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Culture Re-View: The Beatles' unintended snub of Imelda Marcos

The Beatles just before their flight to the US for another leg of the tour, 1966
The Beatles just before their flight to the US for another leg of the tour, 1966 Copyright Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Copyright Mirrorpix via Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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On this day in 1966, the Fab Four inadvertantly snubbed the wife of the Philippines' president, causing outrage across the Asian nation.


In the summer of 1966, amidst their hectic schedule and worldwide fame, The Beatles found themselves embroiled in a controversy during their visit to the Philippines. On 4 July, the legendary band performed two concerts in front of over 80,000 fans at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila. 

However, it was their apparent snub of Imelda Marcos, the country's first lady and wife of President Ferdinand Marcos, which created a media frenzy.

Earlier that day, while The Beatles rested at their hotel in the midst of a packed worldwide tour schedule, Imelda Marcos had planned a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace. She expected the presence of the Fab Four, along with 300 children of high-ranking army officials who eagerly awaited the band's arrival. 

The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, though, had politely declined the invitation on behalf of the group, citing their policy of not accepting official invitations. Unfortunately, the Marcos regime did not take kindly to this refusal.

Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Imelda Marcos, pictured in 1966Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As the news of The Beatles' declined invitation spread, the Marcos-dominated media in the Philippines seized the opportunity to portray it as a deliberate snub. 

Brian Epstein's attempts to clarify the situation during a televised statement were disrupted by static, fueling the misrepresentation further. The media's portrayal of the incident instigated public outrage and resentment towards the band.

Mirrorpix via Getty Image
A Franklin cartoon pokes fun at The Beatles difficult trip to ManilaMirrorpix via Getty Image

The repercussions were felt the following day when the Fab Four made their way to Manila's airport. Instead of the expected police protection, they were met with angry mobs. The Philippine government had retaliated to the apparent snub by withdrawing police support, leaving the band and their entourage vulnerable to the hostile crowd.

The Beatles' road manager Mal Evans became a victim of violence, being beaten and kicked. The situation worsened when Brian Epstein and Mal Evans were initially ordered off the plane, Epstein being forced to hand over a substantial sum of Philippine peso notes from the profits of the Manila shows to the tax authorities.

Cummings Archives/Redferns
The Beatles arrive back at Heathrow Airport with their manager Brian Epstein (L) after the Manila debacleCummings Archives/Redferns

Eventually, The Beatles managed to leave Manila, departing for New Delhi via Bangkok and safely returning to the UK on 8 July. They held a brief press conference before embarking on a much-needed two-week break. Little did they know that the controversy in the Philippines was just the beginning of a turbulent period for the band.

The following month, John Lennon's infamous misquote about The Beatles being "bigger than Jesus" ignited a firestorm of criticism and backlash. The incident would have a profound impact on the band's career and further escalate the tensions and controversies surrounding them.

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