If you thought Decca records turning down the Beatles was a dumb move, at least it wasn’t on the grounds the Fab Four were “long-haired shnooks”. These were the words used by the producers of the James Bond franchise, as they rejected A Hard Day’s Night, the first film starring the legendary band.
Instead of making the Beatles smash hit, Harry Saltzman persuaded his co-producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli to make what turned out to be a disastrous flop starring comic Bob Hope.
The gaffe is revealed by 007 fans Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury in their definitive guide to the Bond films, Some Kind of Hero.
Iconic duo Broccoli and Saltzman were flushed with success at Sean Connery’s first outing as 007 in 1962’s Dr No, also starring Ursula Andress.
United Artists had contracted the pair’s company Eon to make Dr No and a second film, which was to be a non-Bond project. One suggestion was a script co-authored by Johanna Harwood, who had also worked on Dr No.
Entitled Call Me Bwana, it was a farce about a space capsule packed with Cold War secrets crash-landing in a fictional African nation.
Hope accepted the role as a bumbling explorer in the race to retrieve the capsule before his Soviet rival, played by Anita Ekberg.
But before shooting began, United Artists asked Broccoli if he wanted to make A Hard Day’s Night instead. Broccoli’s pal, Daily Mirror showbiz legend Donald Zec, was also in favour after seeing the Beatles playing to sell-out crowds.
Matthew explained: “Broccoli raised it with Saltzman who said ‘Let me ask you something, Cubby. Would you rather make a film with four long-haired schnooks from Liverpool who nobody’s heard of, when we’ve got Bob Hope all ready to go?’
“And that was the rationale for the Bond producers missing the first Beatles film.”
Call Me Bwana was beset with problems – not least the recent Mau Mau rebellion which hampered filming in Kenya.
United Artists was determined to make the Beatles film, having spotted a loophole in the band’s contract with Parlophone that would also allow UA to release the soundtrack album.
UA made A Hard Day’s Night with Walter Shenson, which was vastly more successful than Call Me Bwana. Eon would not make another non-Bond film until 2014’s The Silent Storm.
In 1962 The Beatles were turned down by Decca in favour of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.