She’s still a Lady Beatle
‘These boys are shaggy, but there’s an intelligence and wit there which explains their appeal.’
- A diary entry as reported in Binny Lum’s unpublished memoirs.
The NFSA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ tour of Australia with the launch of an unedited interview with three of The Beatles recorded in London in April 1964, a couple of months before they arrived in Australia. The interviewer was Binny Lum, an Australian freelance radio and television personality known for her friendly conversational style. Previously heard in edited versions, release of the complete interview on our SoundCloud channel marks the first time the unedited recording has been made available.
Binny Lum passed away in November 2012 at the age of 97. A popular figure in Melbourne and country Victoria for many years, Lum worked in radio from 1934 to 1984, initially as an actor, accompanist, scriptwriter and compere of fashion shows, before becoming known for her children’s sessions and magazine-format programs. Thanks to the donation of Binny Lum’s surviving recordings, photographs and detailed information about her career by her daughter, Sharon Terry and her husband Geoff Charter, the NFSA is able to preserve and make available the full unedited interview Lum conducted with the Beatles and the story surrounding it.
The Beatles were at the height of their popularity and it was a real coup that an Australian radio personality, unknown in the UK, had managed to secure an interview with the English rock band, the hottest property in show business. The fact that this occurred says as much for Lum’s tenacity as her well connected network of contacts. In her unpublished memoirs, Lum recalls that on arrival in London on 1 April 1964, she and her engineer Geoff Charter (later her husband) were greeted by an old friend from Melbourne radio, Alan Freeman, who at the time was a top radio personality in Britain. Freeman promised to pave the way to the Beatles via their manager Brian Epstein. After three attempts, a meeting was arranged and on 3 April, according to her itinerary, Lum met with Epstein and convinced him to agree to be interviewed himself. Epstein asked her to return later the same day to meet the band to enquire if they would agree to an interview. When she returned to Brian Epstein’s office in Sutherland House, Paul McCartney apologised that he couldn’t wait but that the other boys were there and the interview proceeded without him.
Binny Lum explains how she was able to secure an interview with the Beatles because of Alan Freeman in this 1994 oral history interview with Denzil Howson (NFSA title: 279970)
Lum admits in her memoirs that her knowledge of The Beatles was limited. She therefore decided to encourage George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon to tell their stories with few interruptions, so that the recording could be edited effectively for broadcast on Australian radio. Lum enjoyed the interview and found them to be warm, talkative and giving. She felt that she met The Beatles at their best, a memory she treasured.
Listen to the full interview:
Binny Lum with The Beatles in London, April 1964. Photo by Geoff Charter. Courtesy of Geoff Charter and Sharon Terry. NFSA title: 1219635
After the interview was successfully recorded on her Uher portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, the ¼” master tape had to be edited and sent back to Melbourne radio stations. Again through the assistance of Alan Freeman, an appointment was made at the BBC’s Broadcast House for the following day. The tape had to be prepared for broadcast and despatched to Australia that afternoon. Unfortunately Lum’s engineer Geoff Charter was not allowed to touch the tape. An old school BBC engineer in a dust coat pulled out a crayon pencil and slowly began to mark up the edit points on the ¼” audio tape, prior to cutting and re-joining the edits, and eventually redubbing both sections. Two-and-a-half hours later, after numerous interruptions for BBC tea breaks (!), the tape was ready and whisked away to the airport, much to Geoff’s relief. The edited interview arrived back in Australia and was played on Melbourne radio.
Various edited versions of this interview have survived in a number of recordings – some of them with Lum’s voice and some with just the voices of the Beatles. A week before the Beatles arrived in Australia Lum’s interview was profiled in an article I was a Lady Beatle in The Australian Women’s Weekly, which advertised that the interview would be broadcast on station 2UW on 14 June.
Presumably there were other broadcasts in Australia of the edited interview, as it was sold Australia-wide. The NFSA collection includes several recordings produced by radio stations in 1965 where they looked back on the 1964 Australian tour with a compilation of reports and interviews from the tour. Several of these compilations include short extracts of her interview. The production of the Cadbury Special promotional disc supplied to 3XY and possibly other radio stations for airplay during the tour includes a slightly shortened interview, plus others Lum recorded with Epstein, Freeman and radio and television presenter Keith Fordyce.
A slightly edited version of the complete interview was later made available again in 1984 by Raven Records on the LP The Beatles Talk Downunder (and All Over) Volume Two.
Several months after the interview, Lum got the chance to meet the Beatles again during their Australian tour. Lum’s daughter Sharon Terry relates that the Beatles were apparently waiting for Lum at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne, expecting a follow-up interview with her but she never received the message. There was a lot of pressure wherever they went said Sharon. Perhaps someone made sure she didn’t get the message, or maybe it simply got lost along the way, by accident. Lum did meet them again at the official press reception on 14 June at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne where she posed in a photo with them.
Courtesy Bauer Media Pty Limited.
In this interview for the NFSA, Binny’s daughter Sharon spoke about her mother’s encounter with the Fab Four.
Were you a Beatles fan? Did you feel jealous that your mum got to meet them and you didn’t?
I was indeed, and no, I never got to meet them, nor was I there when she interviewed them. I had to stay home and hit the books! I wasn’t jealous at all, mainly just fascinated to hear about her impressions meeting them. It was my mother’s job, after all. I did get to meet some famous people over the years, but the security surrounding The Beatles was pretty impenetrable.
I had bought a copy of John Lennon’s book, In His Own Write, and asked her to see if she could get it autographed by John – and she did!
Did Binny talk of this interview as one of her career highlights?
I don’t recall her saying anything like that, but that was probably because she didn’t really know who they were at the time! She probably saw it as such in retrospect.
Thanks to Sharon Terry and Geoff Charter for their generous donation of the Binny Lum collection of recordings and photographs and for sharing the stories about the life and career of Binny Lum.
Thanks to Lucy Spencer at Arts Centre Melbourne for research assistance on The Beatles’ Australian tour, and Peta Cassar for the preparation of the interview transcript.
Read more about the fascinating career of Binny Lum and the large collection of her interviews held by the NFSA.