Manchester band the Dakotas played some unusual gigs in their time – but never one like the Beatles’ Christmas party at the Astoria Cinema, Finsbury Park, in 1963.
It ran for 16 nights, right through to January 11th 1964, and featured some of the biggest names on the pop circuit.
Cilla Black was there, so too was Billy J Kramer, the Fourmost, the Barron Knights, Tommy Quickly and even Rolf Harris.
Conceived by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, the London event was like a glorified pantomime with the Fab Four performing sketches between musical acts.
Never respecters of routine, the Beatles were gloriously under-rehearsed. The sketches were often ad-libbed, but the audience never seemed to mind.
The concerts sold out in days with almost 100,000 fans cramming into the cinema to see their heroes.
In all, there were 30 shows – usually two a day – with Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve off. Epstein chartered a private jet to fly the northern acts home for December 25th with a flight back on Boxing Day morning. This was a tight schedule!
The shows followed a familiar format. First up were the Barron Knights followed by Tommy Quickly and the Fourmost. The honour of closing the first half went to Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.
Cilla Black and Rolf Harris featured in the second half with the Beatles closing the show with a 25-minute set. Their numbers included She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand and Twist and Shout.
The Fab Four also delivered their own versions of the 1956 Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven and Money (That’s What I Want) written by Berry Gordy of Motown fame in 1959.
The audience went berserk, so much so that the Beatles even impersonated their screams in an extraordinary archive photo of the event. We see John Lennon and George Harrison pulling their hair as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr shout open-mouthed!
Back to 1963: by Christmas that year the Dakotas had released their own singles as well as backing Billy J. Kramer. The first, in July 1963, was the instrumental The Cruel Sea which reached No. 18 in the UK charts.
It was followed up by Magic Carpet, produced by George Martin, in September the same year. It was not a chart success. Neither was their next release, Oyeh, in November 1964.
The Dakotas were formed in September 1960 by rhythm guitarist Robin MacDonald along with Bryn Jones on lead guitar, Ian Fraser on bass and Tony Bookbinder (the older brother of Elkie Brooks) on drums. He was known professionally as Tony Mansfield.
There were a few line-up changes as Ray Jones replaced Fraser. Mike Maxfield, from Manchester band the Coasters, took over as lead guitarist.
The Dakotas backed Pete MacLaine for nearly a year until January 1963. Then Epstein persuaded them to link up with his own protégée, Billy J. Kramer. Just like the Beatles, the new combination then honed their act in the clubs of Hamburg.
The Dakotas were not the only Manchester entertainers involved in elaborate Christmas parties.
Stockport impressionist Mike Yarwood hit the jackpot when his 1977 Christmas Day special recorded the biggest ever TV audience for a light entertainment broadcast – outshining even Morecambe and Wise whose own show was on later in the day.
Yarwood’s Yuletide offering attracted no less than 21.4 million viewers. The figure was almost as high in 1978 when Swedish supergroup ABBA topped his guest list.
At the height of his fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Yarwood’s BBC TV shows regularly attracted audiences of 18 million viewers. They usually finished with a song by Yarwood himself, introduced by the line ‘and this is me’.
Christmas parties were a feature of Coronation Street, now celebrating its 60th birthday. One of the most memorable was the cast’s version of the pantomime Cinderella, put on in the programme’s Mission Hall in 1964.
Children from Manchester’s Wood Street mission were invited along to rehearsals – and had a wonderful time mixing with the stars of the show. Our photo shows Violet Carson, who played the redoubtable Ena Sharples, in party mood.
By Christmas 1963, the Fourmost had released two singles, both written by John Lennon. The first, in August 1963, was Hello Little Girl which climbed to No.9 in the UK singles charts.
Their follow-up was the Lennon and McCartney single I’m in Love released in November. It reached No. 17 in the UK, but failed to chart in the USA.
The Fourmost started life in 1957 as the Two Jays, comprising Brian O’Hara and Joey Bower – each on vocals and guitar. They became the Four Jays in 1959 with the addition of bass guitarist Billy Hatton and drummer Brian Redman.
The Four Jays became the Fourmost in October 1962 after rhythm guitarist Mike Millward and then drummer and singer Dave Lovelady had joined the group.
Managed by Brian Epstein, the Fourmost achieved their biggest hit in 1964 with the Russ Alquist-penned single A Little Loving. It went to No. 6 in the UK charts.
The Beatles and the Fourmost were not the only Merseyside entertainers to feature in memorable Christmas productions in the 1970s and 80s.
Birkenhead-born actress Glenda Jackson played Queen Victoria in the Morecambe and Wise 1972 Christmas TV special. Eric portrayed Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli while Ernie was Prince Albert.
Liverpool actor Tony Booth appeared in the Till Death Us Do Part Christmas special, also in 1972. He played Mike Rawlins, the boyfriend of Alf Garnett’s daughter Rita, portrayed by Una Stubbs.
Garnett himself was played by Warren Mitchell with Dandy Nicholls as his long-suffering wife Elsie. The show, written by Johnny Speight, was an instant hit when first aired as a series in 1966.
Conceived as a comedy-drama, the programme nevertheless portrayed working class life with a realism that chimed with its times. Alf’s right wing views were constantly at loggerheads with Liverpudlian Mike.
As well as appearing on the Beatles’ Christmas show, Cilla Black joined Bernie Winters and Liverpool comedian Tom O’Connor on the London Night Out TV special in 1980.
By then she was performing mainly in cabaret and concerts, but landed her own Christmas show on London Weekend Television in 1983.
Seaforth-born disc jockey and entertainer Kenny Everett was one of the most familiar faces on TV when he filmed his own Christmas Show in 1980. Our picture shows him wrestling with a pair of bagpipes in a Hogmanay send-up.
The Kenny Everett Video Show ran for four seasons on ITV from 1978 to 1981, when Everett transferred to the BBC. New characters were created including orange-haired punk Gizzard Puke.
As one of Everett’s creations always commented, it was ‘all done in the best possible taste!’
The Royle Family’s Christmas TV specials became a seasonal staple, brilliantly observed, acted and written by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne. The 2010 episode featuring Denise’s disastrous Christmas lunch is regarded as a comedy classic.
Finally, Christmas specials were a hallmark of Prestwich comedienne Victoria Wood. One of the best was the 1992 Christmas Day offering entitled Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast. It affectionately parodied daytime magazine programmes.
A series of sketches featured Wood and Duncan Preston as husband and wife TV presenters Martin Cumbernauld and Sally Crossthwaite.
The real presenters of This Morning, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, apparently loved it.
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