The Beatles’ First, and Last, Live ‘Top of the Pops’ Performance
In the mid-'60s, the BBC's Top of the Pops was destination viewing for British rock fans. The Beatles appeared often, but only in pre-recorded performances and film clips. That changed on June 16, 1966, when the band appeared live and mimed "Paperback Writer" and "Rain."
Apart from a guest performance in June 1967 of "All You Need Is Love" as part of the international Our World event, it was the Beatles' last live television appearance.
"The mania made it pretty difficult to get around, and out of convenience we decided we were not going to go into the TV studios to promote our records so much, because it was too much of a hassle," George Harrison explained in Anthology. "We thought we'd go and make our own little films and put them on TV."
The idea was, continued Harrison, that the the group could use the clips in both the U.S. and U.K. to push its new songs because "we thought, 'We can't go everywhere. We're stopping touring and we'll send these films out to promote the record.' It was too much trouble to go and fight our way through all the screaming hordes of people to mime the latest single."
Even though the Beatles were in the middle of recording Revolver, Top of the Pops creator Johnnie Stewart persuaded manager Brian Epstein to have the band appear in person. In an NME story headlined "Beatles 11th-Hour Yes to Live 'Top Pops' TV," Epstein noted, "On Monday, Top of the Pops producer Johnnie Stewart wrote me a letter saying that although he had scheduled a Beatles film clip for the program, there had been an unprecedented demand for them to appear live in the show, and would they reconsider their decision not to? I put it to the boys late on Tuesday, and they said yes."
Among rehearsals, publicity photos and the performance, the Beatles spent nearly six hours at the BBC's Studio 2 in Shepherd's Bush. Despite the importance of the event to the show's producers and fans, no video exists of the performance. In 2003, the BBC admitted that thousands of '60s performances from Top of the Pops – including the Beatles' only live appearance – have been lost.
"We have one of the world's largest archives of sound and film, but yes, some of it is not all there," a BBC Archives spokeswoman told The Herald. "There are several reasons, but in the 1960s, tape was also expensive and bulky to store, and programs were often simply copied over, while only excerpts or scraps of shows have been kept." And a piece of music history is gone.
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