In June 1964, Beatlemania was at fever pitch as the band prepared for its first tour to Denmark, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. But on June 3, the day before the Beatles were to leave, Ringo Starr collapsed at a photo shoot and was hospitalized with tonsillitis. With hotels and concert halls booked and thousands of tickets sold, manager Brian Epstein understood that cancelling the tour would have been a financial disaster.
A scramble began to find a replacement for Starr. Epstein had to convince the other three Beatles to accept a substitute drummer. And where would he find a musician competent enough to back the biggest group in the world – and fit into Starr’s stage clothes? John Lennon and Paul McCartney accepted that hiring a replacement was necessary but George Harrison balked at the idea.
“They nearly didn’t do the Australia tour,” producer George Martin said in Anthology. “George is a very loyal person, and he said, ‘If Ringo’s not part of the group, it’s not the Beatles. I don’t see why we should do it, and I’m not going to.’ It took all of Brian’s and my persuasion to tell George that if he didn’t do it he was letting everybody down.”
Enter Jimmie Nicol, a 24-year-old London drummer whose studio work had impressed Epstein. McCartney also knew Nicol; the Beatle had recently caught a performance by Nicol with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. He had also played on three late-’50s singles by Colin Hicks and the Cabin Boys.
After a six-song audition, Nicol was hired, given a Beatle haircut and told to pack for the flight to Denmark the next day. In the hospital, Starr recalled that he’d replaced Pete Best as the Beatles’ drummer two years earlier. “It was very strange, them going off without me,” Starr said in Anthology. “They’d taken Jimmie Nicol and I thought they didn’t love me any more – all that stuff went through my head.”
Nicol became a Beatle for 13 days, participating in press conferences and enjoying the adulation of fans. Nicol played eight concerts and taped a TV show as the Beatles’ drummer. “The day before I was a Beatle, not one girl would even look me over,” Nicol recalled. “The day after, when I was suited up and riding in the back of a limo with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they were dying just to get a touch of me.”