We thought this holiday season we’d take a look at some of the Christmas issues of the British Beatle fan magazine, The Beatles Book.
A little while back we were very kindly gifted a big box full of these great little magazines. They were mostly the re-issues of the originals – practically a full set containing the re-issued originals plus some extras – so thank you again Michael!
The publication history of these gems is a bit convoluted, so here’s a potted history:
The original The Beatles Book was first issued in Britain just as Beatlemania was taking off. Issue No. 1 came out in August, 1963. It’s was a small-format magazine (5.9 inches x 8.1 inches or 15 cm x 20.7cm), and it cost one shilling and sixpence:
There were 77 editions in all until publication stopped in December, 1969 (when it then cost a princely two shillings and sixpence!):
The magazine then went into hibernation for a few years until it was revived in May, 1976 as The Beatles Appreciation Society Magazine Book. The same editor and publisher, Johnny Dean (a.k.a. Sean O’Mahoney), resuscitated the brand by faithfully reproducing the original magazine starting with issue No. 1. He included an 8-page outer wrap (later to become 16 pages) containing more current Beatle and solo news, but the core of the magazine was the reproduced originals.
The magazine continued in this form, still released monthly, until September, 1982 when all 77 original editions had been reprinted.
However, such was the renewed interest in The Beatles at the time, the very next month (October, 1982) the magazine continued on from where it left off with issue No.78. This time though it came with all-new content throughout. The price, by the way, had risen to 80 pence:
Publication continued in this form up January, 2003 (which by then was issue No. 321) when it ceased once again – this time for good. Note the price had risen to £3.00!
These magazines stand as a terrific archive, a real treasure trove of information and images, many not seen elsewhere as editor Johnny Dean had a lot of access to the band and inside information about their activities that others never had. Reading them now they give a great sense the context around their output and plans – some of which came to pass, and some (as we’ll see) which didn’t.
So, as it’s Christmas time, let’s take a look inside an early Christmas Issue of The Beatles Book. It is No.17 from December, 1964:
The Editorial page by Johnny Dean contains some interesting comments and observations:
He’s talking about the Beatles For Sale LP being out just in time to “….make a perfect Christmas present for a host of Beatle people everywhere”, and stating that despite all the band’s success things haven’t changed much backstage. Road Manager, Neil Aspinall and Equipment Manager Mal Evans “….organise everything very smoothly so that the boys can relax comfortably between shows.”
And what of plans for the future? “John, Paul, George and Ringo all feel that recording and films are going to be more important because their fans all over the world can share them equally. Personal appearances can’t be continued at the same hectic rate….”
And “….there’s a Christmas Card to you – from “them” and everyone else on your Beatles Book who would like to wish you all the very best for the coming Christmas.”
Let’s jump ahead four years to issue No. 65, which came out in December, 1968:
This one is very interesting, but not so much for its Christmas content. Actually there’s very little Christmas cheer in it at all, apart from then Beatle Fan Club National Secretary, Freda Kelly, telling members to expect their personal copies of the 1968 Christmas Record soon. She says: “Produced by Kenny Everett, this year’s disc is different from any previous one as it was recorded basically in the boys’ own homes.”
No, this issue is fascinating because, as you can see on the front cover, it heralds the return of the band performing live – and even offers a give-away where readers can win tickets go and see them.
This is all about a planned TV special to be recorded in front of a live audience. It’s about the rehearsals for that performance that will take place in early 1969 at Twickenham Film Studios, and later at their own Apple studio. It is about the famous rooftop concert and what we now know as the Let It Be album and film, and the 2021 Peter Jackson Get Back opus on Disney+.
But here, in December, 1968, all that is in the future.
Editor Johnny Dean writes “Isn’t it marvelous to hear that the Beatles are going to appear on stage once again. It seems a very long time ago since they last stood together and performed for a live audience. At long last I will be able to give a positive answer to all those readers of The Beatles Book who have asked me over the past two years: “When are the Beatles going to appear on stage again?””
Then further into the magazine there’s an article headlined FIRST LIVE PERFORMANCES FOR OVER TWO YEARS. It says: “Their intention is to put on a series of shows which will culminate in a final performance which will be filmed for transmission in this country and overseas. Apple Corps managing director, Neil Aspinall, has already been negotiating for the sale of the programme to one of the major companies in the United States.”
“The New Year concerts will also do many things. Firstly, it will give the Beatles an opportunity to perform in front of their fans once again. Not a very large number admittedly, only a few thousand – but, nevertheless, it will have happened. Secondly, the performance, by being shown all over the world, will enable their fans in all those overseas countries to see them probably much better than they would if they were sitting in the back row of a local stadium.”
“But, there’s still a lot of work to do before they get on stage. Firstly, they will have to rehearse the numbers and work them up into an act once again. Performing their songs in the recording studio will not enable them to perform equally well on the stage. The two are not the same and the boys have always accepted this.”
The article goes on the predict the songs in the concert will consist mostly of material from their recently released double LP The White Album, “….with several oldies thrown in for good measure.”
Then, a few pages on, comes a further article headlined BEATLE NEWS – BEATLES TV SHOW. “The Beatles are shortly to finalise details of their own one-hour colour television show. It will NOT take place at the Roundhouse as announced. After rehearsals they will give a set of separate “live” performances before invited audiences. All three shows will be recorded on colour videotape and the final programme will be made up from the best parts of the three.”
There’s talk of an initial plan to sell audience tickets and donate the money to charity, but this had to be dropped (the magazine says) because seats for TV shows cannot be sold – they must be given away for free. It then points readers to The Beatles Book Lucky Dip where 100 seats will be allocated to “regular readers”:
(click on any image to see larger versions)
“At press time it is not possible to tell you the exact dates of the performances….neither the Beatles themselves nor their Apple helpers have sorted that out. But the dates will be some time during January….On January 1st all your applications will go into a drum. The first 50 pulled out will get A PAIR OF TICKETS. The tickets will show the date and time of the performance.”
Well, history proved that big concert never eventuated. We wonder if they ever pulled those 50 entries from the drum? It might be nice to know that at least you were on the shortlist to see The Beatles perform live again for the first time in over two years!
Once again, a big thank you to Michael for gifting us these amazing The Beatles Monthly magazines.
Sadly, publisher and editor Sean O’Mahoney (a.k.a. Johnny Dean) passed away in July, 2020. He leaves behind him a wonderful legacy not only in The Beatles Book but also Record Collector magazine. You should keep an eye out for two books: one by O’Mahoney called The Best of The Beatles Book (2005), and Looking Through You: The Beatles Book Monthly Photo Archive (2016), compiled by Jo Adams and Andy Neill from the immense archives.
We wish all our readers a very happy and safe holiday season and we’ll see you again in 2023.