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Sunday 5 April 2015

A couple of "Top Of The Pops" stories

The Beatles on Top Of The Pops 1966. Photo: Ron Howard.
I was re-editing and translating into Norwegian my 2014 article about The Beatles' appearances on "Top Of The Pops" for the "Norwegian Wood" magazine, when I came across a recent (2015 but no date given) interview of 87 year old photographer Ron Howard. He was key photographer on the set of "Top Of The Pops" from 1964 to 1972, and as such he was present during The Beatles' only live appearance on the show in 1966, performing "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 photo that goes with the article is also very interesting, because it captures The Beatles in performance, with a crowd watching. As far as I can remember, all other photos I have seen from the event were taken at the rehearsals, before people were let in.

You can read the full length interview with more photos and Howard also reminiscing about other acts over at Dancing Ledge...

Alec Bray tracking the Mole crane.
I also happened to come across another nice article, which contained an eye-witness report of the filming of The Beatles' first specially prefilmed performance for Top Of The Pops, miming to "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 housed the TV camera and the camera operator.  Over to Bray:

"On Thursday19th 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!'"

"We had a nice shot to do. It started as a wide shot of all four of the Beatles, and then we were to track in and swing the Mole arm so that the camera pivoted round a medium close up of John and then swing back to reveal a three-shot of John, Paul and George across the stage (the Mole had to do a curved track to achieve this!). On the recording, the coordination between the tracker and the swinger was not quite there, and the swing started slightly too late. The result was that the front of the Mole platform passed just a few inches in front of John’s face. Well, he corpsed. (Yeah, OK, we nearly knocked out a Beatle). So there was a retake."

"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."

Bray's report was published in 2013 on

The information in this article has been incorporated into my original article about the Beatles on Top of the Pops.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Great stuff, Roger. Thanks.

Of course (barring a miracle discovery) the Beatles TOTP appearances are lost forever... The BBC are bloody useless...