Who's 1968 horror flight

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 26 15:42:32 CDT 2004

The Australian newspaper remembers The Who's 1968
horror flight, on line at:

Who the hell are you?
The Who land in Australia today despite vowing in 1968
never to return after being held by police in
Melbourne for five hours. Glenn A.Baker looks back at
the horror flight that led to the band's siege
July 27, 2004
LEGENDARY tour manager for four decades, Ron
Blackmore, remembered every second of what unfolded on
the last day of the Who's Australian tour in January
1968, as the party in his care boarded a 7am Sunday
flight from Adelaide via Melbourne to Sydney, where
they were supposed to connect to a Christchurch

Just 3 1/2 years earlier Australia had swooned
shamelessly over the Beatles. John, Paul, George and
Ringo were lovable moptops whose every indulgence or
indiscretion was complicitly overlooked by a
breathless nation. But the likes of Pete Townshend and
Keith Moon were seen as little better than hoodlums. 

In typical tour tradition the last night was party
night and being volatile bands, the Who and their
support, the Small Faces and Paul Jones, partied all
night, Blackmore once told me. "I'll never know how we
did it but we got all the performers out of bed at
five and then had them at the airport by 6 o'clock. As
you could imagine, everyone was dead on their feet.
Most of them hadn't been to bed, none of them had had
a shower. It was summer and they were all wearing
singlets. Nobody in Australia had ever seen anything
like those singlets with names printed on them. 

"By the time I rounded them up at the airport we were
last on the plane. The last one on was Paul Jones. He
wasn't the party type and hadn't been up all night so
he bounded on board as fresh as a bloody daisy. He had
done himself up all ready for the press in New
Zealand. He really kept up an image -- open neck silky
shirt with a cravat, fancy shoes, all spick'n'span." 

The plane took off and Blackmore, roughly the same age
as the band members, had his head in a newspaper when
a flight attendant demanded angrily: "Are you the
leader of this bloody mob?" He quickly scanned the
rows, ascertained that his charges were largely out
cold and admitted he was. "Well I've had them," she
said. "We've only been in the air five minutes and
they want beer!" He looked around again and spotted
three, one being the Who's loony drummer Moon, going
"Yeah, beer".

"I won't serve them beer until I've served everybody
teas," she insisted. Blackmore thought that fair
enough so he stood up, told them all the score and
received the general response "Terrific. We'll have a
cup of tea then." He then returned to his paper. 

The urbane Oxford-educated Jones, the former lead
singer of the group Manfred Mann, who had sung their
global hit Do Wah Diddy Diddy and had previously
toured Australia with them, picks up the tale. "It was
a scene of people asleep, reading newspapers or, in
the case of Kenney Jones of the Small Faces, playing
gently with a baby who was leaning over the seat in
front of him. I had been dying for coffee and I saw
that the hostess had begun serving from the front of
the plane. She came to the four or five rows that our
party occupied and stopped serving coffee and then
resumed serving it behind us. After I had recovered
from the surprise I pressed my call button, twisted
around and said over my shoulder, 'Could I have some
coffee please? And she said 'You'll get coffee when
I'm ready'. I thought that was astonishing so I
replied, 'actually no, I'll have some coffee now
please', then she said, 'I've never been spoken to in
this way in all my life!' So I said, 'My goodness,
you've led a sheltered life' and she stormed off." 

Blackmore heard her say "I was told not to serve you"
so he walked to the servery area and inquired "Excuse
me, who's the hostess in charge?" Innocent but
obviously inflammatory words. "This bird with her back
to me spun around in tears, totally distraught, and
she started screaming 'I am!'. I said to her 'Look, I
don't understand. I don't know what we've done. I
haven't seen anybody do anything wrong, so what's the
problem?' But she kept on screaming, 'I'm going to see
the captain, I'm going to have you arrested!' 'Fine,
but what's the problem, what have we done?' 'You know
what you've done!' 

"She steamed off to the captain so I turned to the
other girls and said 'Look, I really don't know what's
upset her, if I knew I'd be down there yelling at
them, but honestly, somebody had better give them some
tea and coffee or they're gonna pull this plane to
pieces. Remember, that's what you told them -- don't
make a noise for beer, wait for the tea -- and they've
sat there patiently, haven't done a thing and you
walked right past them'. She said: 'You're right,
you're dead right, we'll serve them straight away but
you must remember, we've got to take our instructions
from her.' I said 'Look, she's in no fit state to give
any instructions, so you're on your own. They're all
Poms, bring 'em all tea, don't even ask them, just
give it to 'em.' 

"They started pouring the tea and I was sitting in my
seat totally confused but thinking that I'd sorted it
all out. Then I looked up to see the captain coming
down the aisle checking off the seat numbers. He
walked up, looked at me and said: 'Are you Blackmore?
I'm the captain.' I said 'How do you do, sir?' He
didn't waste any time being polite. 'I've just come
here to inform you that on arrival in Melbourne I have
arranged for the Commonwealth Police to meet you and
you will all be taken into custody.' 'What have we
done?' 'I'm not prepared to discuss it; I have one of
my girls in the cockpit hysterical.' Then he started
to march back down the aisle. I just couldn't believe
it was happening, I was spluttering 'Whaa but why ...
who ... how ... uh ... uh, wh ... wh ... what ya
talking about?!', then one of the Who's roadies jumped
up and said: 'Hey don't you want to hear our side of
it?' The captain turned his head, said 'I'm not
interested' and kept walking. So that was it, these
guys started yelling 'You ...', y'know." 

