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Music

55 years on from The Beatles' 'One World' performance

Aubrey Singer had an idea: the BBC producer had noticed that the power of the European Broadcasting Union had stretched across six continents. Most of the world was connected and could watch the same programme if they wanted to. With that kind of reach, why not show a programme that was designed to unite the world?

Thus, Our World was born. The concept was simple – nineteen countries were invited to appear in segments that showed off their unique contributions to culture. Tokyo had a story on their subway systems and Canada showed off their cattle ranches, but the United Kingdom had an ace up their sleeve – they had The Beatles.

“We were big enough to command an audience of that size, and it was for love,” Ringo Starr expressed in Anthology. “It was for love and bloody peace. It was a fabulous time. I even get excited now when I realise that’s what it was for: peace and love, people putting flowers in guns.”

The BBC had asked the band to contribute a song, one that used relatively simple words so that even non-English speakers could understand the message. Initially, the group dragged their feet in terms of writing a song, but shortly before the broadcast, John Lennon came up with a new track called ‘All You Need Is Love’.

“The time got nearer and nearer and they still hadn’t written anything,” Brian Epstein said in Anthology. “Then, about three weeks before the programme, they sat down to write. The record was completed in ten days. This is an inspired song, because they wrote it for a worldwide programme and they really wanted to give the world a message. It could hardly have been a better message. It is a wonderful, beautiful, spine-chilling record.”

The idea that Lennon wrote ‘All You Need Is Love’ specifically for the Our World broadcast isn’t universally agreed upon. “It was certainly tailored to [the broadcast] once we had it. But I’ve got a feeling it was just one of John’s songs that was coming anyway,” McCartney explained in Anthology. Whether it was meant for the show or not, ‘All You Need Is Love’ was the perfect choice.

“I remember the recording, because we decided to get some people in who looked like the ‘love generation’,” George Harrison explained. “If you look closely at the floor, I know that Mick Jagger is there. But there’s also an Eric Clapton, I believe, in full psychedelic regalia and permed hair, sitting right there. It was good: the orchestra was there and it was played live. We rehearsed for a while, and then it was: ‘You’re on at twelve o’clock, lads.’ The man upstairs pointed his finger and that was that. We did it – one take.”

“We went around to EMI for the show. We’d done a lot of pre-recording, so we sang live to the backing track,” McCartney added. “We’d worked on it all with George Martin’s help, and it was a good day. We went in there early in the morning to rehearse with the cameras, and there was a bit of orchestra – for all that stuff with ‘Greensleeves’ playing on the way out of the song. The band was asked to invite people, so we had people like Mick and Eric, and all our friends and wifelets.”

Our World wound up being viewed by approximately 500 million people, give or take a few hundred million. That was enough to make it the largest television audience of all time. When The Beatles closed the programme with their performance, they closed the single biggest TV event up to that point. Less than two weeks later, ‘All You Need Is Love’ was released as a single, hitting number one in ten countries including the US and the UK.