The day I saw John and Yoko’s 'bed-in' peace demonstration

Amsterdam, 1969, and Rick Wilson, a young magazine reporter, hears of unusual goings on at the Hilton…

It must have been lunchtime at the pub on one of my first days of my dream job: making an English-language magazine in the magical city of Amsterdam.

We were enjoying some refreshment when, swaying a little, my editor slurred: “There’s been a communication to the office about some happening at the Hilton. John Lennon’s holding court about something or other. Sounds a bit gimmicky to me and, frankly, I don’t really fancy going…”

“I’ll go,” I said, quick as a flash. To be honest, I didn’t understand then, and still don’t, what that now-legendary “bed-in” was all about. It was to do with spreading a message of peace, but there were also undertones of helping the world’s less fortunate, which didn’t gel with John and Yoko’s arrival in a white Rolls-Royce and their week-long stay in that citadel of American capitalism, the Hilton Hotel.

There were about 30 of us, reporters and cameramen, summoned up to room 702 which looked out on to the roofs of a less-colourful residential part of Amsterdam. Both dressed in pyjamas, John and Yoko were sitting on a big bed looking remarkably like each other.

Anyway, they were clearly sexed-up and after everyone had settled down to focus on the stars, questions were invited. But they didn’t exactly flow. This was because of a phenomenon I noticed later in my time in Amsterdam. The Dutch may be extremely good at languages, and particularly English, but they are a shy about showing the level of their proficiency to each other. So I ended up asking many of the questions in an attempt to find out what this was all about.

Why Amsterdam? “It could have been anywhere really,” said John. “But this is just one of those cities, you know. The youth thing and all that. And the beds here aren’t bad at all…”

Why not Saigon or Dallas if peace is the cause? “Because I’m dead scared of Saigon or Dallas. There’s less chance of getting shot or crucified here.”

Why the hair theme? “We intend to grow our hair even longer for the peace cause. Everybody should do it, all over the world – if only to bring about more awareness. But we’re doing it with a sense of humour, too, because we think the world needs to laugh more.”

“Yes, people should first take their pants down before they start fighting,” added Yoko.

But one of my harmless questions really seemed to give John a problem. “Where were you before coming here?” I asked.

“Montrose,” he said. As I hail from the little seaside town of Montrose in Scotland, I burst out laughing. It seemed absurd that such an icon had been recently wandering about my old haunts. He looked hurt, and turned to Yoko to ask: “What did I say wrong?”

She squeezed John’s arm sympathetically and said: “You mean Montreux.”

Rick Wilson

The GuardianTramp

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