The Beatles were perhaps the first successful group to have much of their rise to stardom accompanied – and assisted – by television.
Sure, music had been on TV ever since its’ beginning, and when rock’n’roll arrived in the mid-1950s British and US TV started somewhat begrudgingly featuring the popular performers. There were a handful of shows towards the end of the decade that featured the ‘new’ music, alongside jazz, MOR and swing with programming aimed at the younger generation; shows such as ‘Oh Boy!’, ‘the 6.5 Special’ and, in the US, ‘American Bandstand’. Both of the UK shows ended their runs in 1959.
However, during the 1960s, television aided and abetted the Fabs rise to fame. In the US, the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on 09/02/1964 was watched by an estimated 73 million people – well over a third of the American population – and gave US Beatlemania a massive turbo-boost. In the UK, the amount of rock and pop on TV had during the time of the Beatles rise to fame; there were three new pop shows. Two were made by ITV companies; ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ (ABC), ‘Ready Steady Go!’ (Rediffusion) and the BBC first transmitted a fledgling pop programme called ‘Top of the Pops’ on New Years Day 1964. The Beatles appeared on all three shows on a number of occasions and during the decade the lads featured on hundreds of shows, solo or together. Quite often, the Beatles would be performing, but there were also many programmes that featured an interview or a clip of one or more of the four of them. Of course, there’s also the Beatles’ films….the Beatles at Shea Stadium and Magical Mystery Tour were both TV programmes, rather than cinematic productions. Plus, of course, Apple Films (and the abortive Apple Television) were set up in 1968; the former company being responsible for a number of productions that made it to the big screen.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t stop there. During the 70s and beyond, after the break-up, the solo Beatles embraced the world of celluloid and video tape much more than some fans will realise. There was a time for around three years when John-and-Yoko were documenting a great deal of their lives on film, 1969-1971; they made independent films and often did wonderfully eccentric interviews on chat shows. Workaholic Macca was very busy during most of the 70s recording and touring with Wings and he and the band made many a TV appearance promoting their albums or concerts.
George may have had the reputation of being the ‘quiet Beatle’, but he would occasionally appear on TV, quite often publicising an album or single, but he also set up his own film company, Handmade Films, which was successful from its’ inception in the late 70s and regularly made films until the 1990s. Ringo, of course was the Beatle who was bitten by the acting bug, and made a number of features, and he would often do PR for these, and/or his new releases by appearing on TV being interviewed.
Of course, we mustn’t forget the rise of the ‘promo film’, or the ‘video’ as most 21st Century commentators would call it. While the Beatles, together or solo, never made official promo films for every single during their careers, there were still many made.
So, all told, there was an awful lot of Beatles history captured on video tape, 16mm or 35mm.
But does it all exist? The answer, sadly is no.
Not every Beatle performance in the early 60s was recorded by the TV companies; even if it was the programmes were often erased or junked. This happened for a number of reasons, but was normally down to expense or storage – a TV company’s video tape could be re-recorded on and as pop music was seen by the older generation in charge of our TV channels as a passing fad, these shows were often doomed to the refuse bin of history. The practice of erasing or binning TV programmes is known as ‘wiping’.
The last twenty years has been great for Beatles fans with releases such as Anthology, Get Back, the four solo video compilations, Eight Days a Week and It Was Fifty Years Ago Today amongst others, not everything exists, or has seen the light of day. Some early Beatles’ TV appearances are likely to have gone forever….but still things turn up….
I’m one of a number of people who has tried to track down lost rock and pop TV material – it’s almost been a hobby for me. I’m not in the music or TV industry, and I’ve no special qualifications or experience. Yet, in spite of this, I’ve had some small successes, mostly turning up stuff that isn’t Beatles related, such as being involved in the discovery of 221 ‘lost’ Top of the Pops performances. As an example, the 1966 ‘A Boy Called Donovan’ Rediffusion documentary was one I located personally – this was something I located on a Russian streaming site, which I got a friend to re-dub as it was approximately three seconds out of sync throughout!
That said, we’re hear to focus on John, Paul, George and Ringo, so let’s get back to the small successes I’ve had and give you some information as to what else I think is out there….
