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 The Beatles
  • This programme is available for seven days after broadcast in the Radio Player

The Beatles

On 4th March, 1966 the Evening Standard published an interview between Maureen Cleave and John Lennon entitled How Does A Beatle Live? In the course of a description of The Beatles and their everyday life in Weybridge, Cleave quoted Lennon as saying:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity."

The interview caused little controversy on publication in England, where it was regarded as just another example of the waning relevance of the church for the younger generation. But when it was reprinted in an American magazine four months later on the eve of a Beatles tour of the USA, it caused an outrage. KLUE radio in Longview, Texas staged a public burning of Beatle records. Station WAQY in Birmingham Alabama encouraged its listeners to destroy Beatles discs. In all, twenty two radio stations banned the group's music from the airwaves and the Klu Klux Klan arranged anti-Beatles demonstrations. The Vatican denounced Lennon and Beatles albums were banned in South Africa.

Although Lennon expressed regret for any offence caused by his remarks at an uneasy press conference in Chicago, he wouldn't withdraw them. The traditionally asinine encounter between press and pop star had been replaced by a crackling confrontation. No-one knew what Elvis thought about anything but Lennon was now cast in the role of spokesman for a generation. A new type of journalism would soon emerge that reflected this change: when Rolling Stone first appeared the following year, its cover star was John Lennon. But the Beatles' American tour of 1966 took place against a background of death threats and real fear. They played their last ever concert on 29th August at San Francisco 's Candlestick Park.

    John Lennon

    This programme tells the story of this extraordinary event and its aftermath. It's a story of fame, the mass media, pop music and religion, of two cultures clashing. Of how an interview with a pop star could ignite a debate about the place of religion in an increasingly secular society. Illustrated with contemporary sound archive, listeners will hear from those who were in the Beatles' inner circle at the time and from those who protested against them. 
    What is the legacy of this media firestorm forty years on? As the 1960s are increasingly being blamed for many contemporary evils, was this a key moment in the perceived decline, when more passion was apparently generated by pop music than by mainstream religion? And did John Lennon create the modern rock star, expected to have opinions on much more than mere music?

    Contributors to the programme include Maureen Cleave who conducted the original interview with Lennon, the Alabama DJs who burned Beatle records in protest at Lennon's comments, Cynthia Lennon who helped Lennon sort the sacks of mail that arrived at their Weybridge home into piles of 'for' and 'against' messages, Beatles press officers Tony Bramwell and Tony Barrow who dealt with the media frenzy, Barry Tashian whose group The Remains were the support act on The Beatles subsequent stormy tour of North America, Lennon biographer Ray Connolly and legendary rock 'n' roll PR (and former Lennon publicist) BP Fallon.

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