I love the Beatles. There isn’t really another way to say that – but The Beatles I love are the pre-India, unreconstructed, Chelsea boot Beatles. It wouldn’t bother me if I never heard Sergeant Pepper again, but the same can’t be said for me when it comes to”With the Beatles”, “Help!” and “A Hard Days Night”. Give me a mop top and some cheeky Liverpudlian close harmony singing and I’m in musical heaven, my friends. There is something about the infectious youth of these early albums that transcends things and is eternally fresh. Not that I’m to be trusted, of course, after an hour of listening to this sort of thing. I start behaving dramatically with liquid eyeliner and backcombing hair that already looks damaged, and emerge from Bluebird Towers looking like Valerie Singleton circa 1963 after she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards (by Adam Faith).
Anyway, I’m not going to tell anyone how fabulous The Beatles are because unless you have all been living in a hole in the ground since 1961 it won’t be necessary; this is a celebration of what is perhaps the finest mock-documentary style film that a band has ever made (ladies and indeed, gentlemen, I invite you to challenge me if you think there is a better one). “A Hard Day’s Night” radiates a peculiarly British sense of musical hope. The same year this film was made, The Beatles broke America. The acting is in fact very good, and the script has no flab on it whatsoever. Neither have The Beatles of course – there are none of the paunches and beards that made 1970 such a fashion disaster year for the Fab Four, after they’d spent three years eating all of Jane Asher’s cakes. The scene in “A Hard Day’s Night” where “Cant Buy My Love” is played in the background and they start jumping about like nutters in a random field (in Isleworth, for the anoraks), complete with jumpy camerawork that creates a truly modern slant, is utterly joyous.
For those of you who have not yet seen it, I suggest you pour a can of Vimto, shuffle on your single breasted suits and settle down for an hour or two of Liverpool’s finest. I defy you, ladies, to not reach for the liquid eyeliner before the end of the first hour. It’s stylishly filmed and stylishly suited and booted. Every sartorial choice that is made in the film is the right one. The plot is caper-esque – and there isn’t much of a plot, to be honest. Boys arrive on train to London to film a TV show. They get to lark about and defy the feeble authority of Shake and Norm, their warring managers, who spend the film ascertaining whether it is Shake’s fault he is taller than Norm. Paul’s grandfather comes along for the ride (good comedy value, grandfathers) who prides himself on being “very clean”. He sets up many of the films laughs, and mostly creates trouble. He has a Republican outburst in a police station and gets bailed. Ringo goes missing but The TV show goes ahead. Ladies scream. People faint. Beehives fall down with the sheer thrill of it all. It’s BEATLEMANIA, don’t you know.
Wow, look at them go, eh ladies! It’s the opening scene of the film. Paul McCartney is so thrilled at the prospect of getting on the 16:14 from London Paddington to Strawberry Fields that he is hopping about on the pavement like a right raver, whilst Ringo Starr looks like he’s left something behind. George is having a right laff. And, as for Lennon, the filthy-mouthed little urchin, well, all he’s doing is showing off his hairdo. However, he’s still the only one any of us would have wanted to sleep with. What?? No? Prefer Ringo Starr, would ya?
They proceed to turn the corner and in a lunatic, half-baked attempt at tomfoolery, conceal themselves in a series of telephone boxes. The screaming extras at Victoria Station were all real fans, paid a little money. At least enough for a Cilla Black record. The Beatles vault railings and it’s terribly exciting. Paul wears a false beard, thereby unknowingly imitating his 1970 self, to get away from their hoards of screaming ladies. They then catch a lift on a newspaper trolley before securing themselves in the official Beatles carriage for transportation of Beatles to glam telly filmings. It’s rock and roll, kids.
John is delighted to have bagged the window seat before Gerry and the Pacemakers got on board. Paul’s grandfather looks on ruefully from the bottom right hand side of the picture. He distrusts the youth of today, but proceeds to behave worse than them all, and flagrantly abuses the trust that is occasionally placed in him due to him being “a nice, clean old man”. George negotiates the complexity of the Beatles crossword in this week’s Beano, (Drummer, begins with R, five letters.) whilst Paul realises he’s forgotten the tickets.
“No, no – look!” says Paul. “Ringo’s hat IS scarier than yours! Look – it’s a horror!”
Paul meets one of his teenybopping fans whilst en route to Swinging London. No, okay, okay – this isn’t actually in the film. She is just a random old nutter.
On board the train, Paul’s grandfather becomes engaged. This causes some disturbance, but this is momentarily dispersed by an impromptu performance by all four Beatles of “I Should Have Known Better” in the luggage hold. Those were the days, eh, kids? John gets his harmonica out (STEADY LADIES) and serenades the dogs in the hold and an unexplained trio of Fifth Form girls. One of whom is the model Pattie Boyd who George is so entranced by he marries her 18 months later. Wowzers.
Grandfather is unimpressed with John’s “bottle up the nose” party trick. Apparently it’s an in-joke about cocaine, but it just looks like John is picking his nose. This coke joke print here is not used in the film as it is photographed here – John pretends to snort the coke bottle slightly off to the side while sitting down on the fab Beatles train. As I said, cheeky little urchin. You wouldn’t want your 14 year old daughter meeting him on the night out on the tiles. As he says to one of the Fifth Form girls they meet on the train, once his manager has convinced the girls he is convict : “I bet you can’t guess what I was in for!” I kid you not.
George has never been in a television studio and clearly cannot contain his joy. Here he is dancing with what appears to be an enormous prawn cracker. Make-up ladies in two piece suits gaze on lovingly and dream of being swept away to George’s Weybridge bungalow. It’s the rehearsal, chaps, and they sing to Lionel Blair and the dancing girls “And I Love Her”.
In Swinging London, the Beatles have some fun with Orangeade before their fab hip TV show. Meanwhile, there’s an interesting scene backstage, where John has a discussion with himself, and a small part actress nearby on whether or not he is, in fact, himself – or whether he isn’t himself. Paul seems to be diligently tuning his guitar and doesn’t get to have adventures. It is at this point that Ringo goes off for a wander, and the Grandfather figure gets arrested. His arrest is just another excuse to see the Beatles racing through the streets larking about whilst their music plays. Meanwhile, George is involved in a scene which lampoons the fashion industry and the youth culture industry in one fell swoop. He is mistaken as an auditionee for a job in television presenting, as a possible co-presenter with a “trendsetter” called Susan. He also gets to utter the word “grotty” for the first time on film (“Grotty? Make a note of that word and give it to Susan!” says the lunatic half-wit pretending to interview him).
Of course, the show eventually gets underway and goes like a steam train. St John Ambulance have a day of it, dragging unconscious teens from Warrington out of the auditorium. At the end of their “show” within the film, the Beatles do a short, slightly sombre bow, in unison. It seems to smack of an earlier age. It’s very restrained, as they shake their hair about to high chart-popping tunes in smart suits (at one point George hops from one foot to the other, and 16 ladies fall over with the thrill of it. God, he’s hardcore!).
It’s brilliant. See it, if you haven’t already. And if you have well – I command you to see it again.
Next week, let The London Bluebird guide you through the magnificent 1965 caper that is “Help!”? It’s in colour! Cor! And it also features my favourite outfit on a man in a film. Ever.
Finally, anyone want to have a stab at what the blazes is going on here? Is it a cover for a magazine of the specialist variety?
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every Thursday.