By Diane Reed,2014-06-28 12:58
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Introduction ...

Just the Same As They Was

    Before They Was

    The Beatles and Class

    in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

    Maria Postema

Just the Same As They Was

    Before They Was

    The Beatles and Class

    in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!

    Maria Postema


    English Language and Culture

    University of Utrecht, September 2005

    Supervisors: Onno Kosters and Peter de Voogd


    Preface 4 Introduction 6 1. Youth Culture 10 Teenage Revolution 10

    Subcultures 13

    The Beatles and Subculture 19

    2. Class and Classlessness 24 The Beatles: Working-Class Heroes? 25

    The Swinging Sixties and Classlessness 29

    3. A Hard Day’s Night 36 Cinematic Background: Social Realism and Pop Films 36

    The Making of A Hard Day’s Night 39

    Conflicts of Class 41

    Revolt of the Young 47

    4. Help! 53 Cinematic Background: Swinging Sixties Films and James Bond 53

    The Making of Help! 56

    “Just the same as they was before they was” 57

    A New Empire 60

    James Bond 64

    Conclusion 66 Bibliography 71



When I was twelve years old, my mother insisted on watching two films of The Beatles with

    me, some old-fashioned boyband I barely knew and cared about even less. As soon as the

    opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night struck, however, I was sold and fell in love like I was a teenage girl living in 1963 instead of 1993. Since then, I have been a dedicated fan of both

    their music and their films which even resulted during a recent trip to London in one of

    those daft „Beatle-tours‟ leading past houses that once belonged to Paul or others including

    friends, family and tailors, and „the post office where Brian Epstein sent a telegram to record

    company EMI‟. The Beatles are also partly responsible, being so utterly British, for my decision to choose English Language and Culture as my first study at the University of

    Utrecht, and I knew from the day I started there that I wanted to write my thesis about The

    Beatles‟ films, my first introduction to their music and personae that had made such an

    overwhelming impression.

     Although it took some time before I had figured out the right angle for my thesis and

    with some remorse dismissed their last three cinematic projects in order to keep things

    controllable, what struck me time and time again during my research is to what extent The

    Beatles have permeated pop culture in general and British society in particular. To name one

    recent example: in 2004, forty years after the release of A Hard Day’s Night, one of

    America‟s most popular pop groups Outkast, released a music video for their song “Hey ya!”

    that was a nearly exact copy of the performance sequence in that film, including the camera

    movements British beatboom meets black American hip-hop.

    As for the United Kingdom, The Beatles appear to have become such a natural part of

    Britishness that some critics do not even seem to notice them anymore: the book Popular

    Culture: Past and Present by Bernard Waites, Tony Bennett et. al., for instance, features a

    large picture of The Beatles on the cover, while their name is not mentioned once in one of

    the essays inside. They seem to be so omnipresent that they are apparently taken for granted

    on a smaller scale; since they have influenced society in so many ways in the sixties it is hard

    to place one‟s finger on the exact details. Maybe this is why studies of The Beatles often

    focus on what happened instead of why it happened, since it is easier to grasp what

    happened exactly on the day John met Paul? What happened exactly, from minute to minute,

    during their recording sessions? Even the rare studies of their films often focus only on A

    Hard Day’s Night and then almost always less on the content than on the form, in the light of


    the „innovative pop film‟ – „look, Richard Lester invented MTV!‟. This is why I decided to try and look at The Beatles in the context of British changing society of the time, and the way

    this is reflected in their films. I sincerely hope that this thesis might contribute a very small

    piece to the still ever-growing discussion about the significance of The Beatles in, in this case,

    British history.

     I would like to thank my supervisors Onno Kosters and Peter de Voogd for putting me

    on the right tracks and keeping me there, and Moreno for his staying calm in stressful times.



    1The tale of the four young men that became The Beatles is one that has often been told, in

    many forms it is probably not an exaggeration to say that the sixties would have looked very

    different without them. They have dominated the decade in all forms and shapes, starting with

    their first single “Love Me Do” released in 1962, initiating Beatlemania that caused millions

    of girls to react to pop stars as they never did before or since, conquered America in 1964

    when they appeared in the Ed Sullivan show that was watched by over 73 million people,

    were the kings of swinging London, provided the soundtrack for the „summer of love‟ of

    1967 with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, and when they split up in 1970, arguing about money and women, it was clear that the times of love and peace were definitely over.

