The panda from Manchester
November 20th 1963. The Beatles performed two shows at Manchester’s ABC Cinema on the 16th date of their 1963 Autumn Tour.
During the first show, Pathé News filmed the group performing “She Loves You” and “Twist And Shout”. Accompanied with backstage footage and crowd scenes, this became an eight-minute cinema feature entitled The Beatles Come To Town, shown for a week from 22 December 1963.
The backstage area was also filmed by a crew from Granada TV, the footage was first broadcast in the 6 January 1964 edition of “Scene At 6.30”. (The Beatles Bible). During these scenes, the Beatles were shown at a photo call before the concerts, where they proudly displayed a huge panda plush toy, which had been given them that day.
Beatles fan Jacquie Graham was sixteen years old and couldn’t get a ticket to the Manchester concerts. She and her friends did not have tickets, so they queued up with the thousands of others – but the tickets sold out before they reached the box office.
Nevertheless, she ended up meeting The Beatles thanks to her panda toy. Jacquie can’t quite recall why she had the plush animal with her, but she and her friends tried their luck at the concert venue. She told the Daily and Sunday Express newspaper in December 2019: “We got to the Apollo (The Apollo Manchester was re-named ABC Ardwick in 1962). Knocked on the stage door and this chap came out and took the panda. He just took it out of our hands and shut the door. We were absolutely furious. Very, very upset.”
As a result, the girls took a taxi to the Daily Mirror in Manchester and explained to the paper what had happened. They ended up back at the Apollo with a photographer, who managed to get into the venue and retrieve the panda toy.
Jacquie: “And the next thing we know, we’re invited into the foyer of the Apollo. We were interviewed and then led off to another room and they were there! Obviously I don’t remember it in fantastic detail as it was all a blur. It’s all just too wonderful, like a dream. We were all just lost for words. John and Ringo gave me a kiss on each cheek. I can remember them fooling around and throwing the panda about.”
And incredibly for Jacquie and her friends, they were allowed to watch the show from the side. She said: “There were no tickets available but they took us into the theatre and we stood at the side of the stage, standing, and we watched the whole show from there.”
They were front page in the Manchester papers the next day, but they didn’t get in trouble for bunking off school as the teachers were too excited to hear their story!
It appears that it was John who took the panda home, since he was the Beatle with a kid, Julian. A couple of years later, John posed with the panda against a wall in the Japan-inspired bedroom at Weybridge.
In 2015, a specially printed version of the photo was available as a limited edition with the money going both to fund care for Freeman, then 78, who was suffering the effects of a stroke, and to secure the preservation of his collection of work, spanning 60 years. The John Lennon Estate also promoted the sale of the prints on social media. Freeman eventually passed away in November, 2019.
There is a second photo of John with the panda a couple of years after the famous 1965 photo. He is posing with the panda and Julian, who we guess was the one enjoying the toy the most.
Jacquie would like to find out what has happened to the panda after 1967 and where it is now. For this purpose, her daughter set up a Facebook page, called Where is panda now?. This was in 2018, and the page haven’t received much attention. The story was published locally in March 2019 and nationwide in the Daily Express in november 2019.