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The Beatles at ABC Television 1963 - 1966

A Beatles Compendium

The northern arrow didn't just point towards Granadaland. As Yoda knew, there was another.

ABC Television, sometimes referred to as ABC Weekend, operated from 1956 until the devastating 1967 ITA franchise decision which told ABC to merge, move, or die by summer 1968. ABC had three studio bases, one in Didsbury in Manchester, one shared with ATV in Aston in the Midlands and another in Teddington Lock in Middlesex. Despite the regional carve-up, many ITV channels had studios and connections in London, Granada among them, so ABC's presence in the south was not unique. The Teddington complex was bequeathed to them as a result of Warner Brothers exiting film production in the UK, leaving an empty studio, and due to Associated British Picture Corporation's association with Warner's the studio became theirs.

ABC broadcast the Sunday night drama series Armchair Theatre, in which new British writers were commissioned to create a new work for TV. It brought the new wave of British writers like Alun Owen (later to work for The Beatles), Harold Pinter, Ted Willis, David Mercer and many others to millions of viewers each week. The station also provided an excellent weekly arts strand, Tempo, broadcast on a Sunday afternoon, which allowed the film makers and subject matter tell their own stories with no pre-determined outcomes. But it was with light entertainment that the station excelled. ABC had talent and reputation, it needed to if they were going to attract big names, and their ability to get practically any star they wanted from Tommy Cooper to Frank Sinatra spoke volumes about the station's intention and bravado. They were players, despite not being London based.

They also had a unique visual style. Production designer Brian Eatwell worked on ABC's variety shows like Thank Your Lucky Stars and Big Night Out creating 2D plywood backgrounds for each song or dance number which the set shifters could move around quickly and possibly use again for another production. A search on the internet will rightly and deservedly refer to his post-ABC work in the movies, especially his time with Nicolas Roeg, but he started with TV and his creative use of sets certainly inspired shows like America's Hullabaloo. More evident was ABC's upside down triangle ident, adapted from their parent company's cinema insignia, it became one of ITV's most iconic logos, hurtling toward the screen almost threatening to break free from the TV set itself.

ABC had nouse and the talent, what they didn't have was a network. Constant bickering with their midlands neighbours ATV meant that a tit-for-tat offensive served neither well. ABC wouldn't show ATV's Sunday Night At The London Palladium, so ATV wouldn't show Thank Your Lucky Stars, and so on.

Unlike ATV ABC had no access to stars via links to talent agencies, but it had one link to The Fabs that no other ITV channel had. Brian Matthew was not only the host of Thank Your Lucky Stars, but also the BBC radio show Saturday Club, which the group had played on several times. Matthew and The Beatles became friends, but Matthew would also become a business partner with Brian Epstein, and the two proposed to build a new theatre in Bromley, Kent in the mid-sixties. Although this association was no guarantee that The Beatles would agree to appear, it certainly didn't hurt. He was a friend and the group knew and trusted him.

Although Granada rightly justifies its ties to the group ABC also played a significant, but mostly overlooked, role in the making of The Beatles and Beatlemania.

1963

Saturday 19th January 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:30 pm
Please Please Me.
Introduced by Brian Matthew, who The Beatles had already met on the BBC Light Programme's Saturday Club. The show had dropped its initial star sponsor angle by this time, but it would have been interesting to see who could/would have introduced the group to the television audience, Billy Fury perhaps, Frankie Vaughan? The group were at the Alpha studio in Aston, Birmingham, miming in front of what looked like a checkerboard design, with a black background and white squares. They were the last act in the show's first half.

Saturday 23rd February 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:30 pm
Please Please Me.
A second outing for the fabs on the show and during rehearsals at ABC's Teddington studios they posed with fellow Scouser Billy Fury. For the rehearsals there appears to be a thin black window-like frame behind Ringo and another behind Paul, although a photo from the actual broadcast taken by a fan looks as though they had their own set design with "PLEASE" and other graffiti in big letters behind Paul.

