March 1966 – 50 years ago

Lennon: We’re more popular than Jesus.

4 March 1966: The John Lennon Controversy

Credit: Charles LeBlanc
Credit: Charles LeBlanc

On 4 March 1966, Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard interviewed John Lennon at his home as part of a series, “How Does a Beatle Live?” It was during this interview the “We’re more popular than Jesus” statement was made.

Cleve noticed from Lennon’s library he was interested in religion and she included this discussion in her interview. Lennon was disillusioned with organised religion and the hypocritical behaviour of many that call themselves Christians. Furthermore, at the time the Church of England was struggling at being relevant. Taken in that context what Cleve quoted him as saying makes sense:

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

In fact, when the interview was first published in England, there was little or no reaction to the quote. It was not until five months later when it was republished in the United States the controversy began. The teen magazine, Datebook, placed part of the quote on their front page:

“I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity!”

Bible-belt DJ’s had taken it from there and organised banning of playing Beatle records. They went further with public protests and even bonfires where teenagers were encouraged to burn their Beatle’s memorabilia and records. Even the Vatican and Ku Klux Clan got involved.

In subsequent interviews, Lennon stated clearly he never meant what they thought he meant.

“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

He went on to say he was Jesus Christ’s biggest fans but his explanation seemed to fall on deaf ears in the US so he added:

“If you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.”

Many years later he added:

“I couldn’t go away knowing I’d created another little piece of hate in the world. So I apologized.”

Of note, Mark Chapman became a new-born Christian sometime before he gunned down and murdered John Lennon in 1980. He was apparently still upset at Lennon’s remark and even went as far as to satirise “Imagine” with his own words, “Imagine John Lennon dead”. Chapman is due for another parole hearing in August of this year.

More than 320 people parish in three separate plane crashes in Tokyo

4 & 5 March 1966: Flights 402 and 911 disasters

The series of unfortunate events began a month before when an All Nippon Airways aircraft crashed into Tokyo Bay on February 4 killing all 133 people on board.

On 4 March 1966, a Canadian Pacific Airlines plane with 72 on board crashed into a sea wall during a night landing. This was Flight 402 and 64 of the 72 were killed. Investigations into the incident concluded the cause was pilot error during very difficult weather conditions.

Less than 18 hours later BOAC Flight 911 taxied past the smouldering wreckage of CPA plane as it took off. A few minute later it crashed near Mount Fuji. All of the 124 people on board were killed. The eventual verdict for the cause of the accident was abnormally severe turbulence.

Of the 113 passengers on this flight, 75 were associated with the refrigeration company, Thermo King. They were being rewarded with a 14-day tour of Japan and South East Asia for strong sales. There were 26 couples in this group and their deaths left behind 63 orphaned children.

Five people had cancelled their tickets on that fateful flight on 5 March 1966 and stayed behind to watch a ninja demonstration. They were in Japan looking for locations for the upcoming shooting of the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

Pickles rescues the World Cup for England

27 March 1966: Stolen World Cup Trophy recovered

March 1966: Pickles

Leading up to the 1966 World Cup in England, The World Cup trophy, better known as the Jules Rimet Trophy, was set on display at a stamp exhibition at Westminster Central Hall. On 20 March 1966, the trophy was stolen creating panic as the competition was less than four months away.

A ransom note demanding £15,000 was received. It is reported the untouched stamps on display at the exhibition was worth more than £3 million.

In any case, just a week later, the Jules Rimet Trophy was recovered by a dog named Pickles. Pickles had dug up the trophy which was buried under a garden hedge in South London while walking with his owner, Dave Corbett.

With synchronicity, England won the World Cup for the first (and last) time that year. Pickles and his owner were invited to the celebration banquet.

Pickles went on to further fame when he starred in the movie, The Spy with the Cold Nose which included Eric Sykes.

Unfortunately Pickles died the following year when he choked on his lead while chasing a cat.

March 1966: The Jules Rimet Trophy
First replica of the Jules Rimet trophy on display at the National Football Museum in Preston. (Credit: Ben Sutherland)

The Jules Rimet Trophy

The World Cup trophy was originally called Victory but was renamed after the FIFA president and co-founder of the Word Cup, Jules Rimet.

In 1938 Italy won the trophy and when war broke out soon after, it was smuggled out of a bank in Rome by FIFA’s vice president and hidden under his bed to prevent it from falling into German hands.

Following the theft and subsequent recovery by Pickles in March 1966, The English Football Association secretly made a replica of the trophy for display at exhibitions over the next four years. FIFA had denied permission for this replica so when it was time to hand the original trophy back in preparation for the 1970 World Cup, the replica had to be hidden and it was stored under the bed of its creator.

