A Hard Day’s Night: How The Beatles had Cliff Richard on the run

Fifty years ago, the Beatles’ anarchic debut film, A Hard Day’s Night, wiped away the stuffy conventions of British teen cinema

In January 1963, British cinemagoers were enticed by posters claiming that, “It’s what happens when FOUR BOYS in a borrowed bus... (with built-in bunks and bath)... meet FOUR GIRLS with a single mission...MEN!!”. For a mere 1/9d,  the audience could see Summer Holiday – and vicariously experience the pleasures of sun and sea, while watching Cliff Richard sporting polyester shirts in many and various hues. The film became the second most popular film at the British box office of 1963; yet a mere 18 months later, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night almost instantly relegated Cliff and co to the ranks of the middle-aged.

Back in 1957, Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy of Anglo-Amalgamated, a company that specialised in low-budget films, produced The Tommy Steele Story, Britain’s first teenage rock’n’roll musical. Just weeks after its release in June 1957, it had recouped its £15,000 production costs, going on to make a total profit of £100,000. The result was a spate of black-and-white rock’n’roll musicals, with 28-year-old “teenage” extras swaying amongst the potted plants to the happening sounds of Terry Dene.

By the early 1960s, such low-budget gems as the Billy Fury film Play It Cool were still the norm, although the genuinely ambitious The Young Ones was an alternative. That the latter was intended as much as a major British musical as it was a vehicle for Cliff Richard is made clear from the outset: Douglas Slocombe’s Eastmancolor cinematography and Sidney J Furie’s ambitious use of crane shots raise the film well above the typical pop narrative of its day.

Cliff’s next film, Summer Holiday, followed a gang of London Transport mechanics who had decided to turn a bus into a caravan and drive it across Europe, a narrative that offered frequent opportunities for song and dance. These included the truly bizarre moment, set in the former Yugoslavia, when a “peasant girl” is reduced to hysterics by four polyester-shirted youths singing “Dancing Shoes” while performing what may well be the world’s worst twist routine for no apparent reason.

Naturally, as with all fine British pop films of this era, The Young Ones and Summer Holiday have middle-aged authority figures to increase the appeal to a family audience, although this is not always a disadvantage: two of the only times that Sid James was seen to dance on screen were in 1959’s Tommy the Toreador and the 1965 Joe Brown vehicle Three Hats for Lisa.

But the harbinger of the end of this strange realm – one where Heinz Burt is visibly struggling to cope with his meagre dialogue in Live it Up  and where Marty Wilde and cronies sing about how Commonwealth immigrants have taken over the local Labour Exchange (What a Crazy World is a truly odd picture) – was a 1962 B-film shot on a budget of £50,000 and directed by a young American named Richard Lester. In Its Trad, Dad!, velvet-voiced authority is mocked and derided – from Deryck Guyler’s deadpan narrator to Pete Murray, Alan Freeman and David Jacobs gamely playing themselves as vain middle-aged DJs.

Three years later, Lester was chosen by Walter Shenson of United Artists to direct the Beatles’ cinematic debut, A Hard Day’s Night. Shenson did not want to follow the then standard formula and make “a Hollywood-style pop musical about four unknown boys from Liverpool who smuggle homemade tapes of their own compositions into a disc jockey’s studio” – and instead the film focused on a comic version of the group’s own fame: being trapped in limousines and hotel rooms by their fans and subjected to vacuous questions by jaded show business journalists.

The critical and commercial impact of A Hard Day’s Night did not immediately cause the demise of the traditional British pop film. Dateline Diamonds (1965), for example, combines the standard B-movie chases in black police Wolseleys with guest appearances from Kenny Everett and music from The Small Faces and Kiki Dee. The Cuckoo Patrol (1967) featured the terrifying tag line, “Based on a story outline by Freddie and the Dreamers”, while Frank Ifield starred in Up Jumped a Swagman (1965). More surreal sights were provided by Billy Fury in I’ve Gotta Horse (1966), in which the rock’n’roller serenaded various cuddly animals – and the expression on Spencer Davis’s face throughout the entire running time of The Ghost Goes Gear (1966) is truly memorable. Forget L’Année dernière à Marienbad – any film featuring Nicholas Parsons, Stevie Winwood and a bequiffed folk-singing ghost is truly challenging the boundaries of cinema.

But when the Beatles’ first film was released on 10th July 1964, it truly marked a seminal moment in the depiction of popular music on screen. Many details of A Hard Day’s Night display an England that now looks impossibly quaint – the milk vending machines on railway platforms, the steam engines, the wonderfully grim pub in which Ringo seeks refuge – but the rapid pace of the editing, the hand-held cameras, and Alun Owen’s script still create a mood that is fresh and optimistic.

And if you want a further measure of its impact, just compare it to the other major British pop film that had been released a week before. Lester shot the Beatles’ vehicle in black and white over a matter of weeks, while Wonderful Life teams Cliff & the Shadows with Canary Island locations, Techniscope colour and elaborate Hollywood-style choreography. But for all of the latter’s  enhanced budget – and the genuinely swinging scene of  our hero singing “On the Beach” to Susan Hampshire – the reliance on a narrative designed to appeal to a “family audience” and the ultimate deference of the young protagonists to middle-aged authority made the film look about as fashionable as an Austin A60 Cambridge.

The Beatles’ appearance on the 1963 Royal Variety Show was the nearest they would ever come to this conservative show business world – and A Hard Day’s Night was a 90-minute demonstration that the group had no need of “paternal guidance”. 

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform