After its Boxing Day premiere in December 1967, Ringo Starr apparently rang up the BBC complaining that the poor ratings were due to their showing "this colorful film" in black-and-white on BBC1. The BBC responded by transmitting it again, this time in color, a few days later on BBC2. It still bombed.
"Mystery tours" were popular in England as low-budget weekend getaways, riding overnight in a bus to a surprise location. Most of "Magical Mystery Tour" was filmed in a rented coach, filled with friends and acquaintances, Beatles office staff, a camera crew, and a handful of experienced actors, rambling around the English countryside one holiday weekend. Everyone was encouraged to invent their own characters, and let whatever was going to happen do so, and the results would have to be magical. Unfortunately this proved not to be the case, with most of the passengers "acting" like anybody would while traveling, mostly humdrum scenery passing by, and no "magical" destination actually planned out. John Lennon and George Harrison weren't interested in playing parts, and spent most of the trip sleeping or avoiding the cameras, while the hand-lettered MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR bus attracted curious onlookers, who began following them in droves. (Suggestions that the chaos mounting outside the bus be filmed, instead of the mundane dialogs going on inside, were not met warmly.) Lennon ultimately ordered the bus be stopped, then got out and personally tore the lettering off the sides, to end the spectacle. (He derided the whole program later as "The most expensive home movie ever made.")
Paul McCartney took some friends and a camera to the south of France to film the "Fool on the Hill" sequence which was (as he later conceded) against union rules. According to Beatles assistant Peter Brown, McCartney didn't even bring his passport, claiming a courier had it and was meeting them later.
While the film bombed both times it appeared on British television, and was never broadcast by the US networks (ABC cancelled plans to show it during Easter weekend 1968 once the reviews were in), it did become a modest success on the American midnight and college movie circuits in the 1970s. As with the film of their 1965 Shea Stadium NYC concert, this film has been shown sporadically on US independent and public TV stations.
The soundtrack recordings were issued in England as a double EP with accompanying booklet. Capitol Records in the US added stereo (and mock-stereo) versions of recent Beatles singles, and issued an LP with an enlarged copy of the booklet. The LP actually sold better as an import in England than the EP, and a British version was issued in 1976.
Monkee Davy Jones watched the premiere with his family, during a visit home to the UK during the Christmas holidays. While his family found the movie strange and confusing, Jones enjoyed its surreal qualities.
The show appeared on the Disney Channel in the US during the 1990s, with the strip club scene (featuring the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band performing "Death Cab For Cutie" behind dancer Jan Carson) edited out.