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The Beatles: Made on Merseyside, BBC Four review - when the Fab Four were five | reviews, news & interviews

The Beatles: Made on Merseyside, BBC Four review - when the Fab Four were five

The Beatles: Made on Merseyside, BBC Four review - when the Fab Four were five

Lack of music detracts from Liverpudlian origin story

We saw them standing there: The Beatles in 1963BBC/Screenbound Productions/Associated Press

Documentaries about the 20th century’s most fabled quartet keep coming. There’s no special call for The Beatles: Made on Merseyside (BBC Four), which looked at the group’s Liverpool beginnings, though at a stretch it could be argued that in the 50th anniversary year of their horrible break-up we need reminding of pop’s Biggest Bang in 1963. This was almost the film to do it. Yet for such an explosive moment in cultural history it was curiously downbeat.

That might be because, as we were reminded throughout, the group’s genesis was scruffy and full of false starts. Liverpool in the 1950s seemed on the edge of nowhere – “bleak and lonely, with black buildings and soot”. DJ Paul Gambaccini stated that it then took five years of “hard work” on the part of these teenagers to reach the brink of the mania that struck the globe 56 years ago. Others might call it an indefatigable and often awful slog. The core players were pretty ordinary guys. Alan Byron’s film even kicked off with a mid-1960s press conference with Paul saying they’re not very good musicians: just “adequate”.

Before fame, on the professional circuit at least, no one was that interested in (or perhaps ready for) four – or five – white, lippy Scousers pounding out African-American beat music. London record companies at the time had plenty of here-today gone-tomorrow rock’n’roll on their books and it was by sheer historical accident that The Beatles encountered a man of such intuitive sensitivity as George Martin, their future EMI producer. Up in the North West, meanwhile, they were adored by the youngsters who queued at lunchtimes to see them at the Cavern. The film left us in no doubt that before the Beatles became The Beatles, they were a cult. And let’s also be clear about, with some pre-1962 shuffling of the pack, just who they were: Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

From the formation of the Quarrymen under John in 1957, there were in fact numerous participants. John’s close friend Stu was an artist and potentially the most charismatic Beatle, even if he was a rubbish bassist (which is why Paul got the job: Stu died of a brain tumour in 1962). A few other old soldiers show up here: Len Garry and Colin Hanton (nope, me neither), who, elegantly grey-haired in their 70s, told us a bit about who, pre-Cavern, wanted to sing or bang a drum. You’re thinking: they’re delighted in 2019 to be reminiscing about contact with pop’s most famous singer-songwiters but, boy, what did they miss out on…?The Beatles, BBC FourIn the same brigade, grey-haired but very bright-eyed, was ur-Beatles drummer Pete Best, now 77. Pete is so congenial, so huggable – happily married, a grandad several times over – you want him desperately to be the luckiest man in history. In 1961-2, the three by then full-time Beatles, magnificently misbehaving and musically breaking their backs in Hamburg, had spotted a less good-looking but more extrovert, and rather stylish, Liverpudlian hitting the skins with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Paul and George had become quite down on Pete, who was fired by manager Brian Epstein – as ordered by his boys – in June 1962. Ringo Starr is said to be the luckiest musician in history. American writer Jonathan Gould (Can’t Buy Me Love, 2007 – one of the better Beatles books, and there aren’t that many) says, rightly, that Ringo’s acceptance of the invitation to join was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to The Beatles.

There was very little of them as that, the phenomenon, in this film. As so often happens, too, no Beatles music (only echoes of it) – the controlling Apple company once again laying down the copyright red lines. There was a lot of Pete Best, which is perfectly sweet but completely irrelevant. He became the non-Beatle, which I might unkindly say excludes him from taking part in assessing the band’s real story.

For that – film-makers, nota bene – you need: the two surviving members; a man called Peter Brown in New York (with Epstein from the start and with the Beatles, on the inside, until 1970); and, to build the bridge between Liverpool and London, Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend from 1963 to 1968. And loads and loads of original Beatles singles and album genius… Otherwise, you end up with throat-clearing, which is what Made on Merseyside basically was.

Comments

Old soldiers as you put it, Len Garry and Colin Hanton, names incorrectly captioned, have been together with fellow Quarryman Rod Davis and others since 1997, so please show them some respect... Also since the documentary was about the Beatles in Liverpool I think Pete Best has every right to be featured as he was a Beatle during those pre fame years....

The guy coming through the Top Ten double double door and talking about the second invasion is Iain Hines..who can correct most of story..he was all the time there. Niot much on Sheridan..Iain saw him in London..devastated as passport nit ready for a USA bases gug..so Iain invuted him to join The Jets..Iain's group. He did...and later Beatles did My Bonny..Iain's arrangement not Sheridan's..which Eppy heard. If Iain had not invited Tony...no Polydor gig for Beatles..other record labels had turned them down..so? What a catalyst..Iain Hines!

Is Iain still with us?

I sure am still here! Iain

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