Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sixties Fanmail

I have been watching the Freda Kelly documentary and that re-sparked my interest in the Beatles fan club and fan mail.   I found this article written by Tony Barrow in the January 1992 issue of the Beatles Book Monthly and found it interesting.   I especially enjoy the little stories of the fans who met the Beatles 

The Beatles backstage in Stockholm in 1963

Sixties Fanmail
By Tony Barrow

In dressing rooms at theatres and television studios, the Beatles passed many of their free moments reading bundles of fan mail and discussing the contents of letters with one another.

In the really early days before their national success, they wrote long, personal replies to individual letters by hand, particularly when they were away in Hamburg.  Later, if a fan letter was handed in at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios and the Beatles were there for a recording session, there was every probability that it would be read in detail on the spot and within the hour by one or more of the boys, and even the possibility that John, Paul George or Ringo would slip outside during a break for a chat with the writer.

Individual Beatles often dropped in unexpectedly to spend an hour or an afternoon at their fan club offices, first in Liverpool and later in the capital.  Widespread fame never really changed their attitude towards keeping in touch with their fans, although it was more difficult during tours abroad.  The boys fairly regularly visited their club’s central London headquarters at 13 Monmouth Street, off the top end of Shaftesbury Avenue, staying long enough to sign pictures, look through letters and collect their own birthday or Christmas presents.

I have never forgotten (and I’ll be he hasn’t) the extraordinary gift one fan sent through the mail to George for his 21st birthday – a full-sized front door “to put all your silver keys in!”  He was also sent a pair of gardening shears by someone hinting that the Four Mop tops might like to give themselves a drastic do it yourself haircut!

Apart from the fan club, people wrote to the Beatles c/o Johnny Dean at the editorial offices of “The Beatles Book” and reliable, informative replies were printed in subsequent issues.  Such was the close contact between the Beatles and their followers at the peak of the group’s professional lifespan. 

Other than in exceptional circumstances, fans of today’s major pop and rock superstars in the Nineties stand little hope of having their letters read or answered by the big names in person.   Fans clubs are big businesses nowadays, often part of lucrative, commercially prosperous, professionally-operated merchandising machinery geared up to sell products rather than proved a truly personal information service to followers of the artists.

In the Sixties, and throughout the height of Beatlemania, the majority of those who wrote the Beatles could expect a reply, one way or another, apart for one period of several months in the autumn of 1963 when the U.K. fan club, freshly established in London at that time, was overwhelmed by a totally unexpected avalanche of mail.  We’re talking about something like 50,000 letters which took both the tiny fan club staff and Brian Epstein’s management organization totally by surprise.
Until the club was re-arranged to cope with such vast number of enquires, the system broke down for a while.  When it was up and running properly again, there was not only effective letter-answering but also a Covent Garden phone line number via which callers, fan club members or not, could get instant answers to questions about The Fab Four.

Perhaps the most significant point of all about the way the Beatles’ fan mail was handled was the constant element of personal contact with members of the band.  Whether at the various fan club offices or at the HQ of “The Beatles Book”, people knew the Beatles were personally responsible for answering letter and phone enquires).  There was no deception, no sales pitch (because neither Johnny Dean’s firm nor the official fan club offered merchandising facilities) and, as a rule, not much of a delay in dealing with incoming letters from fans.

In 1963, after the Beatles had become the nation’s top new recording group, one of the earliest letters to “the Beatles Book” was a poem from a girl named Mary in Shewsbury:  “Please could you change your name?  To me you’ll never be the same, since podding the peas last Sunday morning, There amongst them without warning—a BEETLE!  Ugh (P.S. Happy Birthday Ringo).

Some fans devised ingenious reasons for claiming priority treatment, “I was in the scullery when I heard you singing ‘Roll Over Bethoven.’  I rushed to turn the wireless up, tripped, lost my shoe, and broke my toenail.  Now I can hardly walk as my foot is hurting so bad.  So I think that your autograph would compensate for my disablement.”

Isn’t it fascinating to see words like “wireless” and “scullery” in there to remind us just how recently they were in common use?  And how long it is since you podded peas on a Sunday morning instead of defrosting a packet of read-shelled ones from the fridge?

After Christmas each year, fans wrote to club secretary, Anne Collingham with queries about the special record the Beatles made for members, “I think Ringo’s swing version of Good King Wenceslas is fab and everyone laughs when they hear that bit about Ricky the Red Nosed Ringo.  I’m puzzled about one thing—who says Merry Christmas in that hearty Santa Claus voice at the very end?”  Sheila Barry of SW1 was told the voice belonged to Paul.

In reply to another letter, the fan club’s Bettina Rose told this anecdote, “I remember meeting Brian Epstein and the Beatles for the first time just after I had been given the OK to begin the first Southern Club.  Brian asked me how many members I had enrolled and all four boys looked at me in anticipation.  I went very red and said, “Nine.”   Three weeks later I had a hundred times as many – after just one advertisement in a music paper.”

At the height of the group’s fame, the fan club in the U.K. alone rose to an unprecedented 80,000, a figure which I believe has remained unmatched by any other pop or rock act to this day.
For many devoted collectors of the Beatles records, it was disappointment to come away from one of the group’s concerts having seen but not heard the Fab Four, the playing and the singing being drowned by constant screams from several thousand people. 

The relatively lo-fi sound system in theatres simply would not cope.  One Birmingham fan wrote, “It would be truly splendid to be able to go to a Beatles’ concert in 1964 knowing that everybody was going to get both sides of the performance – the hearing as well as the seeing!”