Saturday 2nd March 1963
ABC At Large 11:00 - 11:50 pm
The Beatles and Brian Epstein were interviewed by David Hamilton on ABC's late-night magazine programme. A clip of Please Please Me from Thank Your Lucky Stars on 23rd February 1963 was also shown.

Saturday 9th March 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:30 pm
Although this edition doesn't have the Fabs it does feature Tommy Roe and Chris Montez who were both on the current Beatles UK tour. They take up all of the second section of the show with sets facing each other.

Saturday 20th April 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:30 pm
From Me To You.
Recorded at Teddington, this appearance sees the band in front of four large thinly-framed love hearts.

Saturday 18th May 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:55 - 6:35 pm
From Me To You, I Saw Her Standing There.
Back to the Alpha studios. They were allowed to perform two songs as they were topping the bill for the first time. The set design had lights set in several large upwards-pointing arrows.

Saturday 29th June 1963
Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) 6:05 - 6:45 pm
From Me To You, I Saw Her Standing There.
This was the first of two Lucky Stars Merseybeat specials. This summer version of the show, recorded at the Alpha studio, was hosted by Pete Murray. Again, as the show's stars they were given two songs, the same two songs that they performed at their last appearance. They appeared on a long, thin stage with some kind of large, stripey screen suspended above them.

Saturday 24th August 1963
Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) 6:05 - 6:45 pm
She Loves You, I’ll Get You.
Taped at the Alpha studios in Aston (although a report in music paper Disc has it being taped in Manchester), there appear to be black discs on on the studio floor, while there are thin white drapes hanging from a frame around them (a bit like a shower curtain), with vertical writing on one of them. They performed both sides of their new single.

Saturday 7th September 1963
Big Night Out 7:40 - 8:30 pm
From Me To You, She Loves You, Twist And Shout, I Saw Her Standing There.
Hosted by Mike and Bernie Winters who had previously appeared in several rock and pop movie musicals. The group would appear in sketches with the brothers on subsequent shows, but this time they were the closing act, given three songs and a finale with the show's cast twisting along. Like Lucky Stars, the band were miming to their original EMI recordings. The set design resembled the arches of The Cavern club with the group name behind them. This is the earliest surviving clip in the ABC/Studio Canal archive.

Saturday 26th October 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:35 pm
All My Loving, Money, She Loves You.
Back to the Alpha studios in Birmingham and something of a coup for the show as the songs All My Loving and Money wouldn't be released on record for another month. They are on a checkerboard stage with the word BEATLES suspended at an angle above Ringo.

Thursday 28th November 1963
In The Stage, published on this day Howard Thomas of the ITV north and midlands weekend franchise claimed "ABC can afford to spend £3000 an hour on adult educational programmes because Thank Your Lucky Stars and The Avengers both reach 6,000,000 homes in Britain, and Armchair Theatre reaches 6,500,000. Yes, the Beatles help pay for the egg-heads!"

Saturday 21st December 1963
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:35 pm
All My Loving, Twist And Shout, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Lucky Stars' second Merseybeat special. Recorded at the Alpha studios, this would be ITV's entry for the 1964 Montreux Golden Rose TV Festival. The Beatles were late for rehearsal so The Dakotas took their place miming to I Want To Hold Your Hand with bass player Ray Jones holding his bass left handed like Paul McCartney. The show also featured two other Lennon and McCartney songs - Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas' I’ll Keep You Satisfied and Cilla Black singing Love Of The Loved. The Beatles have their first names incorporated into the stage set, such is their national fame.

1964

With the creation of Top Of The Pops, a nationally networked show, Ready Steady Go which started in August 1963 and the group's world-wide domination of the pop charts their ABC appearances would inevitably decrease.

