Happening to be there at the right time at the right moment and (sings) with the wrong face! (Laughter) No. But a bit of originality in the songs, a bit of a different sound. Maybe the gimmick of the haircut, as well.

 

HK: You mentioned songs. Now I understand you boys write your own material?

PAUL: John and I write them.

HK: Well, how do you think of an idea? Do you get together regularly or is it that an idea pops in your mind and you say, 'Let's sit down and do it?'

PAUL: If an idea does pop in your mind then you do sit down and say 'Let's do it.' Yeah. Let's say we've been told we've got a recording date in two days time. Then yeah, we're gonna sit down and sort of slug it out. You normally get, first of all, just a little idea which doesn't seem bad. Then it builds up from there.

HK: Paul, we've seen you here at the Olympia. Could you compare the French audience to what you're familiar with back in England?

PAUL: Well, there's a lot of difference. Because in England, you see, the audiences are 75 percent female. Here, 75 percent male. And that's the main difference, really, Because you're still appreciated, but you don't get the full noise and atmosphere.

GEORGE: No screams.

HK: No screams and fainting. So why is it 75 percent boys (in France)?

GEORGE: I think they just don't let the girls out at night, is one of the reasons.

JOHN: (To George) I think it's your dressing gown.

At this point, Kelley noted that the Beatles latest single "I wanna Hold Your Hand" was "No. 1 on the Hit Parade." He introduced the song, pausing the interview in order to insert the song later during a playback on the network.

 

After the song, the interview wound down with Kelley quizzing the group about their exciting upcoming trip across the Pond.

"How were you selected for the Sullivan show?" Kelley wanted to know.

"We were arriving from Stockholm into London Airport at the same time that the Prime Minister and Queen Mother were flying out," said George Harrison offering one story they heard. "The airport was just overrun with teenagers, you know, thousands of 'em waiting for us to get back. And Ed Sullivan was supposed to have arrived at that time and wondered what was going on. He found out it was us arriving."

Hal Kelley interviewed several more celebrity heavyweights and lightweights during his lengthy AFN tenure in Europe including, namely, John Wayne, Richard Burton and Audrey Hepburn.

But there is no question that his 1964 Beatles "scoop" gives him an immortal epitaph.

In wrapping up the interview, Kelley asked "the boys" whether they had to compose new songs for their first feature film.

"Actually, we've got to compose six songs specifically for the film," answered Paul, sounding as if he relished the challenge. "So we've got to get down to that too. Another job."

That "job," as Beatles lovers know, yielded A Hard Day's Night, a hit song that also became the title of the film.

"So you haven't had much of a chance to see Paris, have you?" asked Kelley.

No, Paul and George responded at once.

Kelley followed up anyway, for some reason, with: "How about the French girls as compared to the British girls?"

"Well, we haven't seen any yet," said Ringo, drummer of few words.

"I'm married, so I didn't notice 'em," Lennon answered with a smile in his voice.

"French girls are fabulous," said Paul, single at the time.

"Well, perhaps when you get to The Ed Sullivan Show there will be more girls for you," Hal Kelley said.

History quickly showed, of course that no truer prediction was ever made.

And, with that, the 40-year-old Beatles interview then came to an end.

The Beatles were in their early 20s when the interview took place, Kelley (who never married) was 44. He has outlived two of his famous subjects.

"I wanna shake your hand," a fellow radio veteran and admirer tells Hal Kelley before he shuffles carefully across Main Street in Nashua toward his parked car, clutching Beatles tape and photo under an arm. "I wanna shake your hand."