As 1980 gave way to a new year, television continued to
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.