"Even the Beatles had rejections!"
The Beatles And The BBC
By Spencer Leigh
The BBC Written Archive holds material dating from the BBC's establishment in 1922. Radio Merseyside’s Spencer Leigh takes a unique look at the correspondence between the Beatles and the BBC during the 60s.
There are few things more exciting than going to Caversham and opening the buff files marked “The Beatles”.
On 7 December 1963 it was intended that the Beatles would form the complete panel for Juke Box Jury and then give a half-hour concert programme in Liverpool called 'It’s The Beatles'. The intention was to use the Odeon Cinema in London Road, but fearing trouble from the Beatle fans, the cinema’s management backed out at the last minute and the venue was switched to the Liverpool Empire.
Because the BBC had booked the Liverpool Empire at the last minute, not much rehearsal time was available. The Juke Box Jury was regarded as a complete success but there are many complaints on the BBC’s files about the concert that followed:
10 Beatle fans from Wilmslow:
“What on earth was your cameraman doing? We expected to see the Beatles for half an hour and the programme consisted mainly of the audience’s reactions.”
Three Beatles fans from Durham:
“Whoever was in charge of the cameras wants hanging as he never showed John Lennon in close-up.”
Lennon and McCartney
Ken Walton from Bradford:
“Has one of the Beatles been sacked or do you just not like John Lennon?
Several fans in York signed a joint complaint and sent it to the director Barney Colehan:
“Dear Mr Colehan,
Commiserations for the most pathetic telecast it has been our misfortune to watch for many a year! We refer, of course, to It’s The Beatles shown last Saturday evening. Is it too much to ask that a great group like the Beatles be given decent equipment and by that we mean microphones, speakers and the like? The sound mixer was badly at fault, and Ringo’s mike appeared to be clapped out altogether. It would have served you right if the boys had walked off the stage and left you to your horrible sound system.
Furthermore, what imbecile did you have on the TV camera? Was he so afraid of John Lennon that he didn’t go near enough to give the lad a close-up? It certainly appeared so, because although John did at least 50 per cent of the singing, he was rewarded with one close-up and no more than three seconds at that."
Barney Colehan also wrote to Alistair Taylor at NEMS Enterprises:
“We had a tremendous number of problems on the programme, and due to a complete lack of rehearsal, it was not possible to present the polished show which I had hoped to achieve. My main concern is that the boys themselves should not be upset about this, and I was so impressed with them that I have been very worried in case they felt disheartened."
There were listeners who were ready to admit that the Beatles had something and that, although they were vastly over-rated and could not really sing, they were likeable, entertaining and ‘full of go’. “
Said one of the sample members:
“I found it quite happy and melodious with plenty of zip. I am quite a fan of the Beatles. To me, they are the new today, clean and wholesome and gay.”
There is another Audience Research Report, this time relating to the extended Bank Holiday edition of their radio series From Me To You on 30 March 1964. The BBC’s listening panel was hardly a gathering of fans:
“A considerable number of those reporting clearly regarded it as noisy, boring and a waste of time and several who listened out of curiosity failed to see any reason for the Beatles’ popularity.”
And how about this for an example of The Old Grey Whistle Test:
A security guard said that the Beatles were “vastly overrated; their performance was distincly amateur, and their entertainment value nil.”
Around the time of Help in March 1965, Donald Maclean, now the Chief Assistant, Production referred to the Beatles as “our biggest audience getters”. He was discussing possible radio programmes with the Beatles: “There is a possibilty of a Beatles planned and introduced programme with each Beatle having 30 minutes to himself. This will give fans an interesting insight into their personal tastes and will reduce the risk of inane dialogue.”
In March 1967, while the Beatles were making Sgt Pepper, the BBC approached them for a brief interview.
“Unfortunately even a short tape is impossible since the Beatles are heavily involved in their current series of LP recording sessions. Obviously they are not in the studio morning, noon and night, but I am sure you will appreciate that a great deal of prepartory work in the way of composing and rehearsing is undertaken prior to the actual sessions and during periods such as these, it just is not possible for make them available for interview.”
In 1967 the Beatles made the film Magical Mystery Tour for showing on the BBC.
Tom Sloan, the Head of Light Entertainment wrote to his managers:
“In the Beatles film so far uncompleted, they sing a number called I Am The Walrus. A disc has now been issued. The lyrics contain a very offensive passage and after talking to Anna Instone, we have both agreed not to play it on radio or television. Although not officially banned, it will not be heard on Top Of The Pops or Juke Box Jury. I should be grateful if you would ensure that any other possible outlets are similarly blocked off.”
Many thanks to the BBC Written Archives for being able to look in those buff files!
last updated: 20/05/2008 at 15:42