The best, and I mean the absolute best article I know of on The Beatles, appears in the August 27, 1966 Saturday Evening Post. It’s entitled “The Monarchs of the Beatle Empire.” The author, James Morris, clearly gives the impression that he is an older, slightly sniffy Brit, distinctly posh and old school, who has been reluctantly and gradually charmed by The Beatles. (The Beatles after all had been household names in Britain since early 1963.) His article is a vaguely aloof, slightly snobby effort to explain how and why this happened to him and what he thinks of them. This generational and class distance that he maintains from his subjects, this sort of ironic affection combined with a wry and witty writing style fit perfectly with his subjects. The Beatles are perfect subjects for James Morris’s approach, being, themselves, rather ironic characters who never took themselves too seriously.
A photo of The Beatles standing together holding up their MBE’s for photographers is given a perfectly appropriate caption, “Standing in a Beatle version of attention, Ringo, John, Paul and George…” It’s the Fab Four casually holding out their awards, unabashedly bored.
Another accompanying photograph is of The Beatles onstage but it’s a shot of them as seen from above. We see them from directly overhead, the amplifiers, a piano, the drums, the pre-amps, chairs, microphones, spare guitars set on the stage floor behind the amps. What catches the attention of the author, and startling to the reader, is the profusion of electrical cords and cables that are strewn about the stage as The Beatles perform. The cords and The Beatles throng to the microphones, to the amplifiers, to pre-amps, to the guitars. The Beatles perform amid a swirl of electrical spaghetti. The photo caption cheerily observes, “Plugged in and fancy free, The Beatles cut loose during a concert inParis.”
A third photo is of John Lennon and Harold Wilson. The caption, “Standing beside Prime Minister Harold Wilson, John Lennon, somewhat a head of state himself, gives an enigmatic ‘V’ sign.”
The clever impishness of the captions rather successfully matches the knock about, off-the-cuff humor of The Beatles themselves. The author manages a literary tightrope of being both erudite and hip.
Morris writes, “No history of the 1960’s will be complete without a Beatle footnote, and, above all, no future history of England will be true to itself unless it has a paragraph, fond or scathing, frivolous or profound, about these irrepressible scions of what Winston Churchill loved to call “The Island Race.”
This is good stuff. Not the pap of the fanzines, not the au courant pop-dash of the Rolling Stone type magazines.
Morris writes knowledgeably of the place of Liverpoolin post-war Briton and notes that The Beatles released the humor, the brash and bouncy irreverent interior monologue that characterized the denizens of what the rest of Briton considered a dreary cultural backwater. The Beatles “…Mersey accent, which not long ago would have seemed to most Englishmen barbaric, now falls with an attractive bite upon the ear.”
Though sick and tired of the “disrespect” so prevalent in post-war Briton, in plays, in novels, in protests, “…The Beatles’ disrespect has been of a different kind. It is eminently genial. Somehow or other it does not often give offense.” Morris goes on to say that The Beatles “…have expressed something that most of us inEnglandhave instinctively felt – that the old values did need a cheerful dust-down. Why should we all be manly? Why should life be quite so real, quite so earnest?”
James Morris brings back the marvelous fun of those early Beatle days and makes it perfectly clear once again what cheerful avatars they were before their immense fame began to encrust them and the cultural vultures broke through their delightful and astonishing nonchalance.