PROFILE

Ivor copped an exclusive with The Beatles

BY SIMON YAFFE

IT'S a long way from the East End of London to the bright lights of Los Angeles.

But it is a journey journalist Ivor Davis made at the tender age of 21 - and he is still there more than 50 years later.

The hack, who had hoped to be a policeman, has spent that time as a writer for The Daily Express and The Times, covering major events in North America.

Ivor penned a weekly entertainment column for the New York Times Syndicate for more than 15 years, interviewing some of the biggest names in showbusiness, from Cary Grant to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton to Tom Cruise.

He was there in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

And Ivor was one of the 'Boys on the Bus', who chronicled the life of actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan, first in his campaign for governor of California, then for president.

But perhaps his most memorable assignment came in 1964, a year after he had decamped to California.

Ivor was tasked with getting to know four members of a new pop group from Liverpool - The Beatles.

He was the only British daily newspaper correspondent to cover the Fab Four's first American tour from start to finish.

And Ivor has chronicled his experiences with them in his new book The Beatles and Me On Tour (Cockney Kid Publishing, 19.99).

The 76-year-old told me: "I had never given much thought about my time with The Beatles until years later when people kept asking me about it.

"As a journalist, I covered so many stories - one day it would be The Beatles, the next Bobby Kennedy - but, thinking back, it really was quite a remarkable time."

Former Express editor Sir David English phoned Ivor, who was the newspaper's West Coast correspondent, and told him four Liverpool lads were arriving in San Francisco.

He recalled: "David told me to go there, travel with them, eat with them and drink with them.

"They had secured George Harrison for a weekly column, which I would write.

"I had seen the guys on The Ed Sullivan Show, but when I first met them they were a bit jet-lagged. Then they began to open up.

"John (Lennon) was always brilliant and witty, Paul (McCartney) was a big schmoozer, George was a bit sullen and shy, but warmed up when you got to know him and Ringo (Starr) was a nice guy, but not a great conversationalist."

The record-breaking tour came as something of a surprise for Ivor, as he had never previously been to a rock concert.

He explained: "There were crazy, hysterical scenes at every concert. The lads, though, didn't like the fact nobody could hear their music because of all the screaming.

"In the end, they didn't enjoy touring because people just came to see them and not hear them."

Ivor nearly ended up going to shul with The Beatles' Liverpool-born manager Brian Epstein while on the tour.

He recalled: "Brian was very shy and a little aloof. We were in New Orleans when Derek Taylor, his assistant, said Brian would like to talk to me in his suite.

"Brian knew I was Jewish and said to me, 'It is Yom Kippur tomorrow - I was born on Yom Kippur and would like to go to shul'.

"I called the local synagogue and asked if they could give us visitors' tickets, which they agreed to.

"The next morning, I went to his suite to go with him to shul, knocked on his door, but there was no reply.

"I asked him later what happened and he said he'd had some conference calls to make - but that was Brian."

In his new book, Ivor talks about the Jewish links on the tour.

When the band performed in Montreal, a caller to the hotel threatened to "kill the Jew Ringo" - even though the drummer was not Jewish.

Ivor said: "There ended up being sharpshooters in the concert hall and a couple of security guys stood near Ringo the whole time.

"He was a bit terrified during the concert and hung low over his drums."

Also, at a news conference, a reporter asked The Beatles if they thought Jews played too influential a role in showbusiness.

And Paul has an affinity for Jewish women.

His late wife Linda came from the Jewish Eastman family and his current wife, Nancy Shevell, is Jewish, too.

Ivor also said he encountered antisemitic behaviour from John Lennon.

He recalled: "I was sitting next to Jewish journalist Larry Kane on the plane and he got upset when he heard the word 'kike' coming from where The Beatles were sitting.

"I challenged Derek Taylor as to who it was, even though I knew it was John.

"He had a very black sense of humour - I remember being in a hotel suite with him while he performed Hitler salutes. It peed Brian off and he used to tell him off.

