Blogging the Beatles: The Beatles Hit the BBC

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 10 2012 5:39 PM

The Beatles Hit the Airwaves

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Brow Beat is following the Beatles in “real time,” 50 years later, from their first chart-topper to their final rooftop concert. In our latest weekly installment, we check in with the group as they hit the airwaves to promote their first single, “Love Me Do.”

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

50 years ago this month, the Beatles were desperate to promote their first single, “Love Me Do.” Beatles manager Brian Epstein even reportedly ordered thousands of copies of the single to boost its position on the charts. His efforts weren’t in vain—the song would peak at No. 17—but “Love Me Do” wasn’t the kind of chart-topper they would have with their next single.

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So, led by Epstein, the Beatles began to make the rounds to promote their record. On Dec. 2 they performed for the BBC Light Programme’s The Talent Spot, and on Dec. 4 they made their television debut on a children’s show, ITV’s Tuesday Rendezvous. Soon they would also appear on Granada’s People and Places TV program, where, just as on Tuesday Rendezvous, they mimed “Love Me Do.”

Beatles Live at the BBC

They were only starting to get their faces out on TV, but they had more experience on radio. Their first performance for the BBC was broadcast about nine months earlier, on March 8, 1962. The producer who had judged their audition, Peter Pilbeam, wasn’t easily impressed. After hearing the group audition among a bunch of other “rubbish” at Manchester’s Playhouse Theatre, Pilbeam wrote: “An unusual group, not as ‘rocky’ as most. More country and western, with a tendency to play music.” Years later he would say that, from him, this was “high praise.”

For their radio debut, the Beatles performed Chuck Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee,” The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” “Dream Baby” (a song popularized by Roy Orbison), and “Hello Little Girl,” Lennon’s first original song. You can hear their performances of those first three songs on YouTube:

Pilbeam was a bit more impressed with the Beatles after they finished their performance, and right away he booked their return. In the next three years they would appear on the BBC more than 50 times, performing (counting repeats) at least 275 songs. To hear more, you can buy the Beatles’ two-disc set Live at the BBC, or you can listen to Kevin Howlett’s great 1982 BBC documentary The Beatles at the Beeb. The first hour is below, and you can head over to YouTube to hear hours two and three.

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