Remembering John and Yoko's 1969 bed-in

Imagine you're 23 years old, the low man on the newsroom totem pole, and they are about to send the police reporter, the oldest guy in the room, to cover John Lennon and his new wife at a bed-in in downtown Montreal.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono invented the bed-in in Amsterdam in 1969, then brought it to Montreal

John Lennon (centre left) and Yoko Ono are flanked by journalists in Room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. They settled into the corner suite rooms 1738,1740 and 1742 at midnight on May 26, 1969, and over the following seven days spoke and sang about peace with visiting guests. (Jacques Bourdon/Le Journal de Montreal/Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)

[Fred Langan is a freelance writer, columnist, author, and a former CBC News television and radio reporter. He also hosted CBC News Business for more than a decade.]

Imagine you're 23 years old, the low man on the newsroom totem pole, and they are about to send the police reporter, the oldest guy in the room, to cover John Lennon and his new wife at a bed-in in downtown Montreal.

I begged, I yelled, I pouted. Finally they sent me in his place.

It was a Monday, the morning of May 26, 1969. I had been working at the CBC for a little more than a year. From time to time they would let me out to do a story, but most of the time I was stuck in the office handling feeds and video clips.

The bed-in was one of those exciting moments in life, getting to meet a live Beatle. Lennon was super cool and, like everyone in my generation, I knew every Beatle song by heart — even knew which ones he had written.

Lennon and Yoko Ono were hot news. No one had ever heard of a bed-in before the two of them invented it in Amsterdam in March of that year. I couldn't wait to get to it.

I went to the CBC garage and got in a car with Eddy O'Neill, a veteran CBC cameraman who learned his trade in the Royal Canadian Navy during the war and had just come back from two tours of duty in Vietnam as the CBC News cameraman. Vietnam was part of the issue at the heart of the bed-in, and I suppose O'Neill was the only one in the room who had seen the war up close.

Lennon in his old-fashioned pajamas

We got up to the room, and there they were. I was too young to know that it is bad form for a reporter to gush in the presence of celebrities. That cynical veneer was a few years away.

Wow, it was Lennon. There he was in bed, long hair and beard, complete with rather old-fashioned pajamas. Not at all what I expected. Beside him, Ono and her daughter.

Rookie reporter Fred Langan, wearing thick glasses, gets up close to John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the 1969 bed-in for peace in Montreal. (Pierre Gravel)
The room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel was a media zoo. I don't know how many people were there, but it felt like hundreds. O'Neill took control and shoved me to the front, his big Auricon 16-millimetre film camera hanging off his shoulder.

He told me not to let anyone put their microphone in his shot. When they did, I rapped them on the knuckles with my microphone. We all jostled for position, and as you can see from the photograph, we were practically in bed with them.

It was noisy in the room, but I heard someone behind me yelling, "Hey, Fred!" As I turned around, a friend of mine, Pierre Gravel, took my picture. It's the one you see here. That funny-looking kid in the glasses is me.

Free love? Not so much

We kept peppering them with questions. Everyone goes on about how the bed-in was about Vietnam, but I remember Lennon being concerned about a long-forgotten civil war in Nigeria that everyone just called Biafra.

"What do you think of the war in Biafra?" was the type of question I asked him. Lennon would answer with such pronouncements as, "We should all love each other."

John Lennon (right) and Yoko Ono ended their bed-in in Montreal with a spontaneous recording of the song Give Peace a Chance. (Ivor Sharp/Collection of Yoko Ono Lennon, New York/Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
I remember he seemed quite angry, as if we were intruding into his personal life — which we were, though at his invitation.

At one point Ono's nightdress opened a bit, and Lennon leaned over and did up a button, glaring at the male reporters (we were almost all male in those days).

I remember that shocked me, since he'd just done a nude album cover and I thought he was into free love and the like. I should have recognized the North Country puritanism. Two of my grandparents were from Newcastle; his were from Liverpool. Not much difference.

That night we ran clips of Lennon and Ono on our newscast. The current affairs part of the program, called Seven on Six (because it came on Channel 6 at seven o'clock — cute, eh?), ran a long piece making fun of all the mindless questions and the throngs of camera crews.

The whole event lasted only an hour or two, but I still have the picture on my wall.