The Beatles on Top Of The Pops
Although the weekly show was cancelled, the Christmas special has continued. It also survives as Top Of The Pops 2, which began in 1994 and features vintage performances from the Top Of The Pops archives.
Top Of The Pops began on New Year's Day 1964 in Studio A on Dickenson Road in Rusholme, Manchester, which the BBC had bought from Mancunian Films in 1954. The studio was a converted church. With a limited budget, the studio had no facilities for artists to perform live and all the early shows were mimed. DJs Jimmy Savile and Alan Freeman presented the first show, which featured (in order, chart position in brackets):
(5) Dusty Springfield – I Only Want To Be With You
(13) The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man
(6) Gene Pitney – 24 Hours From Tulsa (crowd dancing)
(2) Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over
(NEW) Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Wishing Well (video)
(12) Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Don’t Talk To Him (video)
(21) The Hollies – Stay
(3) The Beatles – She Loves You (and charts)
(10) Swinging Blue Jeans – Hippy Hippy Shake
(4) Freddie & The Dreamers – You Were Made For Me
(1) The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand (video)
Throughout its history, the programme proper always finished with the best-selling single of the week, although there often was a separate play-out track.
This is according to the BBC page about the Top of the pops episodes from the sixties. However, I can't find anything about a Beatles appearance on the first show, on New Year's Day the Beatles were still doing their `Beatles Christmas Show' at the Astoria in Finsbury Park, London. They may well have recorded a mimed performance of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" for TOTP, but I haven't been able to find out anything about it, and the episode has been wiped anyway. Perhaps they just played the record over the end credits. Presenting the show from Manchester created problems as many of the bigger acts did not want to travel there, and later Top of the Pops moved to the Lime Grove Studios in west London. Any Beatles appearance on TOTP was pre-recorded for transmission, they never took the trip to Manchester to perform live on the show. Usually this was a mimed performance recorded in another studio.
According to reliable sources the Beatles debut appearance on TOTP was Thursday 19 March 1964. Here's what happened:
Can't Buy Me LoveBetween 7pm and 8.30pm The Beatles were at the BBC's Television Theatre (since renamed the Shepherd's Bush Empire) in west London, to film their debut appearance on Top Of The Pops.
The Beatles were allowed to pre-record, without an audience, two songs in London. They mimed to both songs from their new single, "Can't Buy Me Love" and "You Can't Do That".
Alec Bray worked in BBC TV Technical Operations, and was operating a crane called "the Mole crane", which held both a TV camera (Camera 1) and a platform with the camera operator. Over to Bray:
"On Thursday 19th March 1964, we arrived with some expectations. During the day the rumour mill churned – we were going to do an insert for Top of the Pops".
"We set up for the insert. The Mole crane was lined up on its tracking 'ramp' – this was a narrow stage-level extension that ran where the theatre central aisle would have been back under the Dress circle to the back of the theatre: it meant that camera one (on the Mole) could track back to get a nice wide shot of the stage area. I was tracking the Mole."
"At the back of the stage was a large rostrum, on which was placed a full drum kit. In front of this, some feet behind the Proscenium arch were marks for three other members of the group, standing in line across the stage."
"The first shot of the insert was a shot over the head of the drummer on camera one, followed by a fast track back to a full wide shot. We got the Mole in close to the rostrum, and then on cue went full speed backwards down the tracking ramp to the back of the theatre. And then the director said 'Can’t you go any faster?' Thankfully, the senior cameraman replied over studio sound that we were going as fast as we could. (A Mole at full speed down the theatre tracking ramp was quite a sight). Anyway, after rehearsing with stand-ins, in came the performers – John, Paul, George and Ringo. This was to be the Beatles first (ever) appearance on 'Top of the Pops', singing 'Can’t buy Me Love'. Control lever fully back, brake on: 'Cut Camera 1': brake off, rocket back down the theatre. So, if you ever want to see a Mole in full flight, remember the first shot on 'Can’t Buy Me Love'. It must, must be somewhere, as we did it as a film telerecording, not a VT." (Sadly, no surviving copy of this film has ever appeared, not that we're aware of, anyway.)
"After recording 'Can’t buy Me Love', we reset to rehearse and record 'You Can’t Do That'. The Beatles went to the dressing rooms and we did the stagger through and first rehearsals with stand-ins."
"When the Beatles came out for the final rehearsals, John, who was over on the left-hand side of the stage (as viewed from the camera positions), looked down on the floor and noticed the floor marks. 'Is this where I am supposed to stand?' he said. Well, the floor manager(s) hadn’t heard him, or ignored him, so I shouted out from the back of the Mole, 'Yeah, come any forward of those marks and we will hit you!'"
|Bray operating the Mole crane in a later edition of Top of the Pops.|
"On the following Wednesday, 25th March, 'Can’t buy Me Love' and Take 2 of 'You Can’t Do That' were transmitted as part of Top of the Pops. Over the next few weeks, the film telerecording inserts were repeated, but I am convinced that on one occasion, TOTP showed Take 1 of 'You Can’t Do That' with John grinning all over his face."