As the aircraft taxied at the old Essendon Airport in
Melbourne, an increasingly apprehensive Blackmore
sighted from his window what he estimated to be 40
Commonwealth Police on the tarmac. "One of them
started up the stairs and I looked over at Pete
Townshend, who was packing death. 

"This guy in a suit was standing in the doorway just
watching us and he looked right at Townshend and said,
'you're coming with me'. Pete asked him 'am I under
arrest?' and the cop said he wasn't. 'Well I ain't
going anywhere with you pal, cause the last pig that
said come with me when I wasn't under arrest kicked
the shit out of me in Germany. So I'm not going
anywhere with anybody unless I'm formally charged in
front of witnesses and at this point I can't
understand what you could possibly charge me with'. 

"The policeman huffed a bit and said: 'Be it as it
may, you will all have to get off this plane and you
will go into the VIP lounge where you will be under
close surveillance. You will not be allowed to ring or
contact anybody, you will not be able to leave the
room, and you will not be continuing on this flight."'

Airport manager Allan Trail had been rung at home
about the "massive problem" and dashed in wearing
gardening shorts. He knew Blackmore and persuaded
police to let him use a phone, though not an Ansett
one. The Commonwealth Police let him out of the room
on the condition that he would not speak to the
waiting media. As he walked past a row of phone booths
outside the airport he overheard reporters talking to
their editors. "Because nobody had told them anything
they started making up stories, things like 'they're
all under arrest, it seems they stripped naked and ran
up and down the aisles' or 'they had a fist fight with
a couple of passengers and three people have been
taken to hospital' and on it went." 

The flurry of calls began but being Sunday, everyone
had gone fishing, or to the beach. Blackmore demanded
to speak to airline owner Reg Ansett. "Oh no, it's
Sunday, he's at home, can't get him ..." As a last
resort Blackmore asked to speak to the captain again. 

Blackmore apologised for whatever it was the bands
were supposed to have done. 

Blackmore recalls: "Then, I'll never forget this, I
extended my hand and said 'Incidentally my name is Ron
Blackmore'. He [the captain] put his hand behind his
back, said 'I'm not going to touch you mister, you're
shit', turned to Trail and said, 'if they're on the
plane it doesn't fly, that's all there is to it', then
stormed off with Bawling Bertha [the flight attendant]
in tow. 

"When I got back, the Who and Small Faces wanted to
tear the place apart. Stevie Marriott [Faces singer]
was just lovely to control. He wanted to kick a wall
down and I was holding him in the corner saying, 'shut
up man, cool it'. There wasn't even a beer to calm
him. Paul Jones was simply dumbfounded, he just didn't
believe it was happening. He was running around
warning the rowdy ones, 'no, no that's the worse thing
to do'." 

Trail finally relented and got Ansett on the line and
held the handset an arm's length as Ansett "blew up,
went berserk, absolutely bananas: 'Who made the
decision to offload them? Who gave them the authority,
these sort of decisions are made at management level,
do da da da.' When Reg calmed down I got called over
and handed the phone. 'I don't know whether you did
this or not' and I jumped in with 'great, somebody who
can finally tell me what we've done'. 'Well, they're
claiming you endangered the lives of the passengers on
the aircraft.' 

When I got my breath back I said, 'Mr Ansett, nobody
had a gun, nobody got out of their seats, they didn't
even make a noise because they were all exhausted.' 

"That may be, but nevertheless we've got to get you to
Sydney," Ansett said. Blackmore thanked him and
pointed out that his group had been held for 5
1/2hours without a biscuit, sandwich, cup of tea or
even a drink of water. Ansett barked, "right, give me
back to the airport manager" and in five minutes laden
trolleys materialised. 

By this time the waiting media was becoming fevered
and Ansett insisted that there be a statement to the

Blackmore recalled: "I talked them into letting Paul
Jones [whose big solo hit had been, ironically, I've
Been A Bad Bad Boy] be the spokesman with all the
others sitting quietly behind him like a portrait
painting. Paul Jones spoke very ... well very, at the
front of a wedge of suddenly angelic musicians. He
went through the spiel: 'We didn't do anything, I
don't know why we are here, but I believe we are

Ansett had an Electra rolled out of a hangar to fly
the party to Sydney, though the only way the pilot
would take the plane up was if there were two
Commonwealth Police along for the ride, and no other
passengers. "The Electra flew back to Melbourne empty
except for these two cops," said Blackmore, "and they
couldn't work it all out. They'd never seen such a
well-behaved bunch of guys. Sure they were typical
rock'n'roll people, a yell and a shout, but that was
about it." 

At Mascot airport the beleaguered musicians walked off
and on to a coach loaded with Customs and Immigration
men who processed the group on the way to the
international tarmac and a New Zealand flight. Within
three minutes of them stepping on board, the door
slammed shut and their bizarre Australian odyssey was

* * * 

POSTCARD, the opening track on the Who's 1974 Odds &
Sods album, penned by bassist John Entwistle,
mentioned "people who hurt us in Germany" and included
the verse "There's kangaroos and we're bad news in
Australia/Thrown off the plane for drinking beer/So
long on the plane it drove us insane, so long on the

The Who play Wednesday and Thursday at the Sydney
Entertainment Centre, Saturday at Melbourne Vodafone

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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