The Beatles' Bizarre Christmas Shows of 1963-64

By the 1963 Christmas season, The Beatles were already the biggest musical stars in the history of British entertainment. So the boys were asked to star in "The Beatles Christmas Shows" at the Astoria Cinema in Finsbury Park, London. The Christmas shows had been arranged by the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, and included several of his other acts—Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Tommy Quickly, and Cilla Black. These shows were, quite possibly, the oddest performances of the Beatles' career.

The Christmas shows began on Christmas Eve 1963. Then, the Beatles were all flown home to their families to celebrate Christmas the next day. After that, the Christmas shows continued through January 11, 1964. The shows completely sold out —100,000 tickets sold like hotcakes. Financially, the shows were a guaranteed smash hit. But on an artistic level, well, that was another story.

The Premise

Traditional British Christmas shows always included a pantomime. "We didn't like doing pantomime," said George, "so we did our own show, more or less like a pop show, but we kept appearing every few minutes dressed up... for a laugh."

The Beatles would perform a few songs, go offstage and dress up in ridiculous costumes while the other groups on the bill performed, and then the boys would perform a corny ski, a fluff "melodrama." After the skit ended, the boys would again run backstage, take off the hokey outfits as other acts filled in, and come back on stage to perform the show's finale.

"I'm changing the concept of pantomime," the show's director, Peter Yarrow, had said.

The casting, at least, was inspired. John Lennon was "Sir Jasper," the villain, complete with black cape and hokey black mustache. Paul McCartney was the good guy, "Fearless Paul," the signalman. George Harrison played the girl-in-distress, complete with a feminine scarf over his head. And Ringo Starr was the only real pantomime in the skit; he played the "Special Effects," acting as the "rain" or "snow" or whatever other effect was needed in the sketch. For example, as "Snow," Ringo would reach into a container and throw snowflakes all over the stage and actors.

The basic plot: Sir Jasper (John) kidnaps the helpless girl (George) and ties her (him?) to the railroad tracks, before Fearless Paul (Paul) comes in and saves her (him?). All the while, Ringo as "Special Effects" is adding humorous effects.

"Very Funny Chaos"

The musical part of the Christmas show was, as expected, a smash. And the Beatles gamely performed their required sketch with as much aplomb as they could muster, but it was marred by the screaming female fans in the crows; none of the boys' dialogue could even be heard. The sketch was also so hokey that males in the audience actually heckled the Beatles. (There is footage of The Beatles being heckled during the skit at one show, and John Lennon shouting "Shut up!" to the hecklers.)

"The Beatles were never much for rehearsals," said Tony Barrow, their PR man. "That never really mattered as far as the songs were concerned, but the fact that they were so bad at doing the sketches was an added extra for the show—it was organized chaos, but it was very funny chaos."

"Let's face it," said Paul, "they would have laughed if we had just sat there and read the Liverpool telephone directory."

Barron Knight, who was in the shows with them, explained, "Because it was new to them, they didn't make a fuss. But as the run went on, I think they realized it wasn't really working. They wanted to be songwriters and pop stars, they didn't want to be actors."

"Another Beatles Christmas Show"

Amazingly, even after these very strange shows, the Beatles agreed to do "Another Beatles Christmas Show" in 1964. This included, of course, another series of juvenile skits. At that point, the Beatles were world famous superstars. One has to wonder why they consented to reprising these hokey shows at a time when they were so powerful. The money was very good, but they certainly didn't "need" the money anymore.

At the 1964 Christmas shows, John wore a blonde girl's wig with pigtails. Paul and George each wore Victorian outfits, and Ringo wore a lion's costume, with a lion's mane draped around his head.

Again, the shows were a huge commercial success. But this series of Christmas shows was, to no one's great surprise, the end of the Beatles' career as "all-around family entertainers."

In August 1965, the upcoming London Christmas shows were announced. The shows again included many of the acts in Brian Epstein's stable of musical talent and featured the skits "Cinderella," "Mother Goose," and "Little Red Riding Hood." One can imagine what John Lennon said when he turned down the offer.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
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When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
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What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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