The Fabs on Telly<BR>

The Fabs on Telly

Summary: British TV shows
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Remember how this started? I was just musing whether the British pop show, "Ready, Steady, Go!" (hereafter "RSG!"), was the same thing as the TV special "Around the Beatles"---Dave Clark, pop entrepreneur extraordinaire (now that he's tired of being a pop star :-), has marketed them that way.

But looking for facts led me so far afield that I decided it might be fun to look at what local American sources can answer. Please, please... anyone from over the water with better information, do correct me by all means. Andy Clews has already sent me some helpful information on the British TV independents; many thanks for that.

Steve Carter says of "Around the Beatles", the 1964 British TV special:

>It was most certainly NOT a RSG! special. RSG was london based, and
>Redifusion was Manchester based.

Steve is right, of course, in pointing out that "RSG!" did not produce the May 1964 special "Around the Beatles." The confusion arises because both were broadcast by Associated Rediffusion TV. But Associated Rediffusion put out lots of music shows and specials in the early sixties in Britain, such as "Tuesday Rendezvous", on which the Beatles also appeared. Associated Rediffusion appears to be one of several independent production and broadcast services in the UK, such as Granada, ITV, ABC-TV (surely not associated with the American ABC?), STV (Scottish TV)...from what I can tell, they may have been a part of the IBA Network, an association on independent broadcasters in the UK not connected to the BBC-TV system. Associated Rediffusion also appears to have had studios in London, from which "RSG!" (Kingsway Studios) and "Around the Beatles" (IBC Studios, London, and Wembley) originated.

AR-TV may have also had studios in Birmingham, as Harold Somers remembers. The Midlands and North were popular locales for such television services; when the Beatles appeared on "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (British ABC-TV) and the Granada specials, they seem to have taped from Birmingham or Manchester on several occasions.

Harold Somers says:

>My memory is that Rediffusion (sp?) was the Birmingham franchise of ITV -
>later renamed Central. The Manchester-based company was - and still is -
>Granada. Among their many claims to fame was of course being the first TV
>company to put the Beatles on the telly (in "Scene at 6.30" if I'm not
>mistaken).

The Beatles' early television exposure offers a complex history, and it bears looking into, as best we can do it.

There were several TV venues for pop stars in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s, but several of them were out of the Fabs' reach almost from the beginning. Producer Jack Good developed 6.5 Special in 1957 to capitalize on the British skiffle fad; it was remarkable for its time because it had teenagers *dancing* in studio (American TV shows had already introduced this technique), and offered a stage for amateur skiffle contests for participants all over the UK; when skiffle faded, it was home to English "ballad" singers like Terry Dene, Russ Hamilton and Laurie London. The BBC revamped 6.5 Special in the early 1960s and it instantly lost its appeal. But Jack Good had since introduced a rival show, Oh Boy, which took the lead; newer popular groups such as Cliff Richard and the Drifters (as they were called, before becoming The Shadows), Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, and other performers from the so-called Larry Parnes' "Stable of Stars" (Parnes was the paradigmatic pop manager) filled the show every week...even Tony Sheridan had a chance at fame on Oh Boy.

The Beatles may well have watched these shows from home, presuming they had telly at home; but as a young, upcoming band with little or no management (Larry Parnes auditioned them in 1960 to play backup to his "star" Johnny Gentle, but was not impressed with the Silver Beatles otherwise), Oh Boy was not a reasonable goal for them. The show preferred the solo singer with backup musicians, rather than groups; it favored the London-based singer rather than some unknowns from the North; and you basically had to have a released single to get your foot in the door. The Beatles really needed a proper manager to start getting any attention from television at all.

Brian Epstein may have had his faults, but we might note that the Beatles started getting significant media coverage---more than just frequent in-jokes in Liverpool's Merseybeat newspaper---once he took over the reins. Their Decca audition was a bust; Decca liked Brian Poole and the Tremeloes better, of all the audacity. But in March 1962 the Beatles made their first appearance on BBC-Radio ("Teenager's Turn"), and at the end of the month appeared at their second-ever (and first successful) concert engagement in the South. A successful audition for EMI came in June 1962; recording of their first EMI single commenced in September, and "Love Me Do" started climbing the charts---albeit only to Number 17---shortly thereafter.

It must have been a great thrill for the Boys to get their firstever television appearance in time to promote "Love Me Do." Their actual TV debut was a live performance for Granada TV's "People and Places" programme, from its studios in Manchester, on 17 October 1962; they sang "Love Me Do" and "Ooh! My Soul".

Having found success with the BBC-Radio broadcasts, which were to continue in ever-increasing numbers during 1963, the Boys tried an audition for BBC-TV, at lunchtime on 23 Movember 1962. Sadly, they did not impress; the audition failed.

Their second live TV appearance was on 3 December 1962, from TWW Studios in Bristol (the South, for those of you without a map), on a show called Discs-A-GoGo. They sang "Love Me Do." At this point, it's worth noting, the Beatles had just wrapped up their newest EMI single, "Please Please Me". It was due for release in January 1963.

Another live TV appearance followed on 4 December; they sang "Love Me Do" from Associated Rediffusion's studios in Kingsway, London, on a show called Tuesday Rendezvous; and as their first single started to gain its limited momentum, Granada picked them up again for another "People and Places" live appearance on 17 December. The next day the Beatles took off for their last trip to Hamburg.

