Peter Sellers Covers the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” “She Loves You” & “Help!”

In the ear­ly six­ties, Peter Sell­ers, one of the great­est com­ic actors of his gen­er­a­tion, met per­haps the great­est musi­cians of the age, the Bea­t­les, through their mutu­al pro­duc­er George Mar­tin. The par­tic­u­lar­ly British sen­si­bil­i­ties of the band and the actor—slapstick and word­play, accent and cos­tume changes—had sur­pris­ing­ly broad appeal in the six­ties, and a com­mon his­to­ry in their mutu­al admi­ra­tion of Eng­lish come­di­an and writer Spike Mil­li­gan.

Sell­ers rose to promi­nence on the Mil­li­gan-cre­at­ed BBC radio pro­gram The Goon Show, which the Bea­t­les cit­ed as a major influ­ence on their work. Their con­stant pat­ter in inter­views, films, even rehearsals, their ten­den­cy to break into music hall song and dance, comes right out of Sell­ers in a way (see, for exam­ple, the great com­ic actor in a rare inter­view here), but was also very much an expres­sion of their own extro­vert­ed per­son­al­i­ties. It stands to rea­son then that Sell­ers and the Bea­t­les, as we wrote in an ear­li­er post, “became fast friends.”

And as the Bea­t­les had paid trib­ute to Sell­ers’ com­e­dy, he would return the favor, cov­er­ing three of their most pop­u­lar songs as only he could. At the top of the post, see Sell­ers do a spo­ken word ver­sion of “A Hard Day’s Night” as Lawrence Olivier’s Richard III. And above and below, he gives us sev­er­al ren­di­tions of “She Loves You,” in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent accents, “in the voice of Dr. Strangelove, again with cock­ney and upper-crusty accents, and final­ly with an Irish twist. The record­ings were all released posthu­mous­ly between 1981 and 1983 on albums no longer in cir­cu­la­tion.”

There are many more Beatles/Sellers con­nec­tions. Before tap­ing his “Hard Day’s Night” skit for Grana­da tele­vi­sion spe­cial “The Music of Lennon & McCart­ney,” Sell­ers had pre­sent­ed the band with a Gram­my for the song, which won “Best Per­for­mance of a Vocal Group” in 1965. “Inci­den­tal­ly,” writes Mersey Beat’s Bill Har­ry, “the [Gram­my] pre­sen­ta­tion was made on the stu­dio set of ‘Help!’ and, inter­est­ing­ly, Sell­ers had orig­i­nal­ly been offered the script of ‘Help!’ (Obvi­ous­ly under a dif­fer­ent title) but turned it down.” Sell­ers and the Goon Show cast had pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Richard Lester, direc­tor of the Bea­t­les films and the John Lennon-star­ring How I Won the War.

Com­pletists out there may have also heard the record­ed con­ver­sa­tion between Sell­ers and the Bea­t­les that appears at the end of a boot­leg ver­sion of the White Album, which cir­cu­lat­ed for years under the title The Peter Sell­ers Tape. That the band and the come­di­an got along so famous­ly is no great sur­prise, nor that Sell­ers had so much fun rework­ing the rather sil­ly, and infec­tious­ly catchy, pop songs of the Bea­t­les’ ear­ly career, bring­ing to them his bat­tery of char­ac­ters and voic­es. We’ve saved what may be Sell­ers’ best Bea­t­les cov­er for last. Below, hear him—in the voice of a lec­tur­ing vic­ar and with a back­ing choir—deliver “Help!” as a 45 RPM ser­mon.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Peter Sell­ers Presents The Com­plete Guide To Accents of The British Isles

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

John Cleese, Ringo Starr and Peter Sell­ers Trash Price­less Art (1969)

John Lennon’s Appear­ances in How I Won the War, the Absur­dist 1967 Film

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

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  • alan bridges says:

    yes I have the vinyl some­where but Oh how I cried when watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to “a hard days night“I seem to remem­ber any old iron being on the album-must find it although I expect it is avail­able in CD for­mat-please help,thank you.AB

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