In Britain the day after Christmas is known as “Boxing Day,” but there are no Festivus-style Feats of Strength. The OED once defined this as “a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” But in modern usage it mainly means a day of indulgence, where people shop and eat and lay around, almost like they were Americans.

So on Boxing Day 1967 the United Kingdom gorged itself on Toad in the Hole and Spotted Dick and Bubble and Squeak and settled down in front of the telly to watch Magical Mystery Tour. Even with an audience in this highly receptive state, the negative reaction was swift and brutal. According to the Daily Mail,

Protests from viewers about The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour flooded the switchboard at the BBC Television Centre last night. Mystified viewers also phoned the Daily Mail. The TV critic Peter Black gave his verdict as “Appalling!” BBC TV chiefs will almost certainly hold an inquest on the show at their next programme review meeting next Wednesday. But, BBC executives emphasised last night as criticism poured in: “The Beatles made the film – Not the BBC!” One caller to the Daily Mail said: “It was terrible! It was worse than terrible. I watched it in a room together with twenty-five other people, and we were all stunned!”

All over the country, children were crying and adults were shaking their heads. Some members of the older generation were heard to mutter “I told you so,” taking a Schadenfreudean satisfaction in the first major failure of the golden young gods. So what went wrong?

Well, the movie was not good, for one thing. Watching it recently with what I considered to be an open mind and rock-bottom expectations, I still found it hard to sit through. Occasional attempts at revisionism aside, Magical Mystery Tour is a long 55 minutes indeed.

It certainly didn’t help that the broadcast, on BBC1, was in black and white. What little appeal MMT has going for it is mostly visual, and without the psychedelic colors it didn’t look like much. I’m also guessing that the sound quality on people’s TVs in 1960s Britain was poor, ruining the music as well.

And of course, there’s nothing critics love as much as an opportunity to rip apart vulnerable prey. TV critic James Green fired off this missive:

Take your pick from the words, “Rubbish, piffle, chaotic, flop, tasteless, non-sense, emptiness and appalling!” I watched it. There was precious little magic and the only mystery was how the BBC came to buy it.

As the Rutles would one day put it: Ouch!

After today Magical Mystery Tour would be sealed in a vault and little-seen for many years. It was shown twice in New York in 1968, then ran briefly in U.S. theaters in 1974. In 1975 Monty Python apparently considered using it as a sort of opening act for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then thought better of the idea. I think they made the right decision.

Today you can get MMT, as I did, on ultra-hi-def Blu-ray with a 5.1 surround sound mix. This is of course overkill, the proverbial lipstick on a pig. Which sounds like something you might eat on Boxing Day.

See how I did that? Slam dunk! Good night, everybody.

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