Clip of Beatles only live appearance on Top of the Pops is ‘11-second holy grail’

The Beatles perform live on stage in front of a circular lit backdrop at the BBC TV Centre, June 1966. Picture: Getty
The Beatles perform live on stage in front of a circular lit backdrop at the BBC TV Centre, June 1966. Picture: Getty
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It is only 11 seconds long, the picture is wobbly and there is no sound. But the reemergence yesterday of The Beatles’ only live appearance on Top of the Pops was greeted with almost as much rapture as the original performance.

The footage of Paul McCartney miming to the vocals on Paperback Writer was thought lost – but the tantalising extract, shot by a fan in Liverpool on a home movie camera, connects the remaining dots on a missing chapter in the in the annals of the most filmed band in history.

Other than their 1967 performance of All You Need Is Love on a global telecast, it was their final appearance on live TV.

Transmitted in the summer of 1966 and repeated at Christmas, it was captured in the front room of a house, and the edges of the TV screen can be seen. The clip ended up in the hands of a private collector in Mexico.

Rumours of its existence had been circulating for several years but yesterday, the TV archiving organisation Kaleidoscope confirmed that it had been restored.

It was, said the organisation’s chief executive, Chris Perry, “11 seconds of pure history”.

He added: “If you’re a Beatles fan, it’s the holy grail.”

The band had arrived at BBC Television Centre in London in the afternoon of June 16, 1966 for a rehearsal and press interviews. Photographs from the day show a bespectacled John Lennon rehearsing in a pink polo neck sweater and white trousers, but all four Beatles changed into stage suits for the live transmission, in which they were introduced by the programme’s presenter, disc jockey Pete Murray.

They were the last act on the show, and performed both sides of their current single.

“People thought it was gone forever because videotape wasn’t kept in 1966. To find it all these years later was stunning,” Mr Perry said.

The Mexican collector had been initially unwilling to return the footage to the BBC, he said, but had eventually decided he “wanted more people to enjoy the moment when someone saw the Beatles on the Christmas Day repeat screening and filmed them singing, using their new Christmas present”.

The Beatles had previously pre-recorded appearances for Top of the Pops, which had been on air for two years and had moved to the capital from its first base in Manchester, earlier in 1966.

Their live appearance was arranged with just two days’ notice after Brian Epstein, the band’s manager, passed on a request from the show’s producer, Johnnie Stewart. To his surprise, they agreed.

Ron Howard, the BBC photographer who took the rehearsal shots, described the Beatles in an earlier interview as “very nice, very pleasant and very professional”.

He said: “They came in with a whole security team – they even had food-tasters.”

The clip will be screened at the British Film Institute in London on April 20.