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The Beatles' Bizarre Christmas Shows of 1963-64

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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]