"As an aside, it was quite difficult to escape from the Theatre that night – there were throngs of screaming girls all round the place. I had to walk some distance to collect my car, and I could hear the girls screaming all the way."
The appearance was shown on Wednesday 25 March between 6.35pm and 7pm, with "Can't Buy Me Love" repeated on the 8 April edition. At the time Top Of The Pops was Britain's most popular music show on TV.
In June 2015, a clip emerged on YouTube from the Beatles' appearance on this episode. It's an amateur 8mm film made by pointing a silent home move camera at the TV screen back in 1964. Most of "Can't Buy Me Love" was captured, and a snippet of "You Can't Do That". The Beatles are wearing their "A Hard Day's Night" suits, and the film of them miming is projected on a wall behind the dancers in the TOTP studio. There's also a glimpse of Jimmy Savile, who hosted the episode.
The "Can't Buy Me Love" clip was also shown on the 8 and 15 April editions of TOTP and on at least one of these occasions, the film was screened as is - without cutting to dancers in the studio. As Alec Bray noted, the first of the two filmed "You Can't Do That" performances was also shown at some point, and that point was probably April 1, where it is listed as a repeat.
A Hard Day's NightTuesday 7 July 1964
From 2-5pm The Beatles recorded an appearance for the BBC television show Top Of The Pops, at Lime Grove Studios in London.
The day's recording involved three parts: a two-hour rehearsal for the cameras; from 4-4.15pm a line-up for the assembled acts appearing; and recording from 4.15-5pm. The Beatles mimed to three songs: "A Hard Day's Night", "Things We Said Today" and "Long Tall Sally".
The performances of "A Hard Day's Night" and "Long Tall Sally" were first broadcast on BBC1 from 7.35pm on 8 July 1964. "Things We Said Today" was shown on 29 July from 7.10pm.
Ticket To RideSaturday 10 April 1965
The Beatles filmed an appearance for the BBC television show Top Of The Pops on this day at Riverside Studios in London. They performed two songs: "Ticket To Ride" and "Yes It Is".
Rehearsals and filming began at 1.30pm. The Beatles wore the fawn-coloured jackets they would later wear for their Shea Stadium concert on 15 August 1965.
The edition of Top Of The Pops, the BBC's flagship music programme, was shown on Thursday 15 April from 7.30-8pm. It was later wiped by the BBC, in common with their archiving rules at the time.
However, a snippet of the performance was included in an episode of Doctor Who entitled The Executioners, part of a mini series known as The Chase. The episode was first screened on 22 May; although the episode of Top Of The Pops did not survive, the episode of Doctor Who did, and as a result part of The Beatles' performance from this day was preserved.
The episode was originally to have included The Beatles appearing as themselves in the future, wearing make-up to look older. However, Brian Epstein objected and the producers used the Top Of The Pops performance instead.
Apart from showing mimed performances specially filmed for TOTP, the show also showcased some of the promo films the Beatles had made, and in 1965, film clips from "Help!" was also featured on the show. on 2 December, Top Of The Pops premiered the new promo films for "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out" and the Christmas Day edition had promo clips of the group performing "I Feel Fine", "Help!", "Ticket to Ride" and "Day Tripper". These clips are usually called the Intertel promos.
Paperback WriterThursday 16 June 1966
Although by June 1966, Top Of The Pops had been running for over two years, The Beatles had never previously appeared live on the show. They had pre-recorded exclusive performances in BBC studios, or sent promotional clips to be played on the show. Now the show had already moved from Manchester to London, and The Beatles finally agreed to appear live to promote their latest single. The Beatles had agreed two days previously, when manager Brian Epstein passed on a request from Top Of The Pops producer Johnnie Stewart.
Both "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" had previously been featured on Top of the Pops, courtesy of their promotional films. Both clips were shown on 2 June, and "Paperback Writer" was reprised on 9 June.
The group arrived at BBC Television Centre at 2.30pm for a rehearsal for the camera, and to pose for publicity photographs and conduct press interviews. More rehearsals followed between 4.15pm and 5.30, and from 6.30pm to 7pm.
The live broadcast took place between 7.30pm and 8pm on BBC One. The Beatles were the final act to appear, and did both "Paperback Writer" and its b-side, "Rain". They were introduced by host Pete Murray. Some sources say that the Beatles played the songs live this time, others that they mimed. Given that they never did perform "Rain" live on stage, that one is most likely to have been mimed, what with it's backwards vocals etc. Paul had just had his damaged front tooth capped before this appearance, he told the NME's Alan Smith in an interview conducted while they were in the TV studios.