The Beatles 16/06/1966 only ‘in-studio’ appearance on Top of the Pops is meant to be the ‘holy grail’ of lost Beatles TV, narrowly beating the Fabs’ Juke Box Jury takeover on 07/12/1963. Neither of these were kept by the BBC. An 8mm partial off-screen recording of part of the former was located by Kaleidoscope – an organisation who locate and preserve lost TV in 2019 and who I work with (although I was not involved in this discovery at all). The audio of JBJ exists – and is very common amongst hardcore collectors, but the visuals haven’t turned up. What did turn up a few years ago was a partial 8mm off-air of the boys miming to Can’t Buy Me Love and You Can’t Do That on the Top of the Pops edition of 25/03/1964. A grainy watermarked version – with incorrect dubbed audio – is still on youtube; the original upload was in slightly better quality and I authenticated it, and then got a fellow collector from my adopted homeland of Scotland to dub the correct audio (the mono single). The Beatles did not film this appearance at the TOTP studios in Manchester, this was taped separately in London. My friend, former Apple Film and Video Consultant for Anthology Keith Badman reckons the 16/06/1966 appearance exists out there somewhere in the US.
I’ve also been quite heavily involved in the location of two ‘lost’ solo promo films, although I can’t say that they are particularly interesting to the average collector as they contain no new footage, although they do fill in a couple of holes in the solo Beatles’ story.
#9 Dream DID have a promo film! This is quite a story…. the very well-known footage of John in Central Park in 1974 was actually filmed by ‘BBC New York’, to quote the Beeb’s own paperwork, which confirmed this when I visited the BBC’s Written Archives in Caversham – not far from the pub where J & P played as the Nurk Twins! The Central Park footage was ostensibly filmed as visuals for the ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ single. Of course, WGYTTN was a chart-topper in the US, but wasn’t a Top 30 hit in the UK, and so didn’t qualify to be on Top of the Pops, it was decided. When #9 Dream was released it made the top 30, but John had no interest in making a promo film for it. The BBC resolved the situation by using the WGYTTN promo film as the accompanying video to the #9 Dream audio! (For modern collectors learning about the Fabs, things are made more difficult in that the posthumous releases of both songs videos aren’t the originals….). So the UK broadcast #9 Dream promo is approximately the two-minutes-and-four-seconds of the song from the ‘So Long Ago….’ line. It was broadcast once, 27/02/1975. It stands up very well as a promo film!
The other ‘lost’ promo film that I had a hand in preserving was ‘Live and Let Die’. This doesn’t actually contain any Macca footage at all! It is literally the Live and Let Die title sequence WITHOUT the graphics.This exists only because a BBC employee called Ken Holmes taped it at home on an early VCR. It only exists in black-and-white and comes from the same bunch of tapes – known to collectors as the ‘PVL’ tapes as the Junior’s Farm performance from 1974, as released on the McCartney Years DVD. The promo film to Live and Let Die was broadcast once, 22/06/1973. This was one of 221 wiped TOTP performances that were purchased by a consortium of music collectors some years ago and safety copies are now with Kaleidoscope.
I am partially guilty for the discovery of Ringo’s amusing ‘Photograph’ promo film, which was shot at Tittenhurst. This had never been lost, as such, it was never erased, as the BBC kept a copy of it as part of their 15/11/1973 edition. Unlike much of the other footage from this episode, it had not been shown since the original broadcast. A DVD copy of the film was leaked to a few collectors after I’d mentioned that it still existed and it’s now on youtube, having been shown at a free event in the Midlands in 2012.
Also located – but not by me – was a different version of the promo film to ‘Something’! This comes from the 13th November 1969 edition of TOTP (it was still being shown in monochrome at the time) and does not feature the footage of Linda and Paul at High Park on the Mull of Kintyre, instead having these bits replaced with stills. The reason for this is that Paul couldn’t be contacted and hadn’t recorded his bits at the time.
This was an edition of the programme that was sold to Austrian TV and the edition containing this version of the promo film was located in Austria as the BBC had wiped their copy.
So, all these discoveries beg the question, ‘what other Beatles footage is out there?’
For that, we have to look at what is missing and in Part Two of this feature I will list as many lost Beatles and solo appearances as I can, and ask for your help in trying to locate these.
By Ray Langstone.