Give Peace a Chance – John & Yoko’s Bed-in for Peace: A Review

Some Background

Following John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s marriage in March 1969, the couple embarked on a campaign for peace from their hotel beds, beginning in Amsterdam and moving on to Montreal. In addition to the bed-ins, the campaign involved sending acorns during April to world leaders to symbolise peace, hoping that they would plant them. In the spring of 2009, Yoko again sent acorns to world leaders in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the acorns sent in 1969. In that same spirit, Joan Athey sent copies of this book to world leaders, including Prince Charles and President Obama.

Who would like to plant an acorn for peace this spring?

My Review:

Why are people so fascinated with the life of John Lennon? Hardly a year goes by without a new book talking about what he thought or ate or did.  But one important aspect of his passions had been sadly neglected on bookshelves until the publication of Give Peace A Chance – John and Yoko’s Bed-in for Peace 1969 (Wiley, 2009, 120 pages). This is a collection of 80 photographs, most never seen before, taken by Life magazine photographer Gerry Deiter, the only photojournalist to be present for the entire Montreal bed-in that culminated in the recording of the now-famous anthem for peace. The photos never ran in Life, being bumped for more stories about the Vietnam War.  Deiter hid them away as a precious memento of a magical time until persuaded by his friend Joan Athey to bring them out, to once again inspire the world.

It’s like sitting on the edge of the bed in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The black and white and colour photographs chronicle the eight days, recording every emotion in the room. John and Yoko are focused and in control, regardless of what is going on around them, like a King and Queen directing proceedings from their throne – a double bed.

The marvellous contribution this book brings is the many images that are fresh and unfamiliar. We’ve all seen the shots of the recording of the Give Peace a Chance anthem and the constant media frenzy. What we hadn’t seen until this book are the quiet moments, the frozen moments of tenderness between John and Yoko, when there is a break in the madness and they look into each other’s eyes. Deiter said he tried to capture the love between them and he succeeded. As we turn the pages, we see joy, a flash of anger, calm, humour, boredom, determination, frustration, fatigue; it was a long eight days.  Short essays by key people at the bed-in complete the story.

Deiter’s lens captured celebrities such as Murray the K, Timothy Leary and Tommy Smothers, assorted journalists, TV and radio crews, friends and fans who had begged their way in. There were also encounters with those who opposed them. Some people didn’t appreciate that John and Yoko casino online were using humour to deliver a message.  It was an event set up for the media but the photographs show the humanity of the situation. There are intimate images of John and Yoko with Yoko’s daughter, Kyoko. One of the last photographs shows two members of the hotel staff, cleaning the room and transforming it back to its normal state.

For the author of this book, it has been a labour of love. After they met and became friends, Deiter and Joan Athey talked about producing a book of the photographs. Selecting from over 500 images would be quite a task. Deiter suddenly died in 2005 and never saw the finished project, which gives the book an added poignancy. Athey’s dual mission has been to honour her friend’s memory and to spread the message of peace.

The book is more than an interesting collection of photographs; it is an historic document, a slice of social history about an event that inspired Vietnam War protests across the world. In addition to Deiter’s visual eyewitness account, there are written recollections from key people in the music industry who were there and from Gerry Deiter himself.  The final word in the book, however, goes to Yoko Ono. The impressive thing about her thoughts on the bed-in of so many years ago is her optimism. Despite everything she has been through, she is still hopeful for the future. She has not given up the dream. In a world still fighting wars, the message is just as relevant today.


All photographs by Gerry Deiter, copyright


AUTHOR: Joan Athey

EDITED: Paul McGrath