ON March 14, 1964, the South China Morning Post ran a headline on its front page. 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!' it said. 'The Beatles are coming.' That June, the mop-haired quartet from Liverpool touched down at Kai Tak Airport; and the rest is history. Beatlemania had hit Hong Kong. There they were, in the flesh: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison . . . and Jimmy Nicole. Nicole was the replacement for drummer Ringo Starr who was having his tonsils removed in Britain and was to join the group in Sydney, the Beatles' next stop on their world tour. Starr's absence did little to still the frenzy the Merseyside lads caused in the territory. On the night of their one-off concert on June 9 at the Princess Theatre, now the Miramar Hotel, two girls were almost trampled by a milling crowd of about 600 waiting to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four. A former Hong Kong policeman remembers the hysterical crowds the Beatles drew when they first arrived. 'There were a lot of girls at the airport,' he said. '[The Beatles] were not treated as VIPs by the police then but there were police escorts at the airport to keep the crowds under control.' Thirty-one years on, the Beatles, or what is left of them after Lennon was shot in 1980, are back on the local music scene with their latest single Free as a Bird and The Beatles Anthology 1 album released yesterday. Free as a Bird was written by Lennon in 1977 but never completed. Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, last year gave the tape to McCartney who finished and recorded the song with Harrison and Starr. Today, many Hong Kong fans still vividly remember the spell the Beatles cast over the territory. Veteran radio disc jockey 'Uncle' Ray Cordeiro, who had previously met The Beatles in London, did not attend their Hong Kong concert but interviewed the Liverpool lads at the President Hotel, today's Hyatt Regency, where they stayed for two nights. 'The first time [we met] I was very nervous and excited because then they were the top group in London,' he recalled. 'I have interviewed so many top entertainers in the world but you just don't know what to expect. But they were so down to earth, they were so full of charm and jokes.' And they were - as shown in a brief interview the group gave the local press soon after their arrival. Question: 'Why did you call yourselves The Beatles?' McCartney: 'We thought it was a good name - at the time.' Q: 'How do you get time to rehearse?' Harrison: 'We don't.' Q: 'Would [you] like to go to China?' McCartney: 'I thought this was China.' Lennon: 'I would have sworn . . .' Harrison: 'We got on the wrong plane.' Q: 'How often do you have a haircut?' Harrison: 'It all depends. Usually once in a blue moon.' Indeed, the locals were obsessed with their hair, or rather, the length of it. After all, the Chinese nickname for The Beatles was the 'Mophead Four'. Having long hair in the 1960s in the territory was regarded by some as being anti-social. As one Chinese woman in her 50s put it this week: 'I had a ticket to see The Beatles but I didn't go. They had long hair.' But legislator and a diehard Beatles fan Emily Lau Wai-hing, for one, thinks the haircuts were 'very nice'. Asked if she was one of the hysterical young women who screamed at the sight of The Beatles, she says: 'Probably . . . I just love the music and I think they looked great. My favourite was John Lennon, I think he was a very good singer.' While in Hong Kong, Lennon and Nicole also made a brief appearance at the Miss Hong Kong semi-finals at the President Hotel following their concert. Though it was not a sell-out show - the most expensive tickets cost $75 each at a time when the Post's cover price was 30 cents - the Hong Kong concert was a memorable event for those who attended. Musician and promoter Anders Nelsson, who was there, says many young fans probably queued up early in the morning before school to make sure of getting tickets. 'At the concert, everyone was freaking out,' Mr Nelsson said. 'It was total Beatlemania. It was probably more exciting than going to a pop concert today because at that time it was a new phenomenon. 'Beatlemania swept the world and everyone was aware of it, and it was just an exciting time.' The Beatles had, of course, taken their own country by storm by 1964. Presenter of RTHK's Hong Kong Today Kit Cumings, who was a young policeman in London in the early 1960s, remembers how he used to hold back the hysterical crowds from mobbing the group. 'I saw the fantastic Beatlemania because the whole country went berserk, not just the young people, everybody was obsessed with The Beatles,' he said. 'My practical experience of them was when they made an appearance in central London where I was working. We had to control the crowds; three hours before they were due to appear [at the BBC studio] there were already crowds forming. 'And they would get really hysterical. Of course, there would really be nothing much to see if The Beatles were mobbed, so the police used to hold the crowds back.' Indeed, how fans reacted to the group and its music was as phenomenal as the group itself. Mr Nelsson said that during their concert he could hardly hear a thing because of the screaming of fans. A guest critic wrote of the concert in the Post on June 10: 'Don't bother to go. Buy their records and listen to them in the comfort of your own living rooms. Their concert at the Princess Theatre last night was a pulsating pandemonium of rhythm and sound, which at times made it virtually impossible for the true listener in the audience to hear a thing. 'If the four boys had got on stage and simply mimed, it would not have made an iota of difference to their frenzied, vociferous fans who chanted, clapped their hands, threw jelly babies and other assorted missiles at their heroes.' The Beatles had heavily influenced the local music scene, as well as fashion. Cordeiro says most local Chinese were familiar with their tunes by the time The Beatles staged their show in Hong Kong. 'Their concert here wasn't very successful because the kids in Hong Kong then couldn't afford to buy their tickets while their parents didn't know who The Beatles were, so the promoters had to give away tickets to get the hole filled,' Cordeiro said. 'But I think they'd set the trend with both their music and hair style. The pop groups that sprang up in Hong Kong subsequently all had the same kind of longish hair just above the neckline. 'Sam Hui and the Lotus, the Kontinental, Teddy Robin and the Playboys, and Joe Junior. The Beatles definitely influenced the start of the pop scene in Hong Kong.' Mr Nelsson, who played in the Kontinental, says his group was influenced by the Liverpool sound. 'Local bands were playing a lot of the same type of music just by sheer co-incidence; the rock'n'roll sound from the United States, Roy Orbison and Elvis,' he said. 'And when The Beatles music was played on the radio, it was a natural thing to [play their music] because that was what the crowd demanded, so we ended up playing about half our own compositions and popular songs like that.'