The Beatles sang ‘Now they know how many holes it takes to fill in Albert Hall” in their song “A Day in the Life”, a lyric that I have never paid close attention to until I heard two different sets of tourists ask it in one week.
In June 1967, the Beatles made a statement on their latest long-playing record:
“I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.”
But what does it all mean?
On January 17th, 1967 the Daily Mail stated, “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical then there are over two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300,000 in London.”
The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall in London and one of the most treasured and distinctive buildings. The hall is nearly elliptical in shape with a volume of 3,060,000 cubic feet and holds 5,222 seated patrons plus 500 standing.
Reddit users asked the question how many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall? One reader went so far as to do the maths that one might conclude that each of the 4,000 holes would have to be 765 cubic feet in volume. But, where does it say the holes are identical in volume. We could have a myriad of hole sizes, some 23 cubic feet, some 1,457 cubic feet etc. Let’s also assume that John and Paul were referring to an average volume, which would be the 765 cubic feet. Yet we also know that “the holes were rather small”. 765 cubic feet is hardly small.
What about seating? Roughly 1.3 holes per seat would do the trick. You would only need one eighth of a hole for each person standing. But, how many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall? Just because there were 4,000 holes in Lancashire does not mean that they were all necessary to fill the hall. So, what does the song actually reference?
A correspondence between the hall and the Beatles, discovered deep under the Royal Albert Hall, shows that the hall objected to being referenced in their song “in the strongest conceivable terms”.
In a letter to Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, the Hall’s then chief executive, Mr Ernest O’Follipar, told the band that the “wrong headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy its business overnight.
O’Follipar lists the “gross inaccuracies” and “contentious matters” in the lyrics as:
1. That there are four thousand holes in the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Science
2. That the Royal Albert Hall is in Blackburn, Lancashire
3. That the singer would love to ‘turn on’ the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences
O’Follipar even went as far as to suggest his own alternative lyrics to the song, which John Lennon replied to in a rather cheeky fashion.
“Dear Prince Albert and friends,
Thank you for your letter, we’re glad you enjoyed the record – feel free to keep it. And we won’t be saying sorry, because it takes too long to get to Blackburn from our studio at Abbey Road.”
Epstein’s letter carries on asking the same question, what do they mean by the holes in the Hall? And if they reference the doors and go around counting all the doors in the office than there are only thirty-two holes.
The overall take away is that no one exactly knows what the lyrics mean when they reference the holes in the Albert Hall, maybe they have meaning, maybe Lennon and others thought it sounded good, and the lyrics have no particular meaning. But next time a tourist asks how many holes are in the Albert Hall, we can give them no definitive answer but a bunch of theories of what it could mean.