THE BEATLES: THE BBC ARCHIVES 1962-1970 is a lavish 336-page tome by notable Beatle expert Kevin Howlett that documents the close but sometimes fractious relationship between the rock’n’roll revolutionaries and the UK’s national broadcaster. Among the treasures in this beautiful package – boxed like a vintage 10½” reel of tape – are reproductions of some priceless documents, including the Beeb’s response to the group’s application for an audition, where Paul McCartney’s performances of ’Til There Was You and Like Dreamers Do are annotated with a curt “No”, but Lennon’s Memphis Tennessee and Hello Little Girl are more favourably received.
“An unusual group,” concluded Beeb gatekeeper Peter Pilbeam, “not as ‘Rocky’ as most, more C&W, with a tendency to play music.”
More fascinating still is the facsimile of the BBC Audience Research Department’s February 1968 report on the viewing public’s response to the Boxing Night screening of Magical Mystery Tour.
“Three quarters of the sample could hardly find a good word to say for the programme,” relates the report’s unnamed author, before reproducing the following memorable responses…
• “A load of RUBBISH. We have made better home movies ourselves.”
• “Positively the worst programme I can remember seeing on any TV channel.”
• “The biggest waste of public money since the Ground Nut Scheme.”
Then there’s this beautifully phrased letter from BBC Director Of Sound Broadcasting explaining to EMI Chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood why the Beeb have decided to ban Sgt. Pepper’s A Day In The Life...
On top of brilliant research into every aspect of The Beatles’ interaction with Auntie, Howlett’s book-and-a-half provides a dizzying trip back to a time when the Beatles were not universally deified, and the culture war was still to be won, or lost.
The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962-1970 is published on October 17 by BBC Books/Ebury.