Saturday 29th February 1964
Big Night Out 6:35 - 7:25 pm
All My Loving, I Wanna Be Your Man, Till There Was You, Please Mister Postman, Money, I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Having barely recovered from their sensational American debut they were back at work with an appearance that had probably been booked the previous year before it all went mad across the Atlantic. They took part in a hastily written sketch at the beginning of the show which saw them arriving back at London airport with the Winter brothers playing customs officials. An unprecedented six song set, mimed as usual. Recorded at ABC's Teddington studios, their arrival by boat alongside the studio had been covered in an ITN news report on the evening of recording, 23rd February. Despite the obvious public interest in the show its broadcast was staggered around the UK with Southern TV not showing it until 6th March. Each Fab had his own small block of stage to stand on, while a Union flag in a heart-shape hangs at an angle above Ringo, with their names alongside. An edited version of the show, with emphasis on The Beatles, would be distributed across north America by Seven-Arts. There's no doubt that shows like this inspired Alun Owen's decision to set the group's debut feature film A Hard Day's Night around a TV show, complete with an appearance by dancer / choreographer Lionel Blair who had also appeared on the 7th September 1963 broadcast of Big Night Out.

Sunday 10th May 1964
Big Beat ‘64 part two 4:05 - 5:35 pm
Introduction By Murray The K, She Loves You, You Can’t Do That, Twist And Shout, Long Tall Sally, Can’t Buy Me Love.
The Beatles were voted Best Group in the New Musical Express poll with all the poll winners invited to play live at the annual celebratory show at the Empire Pool, in Wembley, London. The whole show was recorded and the edited highlights were broadcast over two subsequent weekends, saving The Beatles live set (and their award collection) until the end. Unfortunately all acts seem to have problems with the microphone stands provided which refuse to stand still throughout the evening.

Saturday 11th July 1964
Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) 5:50 - 6:35 pm
You Can’t Do That, Long Tall Sally, Things We Said Today, A Hard Day’s Night.
A live broadcast from ABC's Teddington studios due to the cancellation of the intended 5th July recording because of strike action. Once again, The Beatles arrive at the studio by means of a boat. Hosted by friend Dusty Springfield this was the group's first appearance on the show since the end of 1963. They play two songs at the beginning and another two at the end. In her closing comments Dusty says "I'm getting out of here!" while A Hard Day's Night plays over the credits. Ringo's drum kit is elevated on an eighteen-inch high podium, while diagonal striped screens appear to the band's left.

Sunday 19th July 1964
Blackpool Night Out 8:25 - 9:25 pm
A Hard Day's Night, Things We Said Today, You Can't Do That, If I Fell, Long Tall Sally and sketches with Mike & Bernie Winters.
The summer replacement version of Big Night Out sees the group performing in brief sketches with The Winter brothers, playing doctors and binmen. Again, their first names appear as the set design behind Ringo. Broadcast live from ABC's Theatre in Blackpool which, as of summer 2020, has a fully-restored tram running along the seafront complete with its original 1960s ABC Weekend Television lights and livery.

Saturday 21st November 1964
Lucky Stars Special 5:50 - 6:35 pm
I Feel Fine, She’s A Woman, I’m A Loser, Rock n Roll Music.
Back to Teddington for a Lucky Stars Special, named in honour of the group's participation. However, there was no audience as their contribution was a pre-recorded insert. To open the show Ringo pulls a cord to reveal what looks like a statue. It is in fact Brian Matthew, host of the show. They perform with a large BEATLES sign behind them.

1965

Saturday 3rd April 1965
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:35 pm
Eight Days A Week, Yes It Is, Ticket To Ride, Paul and Ringo interview by Brian Matthew.
Their last personal appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars, but this time in front of an audience. Among the audience members were winners of a Birmingham Mail competition. The stage floor appears to be blue with rows of seating at the back with several Thank Your Lucky Stars logos. It's probable that Gerry & The Pacemakers who were due to appear on the show were dropped when The Beatles made themselves available.

