The Beatles Perform a Fun Spoof of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1964)

Before Brian Epstein discovered The Beatles in 1961, they looked nothing like the British mop-top mods of their early sixties pop phase. As the Quarrymen, they aped the looks of American fifties rockers (see a slideshow in this fan-made video of “In Spite of All the Danger”): Sometimes they dressed like folk revivalists in checkered shirts and jeans, sometimes like a Carl Perkins rockabilly band in matching suits and skinny ties, and sometimes like pompadoured greasers straight out of West Side Story.

But even after the band acquired its distinctive look and wrote a cache of original songs, they were still “competing for increased exposure just like everybody else.” This meant numerous goofy publicity stunts, every one of which they seemed to thoroughly love. In one such affair, the foursome taped a television special called “Around the Beatles,” a reference to the theater-in-the-round studio setup. In the first part of the program, they donned yet another costume, Shakespearean dress, and staged a spoof of Act V, Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in honor of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. (See the original black-and-white BBC broadcast from April 28, 1964 above. The show was broadcast in America on ABC that November, in color.)

After some fanfare, “Around the Beatles” opens on Ringo, in hose and doublet, firing a cannon. Then we get the obligatory hoard of screaming teenage fans singing the praises of each Beatle and marching into the studio with signs and banners. After another trumpet fanfare, the play begins, and we’re off into slapstick British comedy, with a mugging Paul as Pyramus, sneering John as Thisbe, smirking George as Moonshine, and a scene-chewing Ringo as Lion. The hecklers in the box seats were scripted, mostly (one yells “go back to Liverpool!”—probably not a plant). Overall the silly skit confirms what I’ve always maintained: if the Beatles’ hadn’t made it as musicians, they’d have done well to stay together as a comedy troupe.

The second part of the special featured musical performances from several other acts and, of course, from the Beatles themselves. See the band bop along to a medley of “Love Me Do”/ “Please Please Me”/ “From Me to You”/ “She Loves You”/ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” above. They prerecorded the music on April 19th and mimed the performances, as you can surely tell from the total lack of amplifiers onstage. This was, as it is again, the way of things in pop music on television. But if you are one of those who think The Beatles didn’t put on a good live show, Colin Fleming at The Atlantic begs to differ, with a thorough explication of rare recordings from an October 1963 performance in Stockholm.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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