|Genre||Comedy, hidden camera show|
|Running Time||20 mins approx (8 minute ad break)|
Pete Best (series 1 only)
“Watch out, copyright men about.”
Beatles About was a British Television programme highly popular during the 1980s, where celebrities and ordinary members of the public, whilst being secretly filmed, became victims of practical jokes concocted by the very members of popular beat combo the Beatles themselves.
Existing mainly to boost the Beatles' ailing careers, the show was presented on a rotational basis by Beatles members, including for a short while Pete Best, who hosted two shows. However, he was asked to leave after McCartney alleged that, much like his drumming, his comedy timing was “off”. For many years, Christmas editions, bringing together all members for festive specials were screened. These were extended versions, pasting together moments from previous episodes and a huge audience sing-along chorus of Hey Jude and Baby You Can Drive My Car.
The practical jokes, which constituted the main element of the show, would generally take the form of Paul McCartney or George Harrison dressing up in policeman or walrus outfits and performing bizarre feats and inflicting much embarrassment on the person in a large populated area such as a shopping centre. A particularly memorable stunt involved Ringo Starr donning a giant red pepper suit with three ‘pips’, a cryptic clue and a particularly tenuous reference to Sergeant Pepper.
The stunts usually ended in live a capella performances of Glass Onion or Yellow Submarine to a captivated audience, after which copies of their latest compilation or experimental albums would be handed out.
“Baby You Can Drive My Car”
This segment referred to any stunt involving motorised vehicles, often utilising animals that would drive to the pub, local store or, in the case of later editions, Beatles concerts. The last of these proved to be a rather feeble attempt to insert Ringo’s latest side project, “T To the Tank: The Fat Controller Remix”, into the public consciousness. As it turned out, the record was critically panned but later reached Christmas number one, selling three hundred and five copies to beat Eminem’s Mr Blobby to the coveted top spot.
This would involve one of the members of the band, heavily disguised, to get into all sorts of scrapes, appealing for help from the members of the general public. Oh how they laughed when they realised they had in fact been shaving the hair off the back of a gorilla man and not, in fact, one of the band.
Beginning of the End
However, it soon became evident that the rift between McCartney and Starkey was taking its toll. Viewers complained that the stunts were becoming somewhat lacking in imagination, pointing out in particular the “water pistol incident” in which Starkey walked into a Slough off-license in broad daylight wearing a walrus mask and held up the counter with a Supersoaker before squirting the till worker in the face and stealing a 20-pack of Durex and six sweets from the pick ‘n’ mix counter. McCartney was said to be furious, claiming that he, and only he, was the walrus.
Unfortunately for the show, the incident led to a three-month community service sentence for Starkey, who was forced to provide narration for obscure children’s show Tommy Tank. In a twist of fortunes, however, the programme would go on to become quite popular, to the point where Starkey was allowed to replace the ‘Phat Controller’ with ‘Paul Mac’ in certain episodes. Makers hastily claimed these to be ‘anomalies’ arising from a drunken final narration recording session that ‘slipped through the net’. Though the instances were later overdubbed, the unedited episode was shown twice on ITV. McCartney did not comment, though his son James, then 8, did refer to the incident as ‘very funny’ after seeing it on CITV on a Friday afternoon after Knightmare.
Attempts to revive the show in the mid nineties proved relatively fruitless. A six show series hosted by Beatles tribute band Oasis was commissioned in 1994. Whilst the majority of the show's viewing demgraphic 'could not tell the difference', what with the large amounts of LSD-fuelled delivery and impromptu fist fights, it was met with much criticism by the show's more ardent viewers, who claimed “it was never the same” after Ringo’s absence and eventual departure. The show was shifted to the 'graveyard' slot: 12AM on Tuesday mornings, when even the most insomnious of drunks would be either sound asleep or too drunk to even notice this was supposed to be a hidden camera show.
“Hey look, it’s that documentary with the Beatles again”
The show has, at times, come under fire, not least for its for its predatory nature. An incident involving a member of the public at a train station had to be played down after the rather unfortunate loss of a limb. It transpired that the woman in question thought a train, made to look like a bus for the purposes of a stunt, could be stopped by simply holding one's arm in its path.
Much more serious was an incident whereby a man, mistakenky assuming a policeman was Paul McCartney taking part in a stunt for the show, pulled at his beard. Of course, when questioned the Beatles found this highly amusing, especiallty the fact the man went down for years.
The biggest prank of them all
After the popularity of the show had waned and all chances of a comeback were long gone, George Harrison publicly announced that, in actual fact, the Beatles' music career was all one long, expensive hidden camera stunt. As he commented:
|What, you really think all those people at the Shea Stadium in '65 were genuinely cheering at us? Nah, they were all paid actors.|
Where are they now?
Whilst some members are now deceased, others have fared far worse. Paul McCartney now operates the ‘Yellow Submarine’ bus tour service in Liverpool city centre and Richard Starkey makes a living as a poor impersonator of Ringo Starr, appearing at look-alike events around the country.
Pete Best is now a multi-millionaire living in a bedsit just outside Toxteth, whilst the Walrus has a star on the Blackpool Golden Mile walk of fame. Ga joob.
- And, some might say, his body odour
- Starkey refused to comment whether the song was actually written about Paul McCartney.
- And, most of the time, losing.