Saturday, May 11, 2013

Choochy Face

As 1980 gave way to a new year, television continued to cash in on pay tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles. On January 2, 1981, ABC's Friday Night Movie was Birth Of The Beatles.

This docudrama had been produced by Dick Clark and directed by Richard Marquand back in 1979, when it first aired on US network television November 23rd. A longer version, with saltier dialogue and some nudity, was released to cinemas in Europe during autumn of 1980. IMDb has a comprehensive list of the differences between the two cuts.

Of course, it was the US edit that got aired in 1981 and recorded on the start of a fresh blank tape on our RCA VDT 625 (my father has confirmed the model number, and found the manual to scan in for a future post!).

At this point in my Beatle fanhood, I hadn't read much in the way of biographies, mostly just discographies such as All Together Now and Illustrated Record. I did have Nicholas Schaffner's excellent Beatles Forever, but that focuses mainly on the years following their 1964 US breakthrough. A more thorough account of their early years would follow in Philip Norman's Shout!, published later in 1981, but at the time, it was Birth Of The Beatles that brought the Hamburg years to life for me.

Birth Of The Beatles covers roughly the period from Stu Sutcliffe joining the Quarrymen in 1960 through the release of "Love Me Do" in 1962. Pete Best acted as a script consultant, and while every detail is not exact and events are often compressed, omitted, or embellished for narrative purposes, the film does a fine job of evoking the era. Even now, when I picture the Larry Parnes audition or the Litherland Town Hall gig in my head, my brain borrows visuals from the movie.

The casting is decent, with Brian Jameson capturing Brian Epstein's soft-spoken mix of rage and vulnerability, and a pre-Chariots Of Fire Nigel Havers as a strangely humourless George Martin. Stephen MacKenna is appropriately charismatic as John Lennon, but it's quite distracting to have a 34-year-old actor playing 20-year-old Lennon. The music by soundalike band Rain is also very good, with only a couple of song choices (such as "Don't Bother Me", written in 1963, being played in Hamburg) jarring.

This movie was the first time I can recall hearing the expression "choochy face". I can't find any instances of the Beatles using that phrase, although Paul did throw it into a rendition of "Baby Face" in 1975. However, I must have heard it in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which contains the Sherman Brothers song "Chu Chi Face", sung by none other than Anna Quayle (Millie in A Hard Day's Night)!

Here are the closing credits of ABC's January 2, 1981 telecast of Birth Of The Beatles, from tape A3 in my library (what happened to A2, you ask? We obviously weren't labeling them in order). It includes plugs for the short-lived series Breaking Away and the "nine resident zanies" on Fridays, ABC's answer to SNL.


  1. Paul calls Ringo "chuchy face" at the end of the ukelele jam, on the bonus features of Anthology!

    Remember Birth of the Beatles well! Even then, I was angry and infuriated! I particularly hated the line "I'm a better drummer, even Ringo knows that!". Oof! Gave rise to a myth that hopefully is dead and buried, now that one can compare his drumming side by side to the Starr-man!

    Enjoying the blog! Really taking me back, I can't believe it, I got a vcr around the same time as you!

    I'm still blown away by the fact that you're in my age bracket!! You have done all 2nd-generation Beatlefreaks proud!!!!

    1. >Paul calls Ringo "chuchy face" at the end of the ukelele jam, on the bonus features of Anthology!<

      Good call, I forgot about that one. Maybe they really did say it to each other!

  2. I saw "Birth" around that time, it was shown in a movie theatre near to where I live in Norway. Don't recall any nudity though, as I was probably more interested in the Beatles story :-) I was impressed that they had Pete Best as a consultant on the movie.

  3. Anyone notice that Barbara Bach is credited as a Production Assistant?

  4. I think you were right the first time, here's Barbara Back:

  5. She went from a Beatle movie to Conan...funny. BTW you can remove my earlier comments. Was figuring out how to post under my name rather than anon.