Unseen footage of the Beatles larking around as they filmed a movie in the Austrian Alps has emerged after being stored in a garage for more than 50 years.
The footage, entitled Snow Scenes, was taken by the late actor Leo McKern, best known as Rumpole of the Bailey on ITV between 1978-92.
In 1965, McKern was in the Richard Lester-directed film Help! along with the Beatles, playing a cult supervillain called Clang who is after the ring on Ringo’s finger.
A keen amateur photographer and filmmaker, McKern caught the Beatles relaxed and off guard as they prepared to film scenes in the ski resort of Obertauern.
“It is unseen footage of people who were, at that time, the most famous people on earth,” said the actor Neil Pearson, who is also a rare books dealer. “It is footage of golden age Beatles, fooling around between takes, waiting for something to happen … I know that feeling.”
The film shows the Fab Four being very larky and giggly, pretending to play instruments in a brass band and messing around with their stunt doubles. As John Lennon once admitted, they were “smoking marijuana for breakfast” during that period.
In another interview for the 2000 Beatles Anthology book, Ringo Starr said: “A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film. It was great. That helped make it a lot of fun.
“Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch. In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything. Dick Lester would say, ‘No, boys, could we do it again?’ It was just that we had a lot of fun – a lot of fun in those days.”
At the start and end of the newly discovered film, there is sweet footage of McKern’s 10-year-old daughter Abigail playing in the snow.
She was very much part of the gang and has memories of being in the Beatles entourage as they left London airport for Austria, walking through the crowds of screaming fans. “Abigail remembers being thrilled and then confused and then frightened because at one stage she was spat at by an apparently jealous fan,” said Pearson.
The film would have been shown to family members when the McKerns returned to London but has otherwise remained unseen, stored away in the garage. It came to light because Pearson had been approached by Abigail McKern, also an actor, to see if he could help disperse her mother’s collection of children’s literature.
“Being the daughter of Leo McKern, there was quite a lot of additional material in the house that was of interest,” said Pearson. “Most of it was books, manuscripts and bits and pieces but there was a reel of film in a case, which had the title Snow Scenes.”
The film also shows the wives and girlfriends of the Beatles relaxing and other actors including John Bluthal and Eleanor Bron, who played Ahme, the high priestess of the cult which requires the sacrificial ring worn by Ringo.
Bron, Abigail McKern and Paul McCartney’s stunt double have been brought together by BBC1’s The One Show, which is due to feature the unseen footage on Friday evening.
Help! was directed by Lester following the success they all had with A Hard Day’s Night. It has a Goons Show-style silliness and a far bigger budget than the first movie, allowing them to shoot scenes in the Bahamas as well as Austria.
The Austrian shoot was about two weeks and even though they all look like they’re having the time of their lives, the band later said they did not enjoy the end result.
Lennon said: “The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic. But with Help!, Dick Lester didn’t tell us what it was all about.”
Australian-born McKern, who died in 2002, established a reputation as a fine stage actor in the 1950s before becoming known for his film roles, perhaps most notably as Thomas Cromwell in Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons. He will be most remembered, however, as the combative defence barrister in Rumpole of the Bailey, written by John Mortimer.
The unseen 8mm film and its copyright is being sold by Pearson with an asking price of £35,000.