The Beatles' performance has since been wiped by the BBC, and the footage no longer exists in their archives. However, in 2010 a clip of The Hollies performing "Bus Stop" from the same season of Top of the Pops, in front of the same stage decoration as the Beatles, was posted on YouTube by a retired film editor based in the USA. Sadly, he only had that particular clip, but the appearance of the clip has rekindled hope that someone may be in the possession of the Beatles footage.
Ron Howard was key photographer on the set of "Top Of The Pops" from 1964 to 1972, and as such he was present during The Beatles' performance of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain".
Howard used to sell his photos to girl teen magazine "Jackie", who paid him £12 per roll of film. Of the photos he took of The Beatles, he says “I shot three rolls and sent the films straight to Jackie. They paid me £12-a-roll which seemed OK at the time but I can’t imagine how much they would be worth now. I did try getting the negatives back but no one knew where they were.They said they’d been swapped with other magazines. It was just one of those things.”
Ron remembers huge excitement when The Beatles arrived at the studio. “They came in with a whole security team, they even had food-tasters.” People often ask Howard what the Fab Four were really like, but his reply often disappoints. “They were very nice,very pleasant and very professional but I never got a chance to really know them. They were just The Beatles. In all I probably spent about an hour with them.”
|The Beatles in mid performance. Photo: Ron Howard.|
In the wake of the green singles series, the Beatles were riding high in the charts again. However when TOTP was to feature "Paperback Writer" again, they had to just play the record and the visuals were of dancers.
1967The promo clips for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were shown on TOTP 16 February. As the Musicians' Union was very busy banning miming on television this year, these two clips were filmed without the Beatles mouthing the words of the lyrics. However, when recording the promotional films for "Hello Goodbye" later in the year, they were back to miming, and when the song was to be featured on TOTP on 23 November, footage from "A Hard Day's Night" accompanied the record, much to the annoyance of the Beatles.
1968The solution? Film the Beatles recording one song, and use it to promote another. While recording "Hey Bulldog", The Beatles were filmed and the footage was used to assemble a promotional clip for the current single release, "Lady Madonna". The film was shown on Top Of The Pops the day before Lady Madonna was released, 14 March.
The only contemporary UK screening of the "Revolution" promo clip was on the BBC's Top Of The Pops on Thursday 19 September.
Here's a full episode of Top of the Pops from 15 February 1968. The Beatles are not included, but featured are Manfred Mann - "Mighty Quinn", The Foundations - "Back On My Feet Again", Status Quo - "Pictures Of Matchstick Men", Alan Price Set - "Don't Stop The Carnival", Brenton Wood - "Gimme Little Sign", The Move - "Fire Brigade", Hermans Hermits - "I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving", Amen Corner - "Bend Me Shape Me", and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich - "Legend Of Xanadu". The show is presented by Jimmy Savile & Dave Cash.
1969: Get BackFrom the "Get Back" project which was eventually going to become the "Let It Be" film and album in 1970, footage was used to become promotional clips for certain songs. On 17 April, such a film was aired on TOTP for the song "Get Back", then the current single. The Beatles performed the song from the roof of their Apple HQ in 3 Savile Row. The clip was reprised several times during the year, and on Christmas Day, it was shown in colour for the first time.
1970: Let It BeOn February 11, John Lennon was the first solo Beatle to appear on Top of the Pops, filmed exclusively for the show, but later also used as promotional films for the song in question, "Instant Karma!". Two versions were filmed, and the line-up of Plastic Ono Band consisted of John on vocals and electric piano, Klaus Voormann on bass, Alan White on drums, Mal Evans on tambourine, and Yoko either holding cards or knitting while blindfolded. In fact John's vocal was the only thing performed live, as the entire backing track was the one from the actual single, which had been specially mixed at Abbey Road the day before for the occasion. One of the films was shown the following day, clip number two appeared a week later, 19 February.
On 5 March, Top of the Pops showed a promotional clip of the Beatles performing "Let It Be" from January 1969. The clip was repeated on 19 March.
Since then, the Beatles and solo Beatles have appeared many times on Top of the Pops, but the Beatles only courtesy of old or new promotional clips, or music videos, as they were later to be called. The same goes for the solo Beatles, but Paul did appear live on the show a few times.
The Beatles Bible
This article was updated with new information on the 6th of April, 2015 and again on 17 June, 2015.
This posting is part of a series of articles about The Beatles' appearances on British TV shows. Also in this series: "The Beatles on Scene at 6.30", "The Beatles on Ready Steady Go!" and "The Beatles on Thank Your Lucky Stars".