“What do you call that hairstyle you’re wearing?” asked the journalist.
“Arthur,” George replied.
Since George was George Harrison of the Beatles, the haircut was a moptop, which I suppose got its name because it was meant to look like somebody had jammed a mop into the top of your head. I thought Arthur was a much better name and tried calling it that but it never caught on.
Anyway, when you are a standard-issue loveable moptop, you are meant to be horsing around, having a lark, being a hoot. The Beatles did all that, probably so you wouldn’t notice they were singing nasty, rude, frankly erotic songs. “Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty three,” as Philip Larkin noted. “Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first L.P.” This was only 1964, so if you were going to usher in a sexual revolution in Britain, best do it politely, in tidy suits and schoolboy haircuts.
The clip is from A Hard Day’s Night, the movie, not the song. The 1964 mockumentary saw the four loveable moptops escape a horde of screaming fans in Liverpool, their hometown, and travel to London, singing a whole album of greatest hits on the way. In this scene, John, Paul, George and Ringo are in a hotel lobby, being quizzed by the press.
It is a series of quick takes that shows the Beatles in conversation with four separate interviewers. John remarks his mother asked him if he wanted sandwiches but when he plugged her in she blew up. Paul has decided it’s wisest to say “we are just good friends” to every question. Ringo is asked if he’s a “mod” or a “rocker”, to which he replies he’s a “mocker”. George is making faces.
Finally, after Paul grabs at another beer with no success, he decides the game’s up. He flicks his head at George. George screws up his face understandingly. They lift up Ringo and leave.
It is the kind of behaviour you’d expect from this lot. But there is something about the press of coats and bouffants. The trays of canapes which swirl away just as a Beatle reaches out for them. The drinks which may not be drunk. The dizzying swoop of the camera. The snatches of conversation, as if heard in a delirium. You know exactly why they had to leg it from this hot, stifling hotel room in 1964.
Postscript: For a take on A Hard Day’s Night as dramatic monologue that Hamlet would have been proud of, please see Peter Sellers.