‘When Elvis Met The Beatles’ on BBC Radio 2

ELVIS BEATLES

BBC Radio 2 commissioned us to dramatise the greatest musical meeting in history, nearly fifty years to the day that it took place.

Beatle fans are currently enjoying a purple patch of rich historical pickings; this decade marks fifty years since the 1960s, and thanks to their prolific output barely a month goes by without some sort of Beatles anniversary worthy of a celebration, whether it be an album release, a memorable gig or a fleeting comment once uttered at a press conference. One particular Fab Four anniversary, however, stands out as seminal – but only a handful of people know what actually happened. So we made a programme about it for BBC Radio 2.

Elvis Beatles Illustration

On August 27th 1965, The Beatles (on a break during an American tour) left their rented house in Los Angeles and were driven to a Bell Air mansion, where they would spend time in the company of the father of their feast; the reason they picked up instruments and first played rock n’ roll; Elvis Presley. The meeting was a year in the making and several times almost never happened. For twelve months Beatles manager Brian Epstein coveted an audience with Elvis and his mogul manager, Colonel Tom Parker, but it was only after the mop tops’ all-conquering juggernaut could no longer be ignored that Parker eventually granted an audience with The King. Finally the meeting happened, but under strict rules: No cameras, no video, no recording devices. Poetically for a performer who became so affiliated with Las Vegas, what happens in Elvis’ house stays in Elvis’ house.

So how to turn this meeting into a radio programme when so little is known about what happened on the night? How could we document the evening’s events when nearly everyone who was there is sadly no longer with us? In the end we opted for a drama, because it’s only in drama that we could dream-up what we think happened, piecing together bits of stories (many of which were conflicting) from old interviews, filling-in the gaps and putting the listener in the room with the two greatest musical artists in history and their respective entourages.

ELVIS STYLE

After deeper research, including sourcing archive clips of John Lennon’s recollections of meeting Elvis, pouring over often single-line testimonies from Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, and hearing real LA radio broadcasts that captured the hysteria of having The Beatles in town, we asked Liverpool playwright – and Beatles fan – Jeff Young to bring the story to life. What Jeff gave us was remarkable. Written as a kind of fake documentary, Jeff went back to his old Beatles records and tried to remember what they meant to him when he was young and the songs were first released. He wrote the script in their voices to get the banter right, and acted out the lines, speaking in a Lennon or Ringo voice, trying to get the wise cracking tone. He put Brian Epstein at the centre of the whirlwind, as a narrator recording his memories of the Elvis encounter after the event.

We cast a bunch of young actors who loved The Beatles, including Tom Hughes as John Lennon, and they nailed it instantly. Between takes they messed around and bantered, strumming on guitars and larking about. Meanwhile, Elvis, played by Kevin Mains, was a bystander on the edge of the circle, a lonesome figure watching as The Beatles ran riot in his house.

BEATLES STYLE

A challenge for us was seamlessly marrying the dialogue with the music. We knew Elvis brought out guitars so he could jam with Paul, John and George, but we couldn’t assume that, as brilliant as they were at playing The Beatles, our actors could convincingly pull-off the musicality of The Beatles as well. So we found two amazing soundalikes – tribute bands if you like. Pete Storm played Elvis, and Imagine The Beatles played, well, you can guess. They were wonderful, and it was only when the two got together in the studio to jam together that we knew it was going to work out just fine. It was a privilege to record, and if we closed our eyes it was like Elvis and The Beatles were in the room playing the music they loved, and we were the flies on the wall taking it all in. Which is exactly what we wanted the drama to be.

We also produced a whole social media package that supported the build up and transmission of the drama. Watch the video we produced here.