During the lockdown in March and April 2020, 15 million people watched the BBC News. In a time of crisis, the British public turn to the BBC. Even when life was “normal”, 90% of the country make use of the BBC at some point during each week. In a survey carried out at the start of the pandemic, 62% of the population stated that they regarded the BBC as a trusted news source; the next most trusted source was Sky News with 8% and only 1% trusted the Daily Mail (who are these 1%?). There are always people lining up to criticise the BBC for a lack of balance – the Tory right and the Marxist left are equally likely to accuse Laura Kuenssberg of bias which, to me, means she probably has it about right. It was very interesting during the US Presidential election to watch CNN and observe the personal comment made by the presenters that pervaded every news item. If anyone on the BBC were to criticise a UK politician in the way that many CNN reporters pointed out the hypocrisy and deceit of Donald Trump, the £3.5 billion raised by the license fee each year would quickly be reduced to zero. A more valid criticism of Laura Kuenssberg is that she reserves comment and analysis for her Twitter account which has 1.2 million followers (including me). Twitter seems to be reserved for less factual and more interpretive comment. The last Director General of the BBC was Mark Thompson and he is quoted as saying “The BBC is more or less unique in constantly confronting its audiences with ideas, cultures and lived experiences which are radically different from their own”. This leads to problems about the comfort zone of the audience – Ofcom wrote last year that viewers are “increasingly avoiding programmes where their ideas are challenged.” In other words, the BBC aims to widen people’s perspectives but, as the country becomes more polarised, many of us are unwilling to consider alternative viewpoints.
It seems that most of the criticisms aimed at the BBC are to do with the quality of their news reporting but artistically, the corporation continues to shine. Programmes such as “Normal People”, “Doctor Who”, “Line Of Duty”, “The Night Manager” are just a few examples of the excellence that was provided to our TV screens last year. Radio 4 continues to give us “Desert Island Discs”, “More Or Less”, “Just A Minute” and much more.
We should cherish the BBC and defend it against any threat from politicians or their acolytes, such as Dominic Cummings who in 2004 said “It is crucial that BBC programmes are carefully monitored and complaints made”. It also gave us hours and hours of Beatles music between 1963 and 1966 which have been released on these two double CDs. Between them, these 4 CDs consist of 96 songs, 39 of which were never released on other Beatles’ LPs. There are also 36 interview tracks.
The songs are mainly recorded in mono, directly to tape in the BBC studios. Occasionally, any mistakes were edited out but most of what we hear is the sound of The Beatles performing live. As their fame increased, members of the band complained that their musicianship was deteriorating because they couldn’t hear themselves play above the screams of the audience. This doesn’t apply to these recordings – only one or two were recorded in front of a live audience. The quality of their performances (especially the vocal abilities of John Lennon and Paul McCartney) shines through; the songs lack the polish of the George Martin produced albums but what we get instead is a raw intimate sound and confirms that The Beatles really were the Best Group in the Universe.
“I’ll Be On My Way” was given to Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas and is the only Lennon-McCartney song here that wasn’t on another Beatles album. This was recorded on “Side By Side” in June 1963.
The other songs on the CDs that were hitherto unrecorded by The Beatles include many Chuck Berry songs including “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Carol”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Memphis Tennessee”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “I Got To Find My Baby”, “I’m Talking About You” as well as the otherwise available “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock And Roll Music”. If you ever needed proof that John Lennon was one of the best rock’n’roll singers of all time, his performance of “I’m Talking About You” on “Saturday Club” in March 1963 is all you need.
Ann-Margret Olsson is a Swedish born actress better known simply as Ann-Margret and the first time I remeber seeing her on film was in “Tommy” when she played Nora Walker, the mother of Tommy. She also had a successful musical career and in 1961 she took “I Just Don’t Understand” to Number 17 in the US Charts. The Beatles were always looking out for new songs to cover when they were performing in Liverpool to avoid replicating what other bands were singing. Although a US Top 20 hit isn’t exactly obscure, this is not a song I ever remember hearing and the version that The Beatles recorded in August 1963 on “Pop Goes The Beatles” is simply wonderful.
“Beautiful Dreamer” is a popular American song written in 1864 which has been recorded hundreds of times. Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller wrote a doo-wop version for Tony Orlando which contained only some of the original lyrics. The Beatles played this live many times and on 26th January 1963 (two weeks before they recorded the ten non-single tracks for the “Please Please Me” album) they recorded a version for “Saturday Club”.
These CDs are a treasure trove of alternative versions of well known Beatles songs and a window into the world of The Beatles’ record collections at the time. Thanks to the BBC, we can still enjoy them.