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10th November 1961: The Beatles at Operation Big Beat (Part 1)

The Beatles at Operation Big Beat
The Beatles at Operation Big Beat
The Beatles at Operation Big Beat

The Tower Ballroom, New Brighton

The Beatles appeared at Operation Big Beat, the most impressive line up of Merseybeat bands ever! Tony Broadbent adds the drama to this incredible event.

The dense blanket of fog had come up river late that afternoon. No one had expected it. Not even the weatherman on the telly the night before. First report of it was on the midday shipping forecast on the radio. And by mid-afternoon tongues of fog had already moved across Liverpool Bay and were licking hungrily at Wallasey, Bootle, and Crosby. By teatime, both banks of the river and ‘the Tower’, at New Brighton, were shrouded in a grey-green fog the colour of the Mersey.

All of Liverpool was completely fogbound.

“What the bloody hell did I do in my past life to deserve this?”

“Don’t know, Sam, but it must’ve been something pretty bad.”

“Bloody hell, Terry, will you look at that bloody fog.”

“Well, I would, like, if I could see anything.”

“Alright, smart arse, back inside the Grapes. This calls for some serious drinking. I’m ruined I am, bloody ruined. What time is it?”

The Beatles will Get Through

Sam Leach (right) with Paul McCartney and Pete Best
Sam Leach (right) with Paul McCartney and Pete Best

Spike glanced at his watch. “Five past, Sam. But no need to worry, I’m sure The Beatles will get through.”

“I don’t doubt it, Spike, especially with that mad sod, Nelly, driving. No, it’s the fans I’m worrying about. What with all the ferries being stopped and most of the busses not running, how in hell they’re going to get themselves there, I don’t know. You couldn’t find the bloody Tower in this fog, even if it fell on top of you. We’ll be bloody lucky if we can find it ourselves. The real sod of it is, though, ticket sales have been much less than I’d hoped. You’d think the kids had given up on rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Maybe for one night, Sam. But not in our lifetimes, they won’t.”

“Thank you, Sigmund Freud. What time is it?”

“Quarter past. What time did Neil say he’d have them here?”

“Half-past. But in this pea-souper, who the heck knows?”

Terry McCann arrived with a tray of drinks. “Look on the bright side, Sam. Just imagine The Beatles and Gerry and Rory all playing their hearts out at ‘the Tower’ just for us. Cheers.”

“I tell you, I’m ruined I am, totally bloody ruined. Cheers. Talking of which, what time is it?”

“Nigh on half past, Sam. Stop yer worrying.”

“That’s all very well for you to say, sunshine, but…”

Neil Aspinall’s Battered Bedford Van

A car-horn beeped a tattoo outside in the street and eyebrows shot up in question and hope. Spike was already at the pub door. “It’s them. All aboard the New Brighton ferry!” They downed their drinks in a rush, piled out of the Grapes, and into the back of Neil Aspinall’s battered Bedford van.

“ ‘Lo Sam. ‘Lo fellas,” chorused Neil and The Beatles.

“Get yer arses in quick or we’ll all catch our deaths,” shouted John Lennon.

“All arses aboard and accounted for, sir,” yelled Sam. “Hey, thanks for turning up, lads. At least tonight won’t be a complete bloody loss.”

“Well, wherever it is we’re going,” groaned Neil, “I’ll see if I can get us there by the middle of next week. Everyone hold on tight.”

“Next stop, the Mersey Tunnel,” shouted George.

We’ll Play For Nothing

After a few minutes of hurtling through the streets of Liverpool at five miles per hour, Paul McCartney turned to Sam and said, quietly, “Look, Sam, we were talking, like, on the way to pick you up. If this bad weather hits you hard tonight, we’ll play for nothing, okay?” Sam turned to John and George who both nodded their agreement. Pete, sitting up front, holding his snare drum on his lap, gave a thumbs-up. Sam coughed and nodded his thanks, his eyes a little glassy. Terry and Spike huddled by the back doors kept their thoughts to themselves.

When the old Bedford van at last entered the approach to the Mersey Tunnel, George yelled out again. “There it is, fellas. You can just make out the Hessy’s sign on the side of the building.”

“Oooh, Hessy’s,” yodelled John and Paul in Goon-like voices.

“Ready?” shouted John, “Hessy’s Musical Instruments and¼?”

“Ra-di-o!” The Beatles all yelled as Neil tapped out the beat on the car-horn. Then they all clapped and cheered.

“We do that every time we pass that sign,” explained Paul.

“It’s our way of wishing for the day we hear one of our own songs actually played on the radio,” added George.

Where Are We Going Fellas?

“Where we going to, fellas?” John shouted.

“To the top Johnny,” the other three Beatles chorused.

“And which top, is that, fellas?”

“To the topper-most of the popper-most,” they yelled in unison as the van rattled on through the Mersey Tunnel.

“We best start by topping the bill at ‘the Tower’, then,” John shouted back. “How much bloody higher can you get than that?”

“You guys could make it all the way to the moon, if you wanted to,” Sam said, the lump still in his throat. “Thanks, lads. I won’t forget this. Not ever.”

“Hey, shurrup will you, Sam. And start soddin’ praying, instead. We’ve got to get to the bloody place in one piece, yet.”

“Righto,” yelled Sam. “Our Lennon, who art in heaven…”


Find out more in Tony Broadbent’s great book:

2 thoughts on “10th November 1961: The Beatles at Operation Big Beat (Part 1)

  1. The boys when raw. Gotta love it. I have an original ticket for operation big beat #1. I cherish it.

    1. How fantastic. Do you still remember it well? David

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