Why did the Liverpool lads become obsessed with Country Music and America?
The Beatles’ childhood years, along with most young boys of their generation, were hugely influenced by all things American. This was an influence that would soon become an obsession that lasted a lifetime.
While conducting research for the book, I started a conversation with a writer from Manchester called Gary McMahon. He was asking about the television programs and movies that The Beatles would have seen.
Baked Beans and Westerns: Staples of The Beatles Childhood
From that conversation, we started a dialogue about the shows and films that these lads were watching and how Liverpool, in a way, was the “last frontier”.
Gary developed this theme and the conclusion was that during The Beatles’ childhood, they were exposed to a plethora of “Cowboy” shows and films, plus radio, for 6 days a week. Gary then trolled through the TV listings guides and was amazed at how many different American shows there were in Britain at the time. These shows, plus many cartoons from the TV magazines are displayed in the book, in a chapter written by Gary, entitled “The Last Western to Lime Street”.
The Milkybar Kid
Independent Television networked regional studios in the mid-Fifties, but depended on American series to compete with BBC TV until the regions developed productions. Britain transmitted two television channels for ten hours a day in black and white. A typical Northern Edition for the independent channel, TV Times, 11-17 January 1959, listed six Western series in a week. BBC added another, and a film. ITV was already Americanised with commercials. Honky-tonk piano cued a jingle closed by a harmonica: the Milkybar Kid cowboy peddled white chocolate on TV looking like John Denver’s kid in 1961, whose anachronism looked both ways.
Four Feather Falls
Granada TV transmitted to the North West its own singing guitarist sheriff in 1960, Gene Autry-style — Gerry Anderson puppet series, Four Feather Falls. The singer behind the puppet was Michael Holliday, Liverpool born and raised. He sounded like Bing Crosby but had cowboy kudos since his first single, ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ in 1955.
Before cinema, before radio, Liverpool witnessed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show decamp in 1891 and 1903. Maybe it started there, many veterans of the Great Sioux War in feather headdress: Chief Flying Hawk, Joe Black Fox, Charging Thunder, Bad Bear… Six decades rolled by and a Manchester band was presented and named as Native American Indians. By the time Brian Epstein signed their treaty with Billy J. Kramer, the Dakotas tribal name went with the territory.
Ring fingers highlighted his drumming, an instrument with next to nothing to do in Country & Western. That is, unless you count coconut clip-clops, but Richard Starkey’s nickname suggested a black-hat cowboy. Johnny Ringo was a historical character in Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1957 — whose actor played what amounted to the same pseudonymous badass, same storyline, in My Darling Clementine in 1946 — and by 1959 Johnny Ringo was a CBS TV series. Starr, whose surname pinned a sheriff’s badge on a showbiz contraction of Starkey, fulfilled an ambition in a 1971 spaghetti Western.
6th July 1957 – Where It All Started
What was on TV the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney?
Discover more about the Beatles’ “cowboy” generation in The Country of Liverpool: Nashville of the North.
As you can see, the Western was absolutely ubiquitous during the young Beatles’ formative years. It’s no wonder they went on to fully embrace all things Americana during young manhood.
We will also be exploring this topic in the forthcoming documentary film, The Country of Liverpool. Find out more about the film here. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for regular production updates.