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Beatles, before the mania

Last Updated: Thursday, June 17, 2010 - 18:54

Paul Berriff

In 1963 I started my career at the Yorkshire Evening Post, working as an editorial assistant. At the time I was deciding whether to train as a reporter or a press photographer. In my spare time, I would be out and about with my camera photographing many subjects. At the same time, in 1963, the British pop scene started to emerge. I decided this would be one of my photographic subjects.

I persuaded the management of the theaters, where the pop groups would be performing, to let me backstage with my camera.

All the groups in the 60s performed live and that’s what it was all about. One of these new pop groups was called The Beatles. I met them for the first time backstage at the start of their UK and world tour. I was only 16 years of age then.

They did not have electronic backing tracks. The Beatles would come on stage with their 3 guitars, a set of drums and two Vox amplifiers and make those wonderful sounds. It was a short fulfilling partnership- just before the Fab 5 became a sensation.

Beatlemania was just beginning when I first met them. Although the Beatles were at the bottom of the billing in some of the concerts, I photographed them. None of us – or the Beatles themselves – realised at the time that they would become such a phenomenon.

Undoubtedly, their music was unique and each new number had a different style musically with great lyrics. I was with them from the release of their early songs like ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘She Loves You’. In fact one of my photographs captures Paul and John on stage singing ‘She Loves You’.

One day, I was in the auditorium of a theater the day after their single ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ had been released. I had arrived at the theater early with my girlfriend and we were just sitting in the stalls when the group came on stage and started setting up and rehearsing their new single. We sat there for two hours watching them go over and over the number. There was no one else in the theater watching them, so we had a unique performance all to ourselves– this was a privilege and the most memorable time I can recall with them

They loved their work and performing it, you could see it on their faces and in their body language that they were enjoying it as much as the audience.

During these early days of fame, they seemed to be taking it all in their stride and did not seem to be affected by their sudden massive appeal. They were always joking around backstage and smoking cigarettes. On one occasion, I photographed them playing at trains with the chairs in the dressing room- it was a lot of simple fun.

And then we witnessed the mania begin.

Police would bring the Beatles to the theaters in a prison van as there were massive crowds outside the theaters. Inside, there would be a handful of security guys at the front of the stage to try and prevent members of the audience from climbing onto the stage.

The audience was mainly girls. They would stand on the seats and scream continuously throughout the performance and many would faint! There were nurses on hand who spent their time carrying the unconscious girls out of the theater.

I was at the very front of the theater next to the stage and found it difficult to hear the Beatles singing.

They seemed to enjoy all the excitement and carried on regardless. Their style of music, their lyrics was really what turned them into THE Beatles. Each number was so different from their previous release and each one had such a catchy tune.

At that time (1964), they were just coming on stream; they did value their media image, so they were happy to pose for you. From the beginning in fact, Paul was the most forthcoming and media friendly. George too was very willing to talk to the press, but Ringo and John kept very much in the background.

Paul in fact was most willing to get photographed by me in the early days. On each of his visits to the north of England, he would come up to me and ask how I was doing and several times posed specifically for my camera.

A few months after taking their photographs, I became an official press photographer. Four years later, I moved from newspapers to television and became a film cameraman for the BBC and was the youngest one there. For 47 years I have been working in television and I am now a producer/director of documentary films.

Last year, I decided that I would like to take still photographs once again. I remembered that 47 years ago, I did take many photographs when I was a trainee and they were somewhere in a forgotten box in the loft of our house. I found the box containing around 800 black and white negatives and amongst them were the Beatles negatives.

I captured them using a Rolleiflex and a 35mm Nikon, the latter of which I still use to this day.

Surprisingly, they were in good order despite being in damp conditions all that time. I thought there were only about 6 negatives, but found around forty of them. It was then that I realised that this was a rare vintage collection that I should release to the world. Not only the Beatles, I also found a lot of unseen pictures of the Rolling Stones and Queen that I took in their golden days.

The pictures showcase The Beatles during unguarded moments on and off stage during their tour in 1963 and 1964 at venues such as the ABC Cinema in Huddersfield, the Odeon in Leeds and the Apollo in Manchester. You can take a look at these rare gems on www.the-beatles-hidden-gallery.com if you haven’t already seen them displayed at Menier Gallery (51-53 Southwark Street) in London.

(Paul Beriff is a UK-based BAFTA winning filmmaker-photographer who has spent the last half century capturing greats like The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Queen, The Searchers, The Hollies etc., apart from pioneering the ‘fly on the wall’ reality style documentary adopted by various TV companies like the BBC, Discovery and HBO. It is Sir Paul McCartney's birthday on June 18.)

First Published: Thursday, June 17, 2010 - 18:54

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