The Beatles in Twickenham

There are two very significant Beatles anniversaries coming up and they are both related to Twickenham. 8th May 2020 is the 50th anniversary of their last album Let it Be and the 13 May 2020 is the anniversary of the release of the accompanying Let it Be film. Both film and album were recorded at Twickenham Studios in St Margaret’s. I filmed a walking tour of Beatles’ sites in Twickenham for the Beatles in Twickenham Exhibition at the Exchange in 2019. My walk took in the Turk’s Head pub on the corner of Winchester Road and St Margaret’s Grove. On the 10 March 1964 (which is incidentally the date I am writing this!) Ringo filmed a scene in the Turk’s Head where he buys
a sandwich and nearly skewers a parrot with a dart before being thrown out. The Turk’s Head back bar is where the wrap party for A Hard Day’s Night was held in 1964. The Beatles filmed the iconic ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ scene from the film at Thornbury Playing Fields in nearby Isleworth. The sped-up sequences, the jolting hand-held cinema verité camera technique and the black and white film have made A Hard Day’s Night a classic reminiscent of French New wave – in fact the British film Institute voted A Hard Day’s Night the 88th greatest British film of the twentieth century.

The Beatles’ second film Help! was filmed Twickenham. On 14 April 1965, they completed filming at Ailsa Avenue, west of St Margaret’s Road. The Beatles arrived in a black Rolls- Royce and enter four terraced houses, numbers 5, 7, 9 and 11, through separate blue, red, white and green front doors. These rooms cut away to become a single interior, a Beatles mansion, which was a set in Twickenham Studios. Eccentric visitors to Ailsa Avenue are often seen sitting on the manhole from the film Help! The Australian actor Leo McKern emerges with the manhole on his head in an iconic scene from the film while the Beatles sing ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’.

The Beatles’ final association with Twickenham was the filming of their final album at Twickenham Studios in 1969. The original release of the Let it Be captured the Beatles in a cavernous studio on cold January mornings. The music was uninspiring and the original release has the Fabs bickering in a generally nasty atmosphere. As a final testament to their illustrious career, it was an unedifying and depressing epitaph. However, there is a happy coda to the ‘Twickenham disaster’. Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings, has cleaned up the archival footage and emerged with a counter-history of Let it Be. Jackson’s new narrative captures the Beatles joking, extemporising silly lyrics and having a Fab poppermost time! Apple chief Jeff Jones says that the film will out in September 2020. 50th is a golden anniversary, and this treasured and timeless metal seems to be an appropriate way to celebrate the Beatles happy times in Twickenham!

On 25 June 2020, I will be speaking at the “It Was Fifty Years Ago Today”: An Academic Tribute to the Beatles conference at the of NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal. My talk is inspired by Beatles heritage culture, including Beatles walking tours in Abbey Road and Twickenham. My paper will discuss Cultural Tourism and Beatles Fandom with reference to the Abbey Road Studios and Twickenham. Beatles fans are now attracted to tourist destinations, and as Urry and Larson argue ‘The “gaze” despite being largely “performed” through architectural theming and representations, is “never predetermined and fully predictable”.

The Beatles and Black Music

I have just signed a contract with Bloomsbury for a book entitled The Beatles and Black Music: Post-Colonial Theory, Musicology and Remix Culture. This volume is about the history and influence of black music and culture on the Beatles from Liverpool’s colonial history through the Beatles’ global success in the 1960s, to their post-colonial solo recordings. As part of my research Richard will conduct interviews with musicians and academics in the field and will be talking to Walter Everett, the specialist popular music theorist, Katie Kapurch who has written Blackbird Singing: Black America Remixes the Beatles, as well as surviving musicians from the Beatles period who are still living in Liverpool and artists in the US from the iconic record labels Stax, Motown and Atlantic. The volume will be out in hardback and paperback in 2021.

Researching the influence of black music on the Beatles and cultural tourism in Twickenham adds something new to enjoying and understanding Beatles music. Beatles walking tours and knowing the musical roots of the Beatles places their work in a fresh context – ‘And that can’t be bad’!

Dr Richard Mills is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Popular Culture at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. Contact: richard. Twitter: @runkerry

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