Brazil who had won the World Cup twice won it again in 1970, and as decreed by Rimet, they were therefore entitled to be the permanent guardians of the Jules Rimet trophy. A new trophy was made and named simply The FIFA World Cup Trophy and it is still in use today.

The Jules Rimet Trophy was now house in a bullet proof display cabinet at the Brazilian Football Confederation. In December of 1983, the trophy was again stolen but this time, never recovered. Another replica was made.

The first replica was eventually rediscovered and went up for auction in 1997. The reserve was about £30,000 but it was finally sold for £254,500 in the belief it could be the real Jules Rimet Trophy. The buyers were none other than FIFA. After testing, they confirmed it was the replica. It is now on display in the English Football Museum.

TV in March 1966

10 March 1966: The Frost Report goes to air and Monty Python is conceived

David Frost
David Frost

The Frost Report hosted by journalist and comedian, David Frost, was a satirical TV series in the UK. Frost had already made a name for himself after the success of That Was the Week That Was, a similar programme.

The show would launch the careers of some of the great British comedians of the era. Names like Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman, Antony Jay, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor. The show also brought together John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Pallin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman – the future Monty Python.

March 1966 - Ben Casey21 March 1966: Ben Casey goes off air

“Man, woman, birth, death infinity,” calls the voice of Sam Jaffe as symbols representing those words are drawn on a blackboard at the start of each episode of Ben Casey. This dark medical drama which starred Vince Edwards ran for five years in the US and in March 1966, aired its final episode.

The show was iconic often being referred to in music, other TV shows and parodies. In fact, a medic during the Vietnam War was called “Ben Casey” and the side-buttoning jacket used by many Australian doctors, pharmacists and dentists was often called a “Ben Casey”.

The show did have a rival competing for ratings – another medical drama, Dr Kildare. It would seem, actor Vince Edwards did not like the competition and in particular its star, Richard Chamberlain. He was reported as having thrown ice cream at his nemesis.

3 March 1966: Two notable co-stars die on the same day

March 1966 - Alice Pearce
Alice Pearce as Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor from the television series Bewitched. Pearce played the role from the beginning of the series in 1964 until her death in 1966.

March 1966 also saw the deaths of two actors, Alice Pearce and William Frawley.

People would remember Pearce as Gladys Kravitz, the nosey neighbour from Bewitched. She was also in the Broadway musical and later film adaptation of On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Pearce died of ovarian cancer, an illness she kept undisclosed throughout here stint on Bewitched, though her rapid weight loss closer to the end would have not gone unnoticed. She was 48.

March 1966 - William FrawleyOn the same day, while walking home after a movie, 79 year-old William Frawley had a heart attack and died. Although he had more than a hundred movie credits to his name, Frawley will always be remembered for his role in I Love Lucy and perhaps also My Three sons.

In I Love Lucy, he played Fred Mertz the landlord. The show ran from 1951 to 1957. The characters he and on screen wife, Viviane Vance, played were successful enough to warrant a spin-off. Unfortunately in real life, Frawley and Vance disliked each other and the opportunity was gone.

In 1960, William Frawley joined the cast of My Three Sons featuring Fred MacMurray. He played the role of the live-in-grandfather, “Bub” O’Casey. The show was a big success running for twelve years, but ill health restricted Frawley to the first five. He was written out of the show in the later part of 1965 making way for William Demarest to play his brother, Charlie.

Music, Movies & Books

March 1966 in music: Patriotism reins with The Ballad of the Green Berets

March 1966 - Barry Sadler
Trade ad for Barry Sadler’s single “Ballad of the Green Berets”.

Dominating the US charts in March 1966 was a song about the elite special force, the Green Berets. The heroic lyrics written by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler and Robin Moore and recorded by Sadler were timely with the goings-on in Vietnam. The song would remain at Number One for several weeks and later rated as the song of 1966.

Meanwhile in the UK and elsewhere, The Who’s My Generation along with Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Mind Bender’s Groovy Kind of Love and the Walker Brother’s The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore dominated the charts.

March 1966 in books: The Source Challenged by Valley of the Dolls

James Michner’s The Source, which we mentioned last month, was still on the top of the New York Best Sellers List in March 1966, but making a challenge was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. Michner would hang on to the top until the beginning of May before the eventual Book of the Year would topple it.

March 1966 in movies: No real blockbusters to rival Doctor Zhivago

On several occasions the popularity of Doctor Zhivago looked like waning bu the movie would bounce right back in the box office. Two movies that did give it a go were The Group and Johnny Reno.

Candice Bergen led the cast in The Group, the story of eight young women in the 1930s who met in college and reunited before the war only to discover the real world did not include the hopes and dreams they had.

Jane Russell and Dana Andrews starred in the low budget western, Johnny Reno. It was never going to do much, but pickings were slim in March 1966.

Why are hot dogs sold in packages of six, but hot dog buns in packages of ten?”