(Note: This is the conclusion of an interview with author Kevin Howlett in which he discusses his new book, “The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970” also available in the UK, Japan, Canada and Germany, that comes out in the U.S. Oct. 29. You can read part one of this interview here.)
“They were on 'Juke Box Jury,' and then they were in a televised concert. So basically they took over Saturday night television that evening. 'Juke Box Jury' was an enormously popular program on British television. There were four panelists who would review records and judge whether they'd be a hit or a miss. It was very very popular in the UK. And for the first time, a pop group completely took over the panel. All four Beatles and nobody else were on the panel.
“That finished at 6:35, then later on in the evening at 8:10, 'It's the Beatles' was on. And that was a concert that was recorded in the afternoon in front of an audience, the Beatles' northern area fan club. So they're all fans. And it's completely wild. And it was so interesting reading the letters in the BBC's archives from Beatles fans who watched this TV concert and complaining about the sound and the fact that John was hardly ever shown when he was singing a song. And the director of the program wrote back to all these people saying he apologized, they had hardly any rehearsal time and that the noise level in the theater was so deafening they couldn't hear instructions.”
Howlett says the reaction to the show was so strong the director was worried how his boss would judge him, but his boss supported him, saying, 'I do not believe any of us had any idea of the disorganized frenzy that could take place during such a performance.'” He called it as “an instant documentary,” but ironically, the BBC didn't keep the videotapes.
“The Beatles reached the peak of their popularity in Britain on the seventh of December, 1963, and the BBC played their part in that. ... And then America happens pretty quickly after that.”
The book also contains the audience research reports for “Magical Mystery Tour,” which, he says, casts an a more detailed light on the reaction to the film.
“You can read what the British public thought of it. And there were a few positive comments, but by and large, people didn't like it. And at the end of that chapter, it's got comments like, 'Positively the worst program I can remember seeing on any TV channel,' reported one viewer. And a schoolboy described it as 'One of the best programs we've had for a long time. The idea was clever as well as original. It was very funny in parts. Marvelous program in black-and-white. In color, it would be indescribable.'”
Howlett is executive producer of the new “On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2” album, along with Mike Heatley, who worked for EMI on many Beatles reissue projects. “I've written all the notes about the songs and an essay on the BBC sessions,” he said.
He says the new remastered “Live at the BBC” has some differences than the original release. “The first one is sounding terrific,” he said. “That's one of the things we did in remastering the first one is to go back to start again, basically. We didn't remaster from anything that was done in '94,” he said. “We use all the same performances, but you'll notice some subtle differences.”
Is the BBC holding the door open to put more radio material out eventually? He said, “I think this is it for now,” but he didn't dismiss the possibility that a box set with the entire BBC output could someday be released.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “They were very good at keeping the paperwork but not at keeping the tapes. We've clawed it back from all sorts of sources. You could never offer a complete set. There are still sessions missing or parts of sessions missing. But in selecting the material for the new album, for example 'Twist and Shout,' there are several versions of 'Twist and Shout' that were all great. And so it was a question of the version Mike and I thought was the best and we stuck on this one. Maybe Beatles fans would like to hear the other one and have those commercially released. But for the more casual fan, I think the two highlights albums is enough for them.”
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