The Beatles performed for 52 BBC Radio programmes, beginning with an appearance on the series Teenager's Turn—Here We Go, recorded on 7 March 1962, and ending with the special The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride, recorded on 26 May 1965. 47 of their BBC appearances occurred in 1963 and 1964, including 10 on Saturday Club, and 15 on their own weekly series Pop Go The Beatles which began in June 1963. As The Beatles had not accumulated many original songs by this time, the majority of their BBC performances consisted of cover versions, drawing on the repertoire that they had developed for their early stage act. In total, 275 performances of 88 different songs were broadcast, of which 36 songs never appeared on their studio albums.
The BBC didn't keep their tapes. Once the programme was broadcast, tapes were probably wiped to make room for new recordings. They did however, press vinyl records of some shows for broadcast on other BBC affiliates around the world, and the BBC transcription departement distributed these.
And people were taping radio shows off-air at home.
In the early seventies, bootlegs started appearing with songs from home made tapes of the shows, starting with the LP "Yellow Matter Custard". The record contained these songs: "I Got A Woman, "Glad All Over", "I Just Don't Understand", "Slow Down", "Don't Ever Change", "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues", "Sure To Fall (In Love With You)", "Nothin' Shakin' (But The Leaves On The Trees)", "Lonesome Tears In My Eyes", "So How Come (No One Loves Me)", "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)", "Crying, Waiting, Hoping", "To Know Her Is To Love Her" and "The Honeymoon Song"
NEW RADIO SHOWS
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of their first BBC appearance, the BBC aired the two-hour radio special "The Beatles at the Beeb" in 1982, featuring a mix of BBC performances and interviews. The show was expanded to three hours when syndicated to other countries. The show's producer Kevin Howlett also released a book, "The Beatles at the Beeb, '62-'65: The story of their radio career" on the subject.
The more comprehensive series "The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes" was broadcast by BBC Radio 1 in 1988 as 14 half-hour episodes. When gathering material for that series, only a small number of original tapes were located, but the BBC transcription records provided them with more material.
Bootleggers mined the radio shows for a 13 LP series, The Beatles at the Beeb, which were also padded out with home made off-air recordings from collectors.
The covers were lovely parodies of non-UK Beatles LP covers, and the series also made it on to CD after a couple of years.
Then in 1993 came a boxed set from the Italian company Great Dane, which had all the songs from the "Beatles at the Beeb" series and then some, all chronologically arranged over 9 CD's, and with a colourful booklet which chronicled the BBC radio shows and the previous bootlegs.
They soon had to release a single disc with some material which appeared after the box had been released.
Legend has it that the Great Dane boxed set was actually a legal release in Italy, because Italian copyright laws meant that the copyright on these recordings had expired there. The Beatles had to take action, and as they had now settled their lawsuit with Capitol/EMI, they were free to start releasing new material from the archives, and the official 2CD, 2LP "The Beatles Live At The BBC" became a reality.
An official Beatles BBC album was being planned as early as 1989, and it was reported that "EMI was preparing an album" of the BBC material by late 1991.
To supplement the archive he had partially rebuilt for The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes, BBC Radio producer Kevin Howlett sought out additional sources, such as tapes kept by people involved in the original sessions; others had contacted him after the series aired to inform him of their own home recordings of additional broadcasts. Remaining gaps were filled by recordings taken from available bootlegs.
From the available recordings, the tracks for Live at the BBC were selected by longtime Beatles producer George Martin. Martin's selection criteria included both the quality of the sound and of The Beatles' performance. Of particular interest were the 36 songs that The Beatles never performed on their official releases, of which 30 were selected for the album.
In all, 56 songs were chosen for the album, along with some banter among the group and the hosts. Three additional songs were released on the "Baby It's You" 4-track single. Abbey Road engineer Peter Mew used audio manipulation software to reduce noise, repair minor dropouts, and equalise to a more consistent sound from one track to the next. The resulting sound quality was considered generally better than the best equivalent bootlegged versions available at the time, although a small number of tracks were noted as exceptions.
Live at the BBC peaked at number 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart and reached number 1 on the UK Albums Chart. The album sold an estimated 8 million copies worldwide during its first year of release.
But the fans needed more. This was in their eyes, merely a "best of". And as the Great Dane boxed set was due for an upgrade, and in 2003, in came notorious bootleg label "Yellow Dog" with a 12 CD boxed set, also titled "The Beatles At The Beeb". And after the boxed set, they issued a disc 13 "repair disc", featuring tracks that had appeared since the boxed set was released.
The homebrew label Purple Chick had discovered that part of the material on the Yellow Dog set was sonically inferior to other versions available on other bootlegs, and released their own version of the boxed set as internet downloads, free of charge in 2004.
This was deemed the most complete set for collectors of the Beatles radio appearances, until 2009.
On August 31st 2009, BBC radio 2 broadcast another radio programme with material from the sixties shows, again produced by (now independent producer) Kevin Howlett. Some, if not all of this material was sonically superior to the versions on Purple Chick's set. This spurred another fan made compilation, "Unsurpassed Broadcasts", where the original material was sonically tweaked, utilizing the latest developments in audio repairing. One technique used was if one recording was high on treble and another (obviously the same take) had a boomy bass, the two were spliced together, thus digitally restoring both the highs and lows of the song in question.
Since the appearance of "Unsurpassed Broadcasts" and it's follow up "second edition", old recordings thought lost have seen the light of day, old recordings have appeared in better quality, old tapes have been re-transferred to the digital domain, new audio enhancement techniques have become cheaper and available to amateur sound engineers and now it looks like we're up for a second volume of the official album. So take our word for it: There's a new "Beatles at the BBC Complete" just waiting to be made.
BBC SHOW ONLINE
While you're waiting for the official announcement of "Vol. 2", the Beeb itself offers a chance to reminisc.
From BBC Radio 6: The Beatles at the Beeb (Click this link to listen)
Andy Peebles introduces some of the many interviews and live session recordings The Beatles made for the BBC.