A lot of letters used to report on information meeting with one or more of the boys.  Christine Ramming’s uncle had a hotel near St. Moritz and she stayed there when John and Cynthia were at the nearby Palace Hotel in 1965.  She waited outside for hours, having been told that the Lennons were asleep.

“Eventually John emerged,” she wrote, “with George Martin, to hail a taxi; I went straight to him, greeted him and gave him a little Beatle doll which I had made myself and he thanked me.  I was very happy that I had seen him so near and could talk to him, without being surrounded by policemen and hundreds of other girls.”

Angela Crossland met Paul and Ringo outside Manchester’s Granada Television studios in February 1963, “When I asked for his autograph, Ringo replied that he had his hands full.  Seeing a bag in his hands, I grabbed it so he could sign autographs and through my good deed (for the other fans) I nearly didn’t get an autograph.  Paul and Ringo walked to a green car with a Beatle playing a guitar on the front.  Paul got into the driver’s seat.  Ringo got in next to Paul, got his bag from me and said, “Thanks luv” in that adorable scouse accent.  I will treasure these autographs forever.”

Irene Snidall accompanied a local reporter to a concert at Sheffield City Hall on May 25, 1963 and managed to meet the boys backstage in their dressing room, “John and Paul were changing from their stage clothes into something more casual, a black T-shirt topped by a grey denim shirt for John, Paul struggling into a black polo-neck sweater from which his tousled Beatle-cut and grinning face suddenly emerged.   I felt terribly self-conscious, clutching my handbag and LP cover, but my nervousness disappeared as soon as Paul began talking to me.  That was my first impression of Paul, very friendly, and soon he was chatting as though we had known each other for years.  He signed my LP with such a long message I really believed he must be writing his autobiography and passed it across to John who did the same.  When asked if he would like a cup of tea, John answered, “Ee, aya, bah gum, a will’ in his very best broad Yorkshire accent.  Then in his Professor Lennon voice, “And a little something to eat please.”  This is something I found terribly attractive about John, he is always changing from one thing to another, his humour is off-beat, and it would be pointless to write down any of the things he said as they would never be as hilariously funny in print.”

Anne, Vicky and Marie met the boys at the Liverpool premiere of “A Hard Day’s night”:  “When the Beatles came into the Odeon, we were standing in the foyer.  We couldn’t believe that we were so close to them, it was the nearest we have been since the good old Cavern days.  The next evening in the Liverpool Echo, George said ‘The best welcome I had was when I saw six girls that used to sit on the front row of the Cavern.’  Three of them were us, so you can imagine how thrilled we were that the Beatles still remember their old Cavern friends.”

Jean Westgate saw the film’s Royal premiere at the London Pavilion:  “My seat in the theatre was to the back, immediately near the entrance to the ladies cloakroom.  I happened to glance sideways and see the Beatles all coming through the door marked LADIES saying “Shh!” to each other!”

Fans who made a pilgrimage to Merseyside to check out old haunts of the Beatles used to be delighted with the meetings they managed to have with relatives of the boys.  James Park came down from Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1964 and regarded himself as one f the luckiest fans in the country, “I went to Ringo’s house and was given a warm reception by his mother.  Then she ordered a taxi to take me to George’s house.  I was invited in by George’s father and met his mother and brother, Peter.  Mr. and Mrs. Harrison drove me in George’s former car to Paul’s house in Allerton but his father wasn’t in.  They continued to John’s house in Woolton where I spent four hours talking to John’s wonderful Aunt Mimi.  After supper there I went to the Cavern Club where I spent two fabulous hours.”

What Barbara St. Reid of Middlesex wrote to “The Beatles Book” in the summer of 1964 nutshelled a general view.  Barbara admitted that until recently she thought that the Beatles must have become big-headed due to their phenomenal success.  “Why do I suddenly change my mind?  Earlier this week I actually met Paul, George and Ringo (John was at a luncheon) when they were filming near where I live.  They were taking quite naturally and when they explained to us that they could not sign autographs because it would hold up production.  Paul especially seemed very regretful about it and even asked people if there were any photographs for us.  I thought this was one of the nicest gestures I have seen.  Now when anyone calls them big-headed slobs or anything else insulting, I shall know what to say!

Other fans aimed to set or break records.  Sheila Sullivan wrote from Stepney to say how she’d enjoyed “A Hard Day’s Night”:  “My friend Tina has seen the film 13 times and I have seen it 15 times.  Our mums saw we are both Beatle nuts, we can’t agree more.  Please hurry up and make another film!”


  1. I don't know where you find all these little gems, Sara, but I love reading them! I am a 62-yr old Belgian woman now who had a friend of a British pen-pal join the FanClub in my place because only British people could join and she would forward the stuff to me! Ha! Great times. Ria

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  3. I wrote to the Beatles Fan Club around 1966. At the time I was at Boarding School And probably lonely. I may have mentioned that in my (no doubt) quite long and chatty letter( I loved writing letters ); I must have also mentioned that George was my favourite ( a 'favourite,' being essential to young Beatles' fans of the day. Not very long after , to my delight, I received a kind and chatty letter back from Mrs Louise Harrison . Sadly, my family was large and chaotic and although I took the letter home to show my sisters ( who weren't at boarding school) sadly, this precious item eventually disappeared. People may or may not believe me but I carry it as a special memory, and that's the main thing.