The Beatles: BBC Archives – 1962-1970 – A Review

There are three distinct aspects to the Beatles’ main output and the direct connection they had with their audience. These are the band’s official studio recordings; their live performances; and (as this book examines in intricate and fascinating detail) their appearances during the height of their popularity on radio and television.

Kevin Howlett, a former BBC radio producer, has for many years been chronicling the band’s long and close association with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). If you want proof that their output on radio and TV was prolific here are some stats: the Beatles performed a huge catalogue of songs across 275 performances at the BBC between March 1962 and June 1965. They appeared on 39 radio shows just in 1963 and, on one single day, recorded 18 songs for three editions of the BBC’s “Pop Go The Beatles” series in a session lasting just under seven hours. In total they played 88 different songs, most done in one take with little time to correct mistakes.

What also has to be remembered is the extent to which the BBC was at the core of daily life in the UK. Unlike the multiple channels and sources of information we take for granted today, no other broadcasting organisation was licensed to operate in the UK until 1973. It seems extraordinary and almost incomprehensible now. There was some competition from overseas and “pirate” radio stations, but during the life of the Beatles as a band the BBC pretty much had the market to itself.

This book The Beatles: the BBC Archives: 1962-1970 isn’t the first go Kevin Howlett has had at writing about the close relationship between these two icons of British life in the sixties. It is however the most comprehensive and beautifully produced effort so far. Beatles Blog has in its collection a small 1982 softback book called The Beatles at the Beeb – The Story of their Radio Career 1962-65: 

Beatles BeebHowlett tried again in 1996 with The Beatles at the BBC, the Radio Years. However both these previous attempts are nothing on his latest effort.

What Kevin Howlett has done with this book is to significantly expand the scope and the content of his subject to produce the definitive examination of the Beatles interaction with their fans using BBC radio and television.

The new work comes packaged in an impressive look-alike (and slightly used) 1960’s BBC reel-to-reel tape box:Beatles at the BBC large

Inside is the book, which contains many pictures, examples of contracts, internal memos and letters, memorabilia and complete details of all their appearances, along with a discography of the songs that the Beatles performed. If the songs were covers then there are details of the original artists too.

We learn that some 36 of the 88 songs they performed were never issued on record and, with the exception of the Beatle original “I’ll Be On My Way”, these unreleased tracks were all cover versions. Inside the book there are lift out prints and and removable facsimile documents – making this a great collectable item in itself. Beatles BBC2-tiff

The photo (above) shows the band performing at the BBC Playhouse Theatre for Easy Beat on 16 October, 1963 – the day after news of the group’s participation in the Royal Variety Performance was announced (Photo © Press Association)

I love these sort of reproduction books, with removable documents, ticket stubs, mini-flyers and posters. I have two others which are similar: The Treasures of the Beatles, and Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life of John Lennon.

This photo (also from the book) shows George, Paul and John with the BBC’s Bernie Andrews, producer of the show Saturday Club. It is dated 17 December, 1963 (Photo © BBC Worldwide):Beatles BBC1-tiff

Kevin Howlett is now very much an insider in the Beatles camp, having completed a number of prestigious Apple Records re-issue projects for them. He co-wrote the liner notes for the digitally remastered CD catalogue in 2009. Howlett wrote the notes and produced the ‘Fly On The Wall’ bonus disc for the 2003 Beatles remixed album Let It Be …Naked. He also wrote the liner notes for the original 1994 double CD and LP package Live at the BBC, and has done the same for the forthcoming set On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (to be released on November 11). Both feature previously unreleased recordings and studio chatter by the Beatles made available for the first time. The new release will include early hits and cover songs recorded at the BBC in 1963 and 1964, audio of the group talking to radio presenters such as Radio 2’s Brian Matthew, different versions of some of the songs from the first Live at the BBC album, and interviews recorded in November 1965 and May 1966 for the BBC “Pop Profile” series.

BBC Volume 2

A remastered version of the original Live At The BBC will also come out on 11 November to coincide with the release of Volume 2.

BBC Volume 1

So, Howlett knows his subject. His book The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 is destined to become the ultimate publication detailing in every respect the the band’s interaction with it’s adoring public via the BBC – then one of the most important and dominant media outlets in Britain. It is published in the US by Harper Design (Harper Collins), and in the UK by Ebury Publishing (BBC Books).

3 thoughts on “The Beatles: BBC Archives – 1962-1970 – A Review

  1. Thank you for this review; this book sounds like a must have for Beatles’ fans. I, too, enjoy books like “The Treasures of the Beatles” and “Lennon Legend” that include replicas of documents from the time because it gives you a bit of the sense of what it was like to live during those times. Getting to hold replicas of ticket stubs etc. brings some of that excitement across to the reader, I think. Being as was not around for Beatlemania, this feature makes “The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970” a very attractive offering. So, I will be picking this one up! Thanks again for the very thorough and thoughtful review!


  2. Bought my copy today only to find upon opening it at home that the hard cover binding appears to have been bound back to front. Expected the title and picture of the tape reel to be the front cover but its not and the pages are upside down!! Strange.


  3. Between March 1962 and June 1965, no fewer than 275 unique musical performances by The Beatles were broadcast by the BBC in the U.K. The group played songs on 39 radio shows in 1963 alone. Ringo Starr said in 1994, “You tend to forget that we were a working band. It’s that mono sound. There were usually no overdubs. We were in at the count-in and that was it. I get excited listening to them.” On their busiest BBC day, July 16, 1963, The Beatles recorded 18 songs for three editions of their Pop Go The Beatles series in fewer than seven hours.


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