    Even in the twenty-first century The Beatles and their rise to fame are still widely

    discussed topics. Four seemingly ordinary boys from Liverpool suddenly became the heroes

    of a whole new generation, not only in London and the rest of Great Britain, but even in the

    rest of the world, including the United States, leading there what became known as the

    „British invasion‟ of pop groups. To many people, The Beatles still are the main

    representatives of the swinging, liberating sixties, a decade in which old traditions and

    standards were reconsidered and turned upside down processes in which The Beatles played

    an important role. This paper will focus on one of those processes in particular, namely the

    part The Beatles took in the swinging sixties ideal of „classlessness‟, which in its turn appears

    to be rooted in the way The Beatles were involved in the youth subcultures of their time.

    Specifically, it will try to show how these aspects of The Beatles‟ role in British society are

    represented in their first two feature films, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965), both

    directed by American ex-pat Richard Lester. The films of The Beatles are often neglected in

    academic studies of the group (and have never been discussed in the light of the group‟s

    class/classlessness), while especially these first two, that were released in the first part of their

    career during the heydays of Beatlemania and the swinging sixties, attributed to their already

    huge popularity and have probably had a great influence on the shaping of The Beatles‟ image.

    “Film heroes are the mirror of a nation – on the big screen, the characteristics of a country are

     1 There seems to be a disagreement among critics and theorists whether „The‟ in „The Beatles‟ should be written

    with a lower case or a capital t. Hunter Davies, the writer of their only authorised biography, uses a lower case t,

    but The Beatles Anthology uses a capital. Since The Anthology is the most recent work The (remaining) Beatles have co-operated on themselves, this paper will stick to their notation. When other pop groups are mentioned,

    where possible the notation of The Anthology will be used as well.


shown in their full extent”, Dutch film critic Ronald Ockhuysen said recently in an article in

    de Volkskrant about national film stars. Since The Beatles have dominated the sixties in so

    many ways, it would be a waste to disregard one of the media they have left their messages in.

    In a way, they have been four of the faces of the sixties, and while their music provided the

    soundtrack, their films showed the images. This paper will therefore look in their mirror to see

    some of the images of the British sixties that A Hard Day’s Night and Help! show us. Their

    later films (Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine and Let it Be) will not be included in

    this research, however, since they were made after the period between 1963 and 1966 this

    paper focuses on, and are quite different in form from A Hard Day’s Night and Help!:

    Magical Mystery Tour (1967) is a self-directed, 50-minutes „road movie‟ made for television, Yellow Submarine (1968) is an animation film which The Beatles themselves had not much to

    do with, and Let it Be (1969) is a „making of‟-documentary about the album with the same title.

    First, the role of The Beatles in the teenage boom of the 1950s and sixties and in the

    accompanying youth subcultures will be discussed. When the British economy finally started

    to recover from World War II in the 1950s, for the first time young people in their pre-

    adulthood since then called teens or teenagers were a group to be seriously taken into account. They now had money to spend, and therefore clothes to buy, magazines to read, and,

    most importantly, music to listen to. Youth subcultures that were seemingly inextricably

    related to rock „n‟ roll, like the working-class teddy boys, and in the early sixties the middle-class mods and working-class rockers, seemed to emerge out of nowhere, developing their

    very own style with clothes, music, and a matching attitude. Chapter 1 will not only focus on

    these new youth subcultures and the way society dealt with them, but also on the role of The

    Beatles in these groups, concentrating on the fact that The Beatles did not belong to any one

    of the important youth subcultures of their time, and were even treated by society as an entire

    subculture of their own.

    The Beatles were also the first popular, youth-related phenomenon that seemed to

    break through the strict boundaries of British class: suddenly, four ordinary chaps from

    Liverpool had made it in London, and even in the United States. This had never happened

    before, and it opened doors for many other young people of lower classes or different

    geographical regions than the Southeast. Although The Beatles came from a mixed working-

    and lower middle-class background, as soon as Beatlemania hit the world in 1963, they were

    seen as the boys next door who had made the grade throughout the world. Apparently, The


