TV blog: Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution

Benjie Goodhart / 01 June 2017

Composer Howard Goodall tells the story behind the songs on The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.



Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution, Saturday 3rd June, 9pm, BBC Two

Fifty years ago, on 1st June 1967, The Beatles released what many regard as the finest album ever made. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spent 148 weeks in the UK album charts, 27 of them at number one. Rolling Stone, in its iconic top 500 albums list, puts it right at the top. Looking at the track list, it’s hard to argue. Getting Better, Lovely Rita, When I’m 64, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, She’s Leaving Home, With a Little Help from My Friends, A Day in the Life, to name a few – each one of them a classic, and each one so completely different.

In this fascinating musical examination of the album, composer Howard Goodall tells the story behind the songs, and behind the revolutionary techniques that the band used.

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The band began recording the album in Abbey Road in November 1966, having spent the best part of three years touring. They made the decision to retire from touring, on the basis that the crowds who came to see them couldn’t hear the music, and The Beatles themselves couldn’t even hear what they were playing. Having 30,000 hormonal girls excitedly screaming at you can be a little off-putting (I know whereof I speak – you’d be surprised how popular this blog is…)

The first two songs recorded in the Sgt. Pepper sessions were Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. Now, before you all inundate the good people of Saga Towers with furious emails, or spontaneously combust with rage, I know that neither of those (wonderful) songs feature on the album. But Goodall includes them in the programme, as they were part of the same body of work, and indicative of the radical new direction the band was going in.

What was to come was a period of extraordinary productivity, a bit like the latter months of Van Gogh’s life, only without anyone shooting themselves in the chest at the end of it. Goodall explains with great enthusiasm and admirable clarity exactly what The Beatles did on each track, and why it was revolutionary. It was an extraordinary smorgasbord of different styles of music, pulled together using brand new technology, brilliant improvisation, and in some cases musical instruments that hadn’t been fashionable for centuries.

In truth, this film may go into a little too much musical detail for some tastes – this is, after all, a documentary made by a musician, about the music of musicians, so, you know, music is likely to crop up quite a bit. Goodall’s dismantling of each element of each track might give the viewer a whole new appreciation of a much loved classic, or it might just baffle. That said, there is an absolute wealth of Beatles footage, and some fascinating cultural background into the genesis of each song as well.

This, then, is the story of the greatest musical achievement of the greatest band that ever lived. (I’m only discounting The Frog Chorus because it was Paul’s solo work). Sit back and let the evening go.

Were The Beatles underrated? Join the debate

The General Election, Thursday 8th June, from 9pm/10pm, BBC One, ITV, Channel 4

General Election night stirs a welter of emotions in me. I love the drama, the intrigue, the tension, the shocks, the graphics, the speculation, and the sheer Dimbleby-ness of it all. But I’ve also spent some fairly depressing election nights. Between them, my parents stood for parliament seven times. Suffice to say, neither of them ever got to stick the letters ‘M’ and ‘P’ after their name.

How much you enjoy election night depends on a few factors: Whether you give a rat’s nostril about politics in the first place; how well your chosen party is doing; and whether you can avoid falling asleep at midnight and waking up at 6:15am with a twiglet stuck to your face having missed all the action.

The Dimbleby-ness of election night has sadly diminished by 50 per cent in recent years. Jonathan Dimbleby has stood down from his role as ITV’s election night anchor. I always enjoyed the idea that the whole country was little more than the size of a village, and we only had the Dimbleby brothers capable of fronting political coverage. If one of them fell ill, ooh, we might need to get Doreen in from the corner shop.

Happily, the magnificent beast that is David Dimbleby is still going, leading the team into his tenth General Election at the helm. When he started, Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister – albeit only for a few hours. Alongside him will be Mishal Husain, Emily Maitlis and Jeremy Vine. As ever, Vine will be armed with a magnificent arsenal of graphics, although it’s hard not to feel a pang of nostalgia for dear old Peter Snow and his swing-o-meter, which began life looking like something designed for a primary school project.

They will be joined, as ever, by Professor John Curtice, expert in the dark arts of psephology, by the difficult to spell Laura Kuenssberg, and economics editor Kamal Ahmed, as well as reporters dotted around the country in key seats.

Over on ITV, proceedings fall under the aegis of the excellent Tom Bradby – if I’m not allowed two Dimblebys, a bonus Bradby is a fair substitute. He will be joined by ITV’s charmingly excitable political editor Robert Peston, who I still struggle to believe is not played by David Tenant, Nina Hossain, and Professors Jane Green and Colin Railings. As ever, though, ITV will struggle against the tendency of the population to gravitate towards the BBC for important state occasions.

Channel 4, meanwhile, treads a rather different path. Their Alternative Election Night, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, David Mitchell and Richard Osman, will mix political discourse and results analysis with comedy, satire, and special editions of Gogglebox and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. It’s a complicated balancing act between informative and amusing, and could end up in a confused melange of the two, but it may be worth a look once you start to tire of all the fevered and earnest speculation on the grown-up stations.

If, on the other hand, you want something that’s got nothing at all to do with politics, Channel 5 are probably showing something about bailiffs.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 3rd June

ITV Racing Live: The Derby, 1:30pm, ITV (obvs): Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani present the biggest race in the flat racing calendar. I don’t get it myself, but knock yourselves out.

The British Soap Awards, 8pm, ITV: Phillip Schofield presents the show, from Manchester’s Lowry Theatre, which will be screened live for the first time. I myself shall certainly be enjoying alternative pursuits.

Sunday 4th June

Britain’s Got Talent, 7:30pm: The final. Expect a modest, quiet, low-key affair, lacking in hyperbole and hysteria.

Monday 5th June

The Secret Life of the Hospital Bed, 9:15am, BBC One: Stripped across every weekday morning, this documentary examines the cases using up just some of the NHS’ 150,000 beds.

Cosby: Fall of an American Icon, BBC Two, 9pm: As the trial of Bill Cosby opens today in the US, this programme hears from journalists, co-stars and accusers.

24 Hours in Police Custody, 9pm, Channel 4: Return of the Bafta Award-nominated series following Bedford’s police as they investigate major crimes. Tonight, there is a bloody crime scene at a hotel. But why?

Lord Lucan: My Husband, The Truth, 9pm, ITV: Completing a cheery triumvirate of 9pm programmes is this documentary, in which Lucan’s wife speaks on camera for the first time.

Tuesday 6th June

Tried and Tasted: The Ultimate Shopping List, 8pm, Channel 4: Twinkly chef Michel Roux Jr helps select the best food available in the nation’s supermarkets. Tonight, apple pie, Scotch whiskey and lamb shank (that’s a full meal right there!)

Supershoppers, 8:30pm, Channel 4: Anna Richardson and Andi Osho return with a new series of the magazine programme that gives money-saving tips and retail revelations. Probably. I’ve never seen it.

Wednesday 7th June

Ackley Bridge, 8pm, Channel 4: Channel 4 has high hopes for this ambitious new drama series, set in a Yorkshire mill town where a predominantly Asian school and a predominantly white school are merged, with unexpected results.

Friday 9th June

Gogglesprogs 1/6, 8pm, Channel 4: Gogglebox, with smaller people. Great fun.

The Last Leg Election Special, 9pm, Channel 4: Because presumably no-one’s had anything like enough politics yet, right?

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