Kevin Howlett knows the Beatles and the BBC. In an interview with Beatles Examiner, he discussed at length his new book, “The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970” (also available in the UK, Japan, Canada and Germany), due out in the U.S. Oct. 29, just how big a role the Beeb played in the group's history, and his adventures at finding the many hidden treasures in their performances on BBC TV and radio.
Howlett said the BBC was notorious for recording over things.
“They were good at keeping the written records, as you can see in the book. There are memos and contracts and research reports. But actually to hear the radio programs themselves, that been a quest over the last 31 years that I've been involved in making radio programs about the Beatles at the BBC.”
Though the BBC material was among some of the earliest bootlegged recordings available in the '70s by the Beatles (along with the “Get Back”/”Let It Be” sessions), it was in late 1981 that the BBC itself began to dig into its archives for a 20th anniversary radio special of Beatles broadcasts it wanted to air in March, 1982, in the UK. A Westwood One special was broadcast in America on Memorial Day weekend that year, giving a nationwide American radio audience the first taste of the music that had been previously only heard by British radio audiences or Beatles bootleg collectors.
Howlett authored a thin book in 1982, "The Beatles at the Beeb: The Story of Their Radio Career, 1962-65," that was an invaluable reference to those radio broadcasts. The new book is a huge expansion that now include all the television broadcasts and new radio entries that weren't in the original book, plus rare pictures, scripts and reproductions of memos.
Getting new material has been keeping him busy.
“Tracking down tapes from all sorts of sources is what I've been doing and you'll see in the book there are transcripts of interviews from radio programs and some have still come to light over the years,” Howlett says.
“If you notice, there's one they did from a radio car outside Twickenham Film Studios when they were making 'Help!'. It was for the 100th edition of a program called 'Pop In,'” he explained. “I got that tape fairly recently because the producer of that program had kept the tape himself and it wasn't in the main BBC archive. And he rose to be the controller of the pop music network in the UK. And so when I was working at Radio One, he was my boss for a while. And I hooked up with him some while after he retired and he just gave me this tape and said, 'You might be interested in this.' There was an interview with all four of them live straight onto the air talking to Keith Fordyce, who was in the studio in London. So things still emerge. It's interesting.”
“I was asked to write this book before anybody knew about a new BBC album coming out,” he said. “And, in fact, because of the top secret nature of these things, even though I was approached to write a book, I couldn't tell the publisher (about the new albums),” he said. “Once they committed to the book and found out there was going to be an album, they were delighted about it. So it was very good timing.”
(In part 2, which you can read here, Kevin Howlett talks about some of the significant moments of the Beatles' BBC years.)
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