Sunday 11th April 1965
The Eamonn Andrews Show 11:05 - 11:50 pm
Ticket To Ride, Yes It Is, interview.
Earlier in the day The Beatles had appeared in the annual NME Poll Winners' Concert at the Empire Pool in Wembley which would be broadcast by ABC a fortnight later. Several hours after the show they were sitting alongside Eamonn Andrews in his chat show den at the Teddington Studios of ABC. Miming to both sides of their new single it looks at though they are wearing the same light brown jackets they wore at the NME show earlier in the day and would do at the Shea Stadium gig in August. There is for some reason a curved staircase beside Ringo, rising above and behind him. Before they play Eamonn congratulates Ringo on the announcement of his forthcoming fatherhood, Lennon dismisses as pointless any psychological interrogation of the group, while another guest, author Wolf Mankowitz, declares that they are not modest while they argue that he makes it sound that they would be arrogant enough not to care about how good they are.

Sunday 25th April 1965
Poll Winners’ Concert part two 4:10 - 5:35 pm
She’s A Woman, Ticket To Ride, Long Tall Sally, and award presentation by Tony Bennett.
The Fabs were back as NME Poll Winners at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Despite the show being produced by ABC it was Rediffusion's Ready Steady Go hosts Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan that announced the acts. As before, you had to wait until part two to see The Beatles' live appearance.

Saturday 17th July 1965
Lucky Stars Anniversary Show 5:50 - 6:30 pm
Help! movie clip.
Celebrating its 200th edition, Lucky Stars takes a chronological look at its four-year history. The group gives the show an exclusive, the UK debut of a clip from their new movie. Their old friend and former presenter Brian Matthew makes an appearance on the show, despite the presence of Jim Dale, his replacement.

Sunday 1st August 1965
Blackpool Night Out 9:10 - 10:05 pm
I Feel Fine, I'm Down, Act Naturally, Ticket To Ride, Yesterday (Paul solo), Help!
Back to Blackpool for this, probably their most memorable live TV appearance. Paul takes a solo with Yesterday, accompanied by the ABC Showband. George introduces him by claiming "For Paul McCartney, Opportunity Knocks!", making reference to ABC's weekly talent show. Sadly, there's no time for comedy with the Winter brothers this time around.

Saturday 4th December 1965
Thank Your Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:35 pm
Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out (promo clips).
With Brian Matthew gone, the group seemed not that bothered anymore, merely providing promo clips, but they would on occasion perform pre-recorded inserts for the rival Top Of The Pops, even appearing in person on the show in 1966.

1966

Saturday 30th April 1966
The ABC of ABC 11:00 pm - 12.05 am
I Wanna Be Your Man.
For ABC's tenth anniversary show, broadcast late at night the producers dug out I Wanna Be Your Man from Big Night Out in 1964.

Sunday 15th May 1966
The New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert 3:50 - 5:00 pm
The Beatles receive their awards.
The TV broadcast of their final appearance at the prestigious show sees The Beatles receive their awards and nothing else as ABC and The Beatles' management couldn't agree on payment. Only ABC, Anglia, Westward and Channel from the ITV network decided to show it.

Saturday 25th June 1966
Goodbye Lucky Stars 5:50 - 6:35 pm
Rain (promo clip - Abbey Road version), Paperback Writer (promo clip - Abbey Road version).
Negotiations to include one or more of the clips in the previous weeks' show came to nothing, but they were included in this, Lucky Stars' final show. Again, Brian Matthew was welcomed back. We get a nice backstage look at the set designs that had been used over the years.

Sunday 21st August 1966
Tempo 2:15 - 2:40 pm
Mods And Rockers (a film of a Western Ballet production from 1963, with songs by Lennon & McCartney).
Taking things back to the beginning. This was, even by 1966, an old film resurrected for a Sunday afternoon.

And that was it. With no new tours to play they would have more time to appear on TV, but they didn't need to or want to. They would pop up on various David Frost shows in various groupings, but they would not be seen again on ABC, nor would they spare much time for its successor Thames Television, with only John and Yoko giving Eamonn Andrews the time of day before the decade was out.

Much of the detail on set design has been taken from The Beatles on DVD web site and photos from Getty images and Alamy.