"I know it sounds as though John was antisemitic, but I don't think he was - he just satirised, rather wickedly, whatever he fancied."

Travelling with the Fab Four was a far cry from Ivor's early days in Hackney, Stepney and Whitechapel.

Born to a Polish father, who anglicised his surname from Davitsky, and an English mother, Ivor attended Hackney Downs Grammar School, whose alumni include playwright Harold Pinter.

Ivor's brother, Barry, is an expert in Jewish history, Yiddish language and literature.

Raised in an Orthodox home, Ivor was barmitzvah and had his heart set on becoming a police detective.

"I realised not too many Jewish boys joined the police and, besides, I was too short," he recalled.

A talented amateur footballer, the Tottenham Hotspur fan played for Walthamstow Avenue in the Isthmian League and represented Great Britain at the European Maccabi Games in Copenhagen in 1958.

Ivor landed a job on the weekly Stratford Express newspaper, covering the East End.

After completing his national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he decided to broaden his horizons and headed to America.

Ivor said: "I thought the New York Times would hire me on the spot, but obviously it didn't happen.

"Then I went to California and turned up at the Los Angeles Times, telling them they should hire me.

"I was told to fill out a form, which I did, but they never called me."

He eventually landed a job as a stringer for Reuters and was contacted by the Daily Express, which asked him to open a bureau on the West Coast.

While in LA, he met and married Belfast-born Sally Ogle, a Jewish journalist, and had two children, Rebecca and Gideon. Sally died 18 months ago.

The couple moved to Malibu, where they started their own satellite synagogue - which still exists today.

"I was raised in the Orthodox tradition, but I wanted a shul where I could sit with the women," Ivor laughed.

His beat in LA included interviewing Hollywood stars and directors.

Ivor explained: "The showbiz stuff sometimes felt kind of frivolous, but I ended up doing quite a lot of political stuff, so began to enjoy the variety."

One of his most daring assignments was in 1962 when he was smuggled into the University of Mississippi when James Meredith became the first African-American to enrol there - amid vehemently racist protests.

"I slept on a dormitory floor," Ivor added. "The atmosphere was tense and one freelance journalist was killed.

"Of course, in those days we did not have great communications and when the story ran in England, my parents did not know for 24 hours whether it was me who had been killed."

Another tough assignment for him came when presidential-hopeful Robert Kennedy, the younger brother of John F Kennedy, was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968 by Palestinian Christian Sirhan Sirhan, who claimed he did it because of American support of Israel during the previous year's Six-Day War.

Ivor explained: "I had been on the road with Bobby for two weeks. We were at the Ambassador Hotel and I heard what I thought were balloons popping, but then people started screaming.

"I ran into the kitchen where he had been shot and saw Bobby lying on the floor bleeding, with (wife) Ethel next to him. It was bedlam and is one of those images you never forget."

Ivor followed Kennedy's ambulance to the hospital and was told at 4am that he had died.

"I was numb and stunned, but I had a story to file as it was the afternoon in London," he recalled. "I am a journalist, so that is the way we operate."

The first time Ivor visited Israel was in 1965 when he represented America at football at the Maccabiah Games.

He also recalled going to visit the set of the 1970 Western Madron, which was filmed in the Jewish state.

"The Native Americans were played by Israelis and I met more than 50 people who claimed to have been Moshe Dayan's right-hand man," Ivor laughed.

Ivor regularly rises at 4am Los Angeles time to watch Premier League games.

He also covered World Cups for CBS Radio and is currently writing a book called 99 Jewish Movies - And 10 You Must Avoid.

The grandfather-of-four explained: "After the Second World War, it was left to the non-Jewish producer Darryl Zanuck to do a movie about Jews, which was Gentleman's Agreement.

"The Jewish moguls wouldn't touch it. They didn't want to draw attention, nor make a movie which was perceived as 'Jewish'."

 
© 2014 Jewish Telegraph

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