    Beatles were not really looked upon and did not profile themselves as such from a working- or middle-class point of view (unlike other pop groups), but were rather considered

    as classless, in which their Liverpudlian background played an important role. It is quite

    possible that this ability to erase class differences even cleared the path for The Beatles‟

    immense popularity: after all, admitting to like The Beatles did not subsequently mean that

    one confessed to belong to a specific (youth) subculture, and therefore class. Such was not the

    case with for instance Gene Vincent (working-class rockers) or The Who (lower middle-class

    mods). Chapter 2 will not only concentrate on this class-breaking aspect during the first years

    of The Beatles‟ career, but will also show that this classlessness became „official‟ in the

    swinging sixties, when the young in-crowd of vital London, in their attempts to push their

    youthfulness to the fullest, tried to make it as clear as possible they did not have anything to

    do with the old aristocratic generation of Britain anymore. It will decode this concept of

    „classlessness‟, and in this context also focus on the „new class‟ – or “New Aristocracy” as Christoper Booker calls it in his widely discussed book on the sixties The Neophiliacs The

    Beatles eventually helped to create in swinging London, consisting of various cultural

    professionals of diverse classes and backgrounds.

    Chapter 3 and 4 will successively analyse A Hard Day’s Night and Help! in the light of The Beatles‟ class and classlessness. At the beginning of each chapter, first a short

    overview of the cinematic context will be given of the time this film was made in, since they

    were both produced in an extremely flourishing time in British cinema. The years before A

    Hard Day’s Night had been dominated by the kitchen sink dramas, films (often based on the

    literary output of the Angry Young Men) that for the first time focussed explicitly on the

    working class, featuring young, frustrated men, and often set in geographical regions other

    than the Southeast. A Hard Day’s Night clearly borrowed from the raw, black-and-white

    realist style, but also signals the transition from the kitchen sink drama towards the swinging

    London film. As a pop film, A Hard Day’s Night unchained a revolution that can still be felt

    today, and in that form also had its influence on the colourful swinging sixties films. Help!,

    shot in colour and set in London, does belong to this last category, but also borrows from

    another great classless hero of the sixties: James Bond.

    The analyses will show that The Beatles‟ films not only indicate this transition from

    kitchen sink to swinging sixties on a cinematic level, but that the focus of the films indeed

    shifts from a situation in which The Beatles are on their way to fame from Liverpool to the

    swinging London situation. In doing so, the films frequently comment on the idea of


teenagers, subcultures, class and classlessness, The Beatles‟ fame and their position in

contemporary Britain.


1. Youth Culture

All four Beatles were born during World War II: Ringo, the eldest, in July 1940, and

    George, the youngest, in February 1943. They were therefore not, in actual fact, results of the

    baby boom that followed the war, but were still just young enough to be part of the teenage

    explosion that hit the UK at the end of the 1950s. In Great-Britain just as everywhere else

    around the Western world the children born during World War II and in the baby boom reached their pre-adulthood during the 1950s, and with the British economy now finally

    booming after several harsh years of austerity, these teenagers formed a vast market for

    clothes, magazines and, most importantly, music. Now being a far more separate group as

    opposed to the adult population than before the war, soon several teenage subcultures started

    to develop, beginning with the teddy boys in the 1950s and continuing in the 1960s with the

    mods and rockers. Especially these subcultures made that society treated the teenagers with

    double standards: on the one hand they were seen as valuable consumers, on the other they

    were also regarded as a violent threat (or folk devils) to the prevailing social standards. And

    as each one of the various subcultures is inextricably bound to music and specific groups or

    singers, it is remarkable that The Beatles, undoubtedly the most important British group of the

    1960s, did not seem to belong to any of them. This chapter will look more closely at the way

    British society dealt with the teds, the mods and the rockers, and will show that The Beatles

    as a group were treated along the same lines as these entire subcultures. It will also discuss the

    reasons why The Beatles were possibly the right „youth culture‟ to diminish this threat of the

    young (especially of the youth subcultures) as violent Other or folk devils.

Teenage Revolution

    After several harsh years following World War II, British economy was finally regaining its

    strength again during the 1950s. There was near full employment with high wages, and new

    production techniques made consumer goods affordable for everyone during the 1950s, the

    2number of refrigerators, cars and televisions owned in Britain increased enormously. In 1957,

    Conservative prime minister Harold MacMillan even famously announced that the country

     2 For example: in 1950, six per cent of the British households held a television licence; fifteen years later this

    was over ninety per cent. For a more detailed account of specific results of the new economic situation, see

    among others Arthur Marwick, British society since 1945.


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