Imagine their frustration. They may have feared that interest would fall off in their absence, but upon returning to England, there were several TV dates already set for January. The first wasn't any great shakes: a children's show called Round-Up on Glasgow's STV, where the Fabs sang "Please Please Me" on 8 January 1963 (it was scheduled for release three days later)...well, children buy records, too. :-)

But the next one was important. George Martin had a music-publisher pal named Dick James who wanted to publish the Beatles' music catalog; Martin had impressed James with Lennon and McCartney's talent (just one listen to "Please Please Me" did it). But Brian wanted to know what James could do *for* the Beatles. James called the producer of (British) ABC-TV's popular Thank Your Lucky Stars, which showcased new talent from it's Birmingham studios, and played the Beatles' second single over the phone; the producer, no fool, offered the group a moment of glory on his show. Thus the Fabs got their first important exposure to teen audiences on 19 January, not only reaching Thank Your Lucky Stars viewers on ABC-TV, but also participating stations througout the IBA Network; that came close to national coverage. The show was taped on 13 January, just two days after "PPM" was released. A month later, the Fabs repeated their appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars, and sang "PPM" again, for the unfortunate few who had missed it the first time.

The Boys got very busy around early 1963. They were finishing their first album, recording new BBC and other radio appearances, had a burgeoning concert schedule to fit in, and were writing hits for themselves as well as Brian Epstein's growing "Stable of Stars." Nevertheless, there were several big TV appearances this year.

One was the Fabs' actual BBC-TV debut...finally, a spot on the official government broadcasting service! The Beeb-TV recorded the Boys for a programme called The 625 Show (it had nothing to do with Jack Good's defunct 6.5 Special) on 13 April 1963; it was transmitted on 16 April 1963. The next day, the 14th, the Beatles made another appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars, doing "From Me To You," their next single, recording at Teddington Studios, Middlesex; then afterward they went up to Richmond to a place known as the Crawdaddy Club to hear an R&B group called the Rolling Stones (well, the guys had to relax sometime.) On 16 April is the show Harold probably remembers, the Beatles' live appearance from Granada's Manchester studios on Scene At 6.30. But this was not their TV debut...they'd already become old masters at video performing.

There were more TV appearances in May and June. June was notable for John Lennon's first solo TV appearance, on the BBC's Juke Box Jury. It was a bit of a bother to arrange, because the Beatles were scheduled to appear at Abergavenny, Wales for a concert that evening. To tape the show and still make the concert, Epstein spent 100 pounds (so reports Mark Lewisohn) to fly John back from London to Wales by helicopter. But the TV exposure was worth it; one of the Beatles was finally being treated as a musical "expert," asked to give his opinions on new releases...and John did so with new records by Elvis Presley, Cleo Laine, The Tymes, and Miriam Makeba, among others.

More appearances of all sorts followed for the Fabs...TV, radio, concerts...this was the era when the print media was beginning to sense something afoot in the world of pop music. The Beatles, for their part, continued to create new hits ("She Loves You" would be released that summer; "With The Beatles" was in process.)

In August a new TV show was launched, called Ready, Steady Go! It was broadcast by Associated Rediffusion, from London's Kingsway Studios, on Friday nights at 6.30p. Keith Fordyce was the cool compere ( = master of ceremonies); Cathy McGowan the ditzy Mod hostess upon whom was based "that posh bird who gets everything wrong" from the film AHDN...and McGowan really did introduce people such as Manfred Mann (a group, remember) as some other guys entirely. It was a great venue for London R&B groups but also gave the Beatles ever-new exposure.

Their first appearance (one of several) on RSG! was 4 October 1963, the day before an abbreviated Scottish tour and just the week before another momentous TV event: their appearance on Val Parnell's Sunday Night At The London Palladium. It was broadcast live, across the nation, by ATV; it is estimated that 15 million viewers watched with rapt attention; it may have done for British TV what the Beatles' appearance on Ed Sullivan did for American TV. And the next morning, the London papers were all full of stories about some wild new phenomenon called "Beatlemania...."

Just to round out the story: the Beatles finally did meet up with veteran pop producer Jack Good, but the vehicle was only a little advanced from the days of his old 6.5 Special. "Around The Beatles" was a special put out by Associated Rediffusion, taped 19 April 1964 (music portion only---remember, the Fabs were miming their "live" performance) at IBC Studios, London; and the video was taped at Wembley Studios on 28 April. The entire show included other Merseyside acts, and an apparently reprehensible "Shakespearean" skit (Jack Good persuaded the Fabs to go along with this---a comedy portion was considered advantageous to break up the music :-) and was broadcast on 9 May 1964. The musical portions of this performance can be seen on the tape "The Beatles Live!", distributed by Dave Clark's company (exof the Dave Clark Five.)

The real question remains: what's left of these British TV appearances by the Beatles? There was a time when I never would have thought that the BBC radio material would ever surface in any condition other than tenuous; for a long time, chancey airchecks were all that we had. The proliferation of fine-quality BBC radio recordings (presently unlicensed for general distribution, but that may change, according to the Beeb last year) has cheered historians and Beatle fans mightily. Dare we hope that someone will pursue the potential British television archives in a like manner?

--

It'll be the usual rubbish but it won't cost much.

saki (reachable by email at dmaclaug@agsm.ucla.edu)

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