The Beatles as a religious cult

Found in Photoplay- A British Film Magazine from March 1964, this piece by Ken Ferguson who appears to have been the magazine's editor. It was called 'Are the Beatles a Religion' and has soundbites from fans, vicars (who had more of a voice in 1964) teachers, impresarios and the lads themselves. The 'Adam' referred to is Adam Faith, a pop star of the time. 'Cliff', of course, is Cliff Richard…here is an abridged version:

Beatlemania, is a form of hysterical worship instigated by four young men who call themselves The Beatles. John, Paul, George, Ringo have written themselves into musical history with their savage, pulsating, hypnotic sound.

The other evening I felt the full blast and fury of Beatlemania as I sat in a theatre along with almost 2000 screaming, hysterical worshippers of the Beatles. It was fantastic. On stage, the four boys moved their lips and went through the motions of a performance but nothing could be heard above the roars of mass appreciation. How did it begin? Why did it begin? Where will it end?

It began in Liverpool as we all know, in a small club which has now become a shrine - The Cavern. Why did it begin?Simply because the older idols of the pop business, the Cliffs and the Elvises were growing up fast and so were their fans. The screams had weakened.

Those who were just entering their teens needed someone new to scream about… They demanded a new idol and they almost cried out for a new cult. Not since the birth of the rock era with Bill Haley, did they have something new to idolise, apart from the eras of Presley, Richard and Faith which were, and still are, but extensions of this rock period.

So something new had to be found.

Whoever became the chosen ones, it was inevitable that they would bear the full brunt of teenage hysteria. Fan adulation is never spread out in even distribution. It is always projected towards one image.

The Beatles became the chosen ones. The wave of hysteria quickly spread from their local home town of Liverpool…

The hair-cut, a contemporary Three Stooges look, was perhaps the gimmick they needed to start with. When the smiles and chuckles of ridicule died away, the talent and the… personality of the four chosen ones started to emerge. It didn't take long for the masses to be Beatle conscious - they were not strictly for teenagers only, as the Royal Variety Show proved. All age groups, all classes soon found themselves under the incredible Beatles spell.

Perhaps now the question all Beatle fans are thinking about is - where will it end? That is if it ends - as I am sure it will.

"I think Beatlemania has gone about as far as it can go," said one theatre manager. "I have never seen my theatre is such an uproar. I sincerely hope, that Beatlemania won't go any further otherwise the fans might destroy the place, tearing it down brick by brick…

"Teenage hysteria seems to get worse," said an elderly Beatle fan who had watched the show with me. "I am not against any form of worship but the idolatry which has been given to The Beatles, in my opinion, has been ridiculous. What are we all coming to?…surely even they must be surprised by so much adulation. 

John Lennon, more or less the elected spokesman of the fabulous group, modestly said, "We've always wanted to be a successful group and we naturally like the reaction from the kids, but sometimes it does get ridiculous. I mean we only have to walk on to a stage to get the hysterical screams. Well, believe me, we would like to work for them. We don't live just for the applause. We love playing our kind of music and we like it when we are applaud. I've often told the kids in the audience to 'shut up'…"

The Beatles themselves can't understand their frightening success.

Brian Epstein, the man who shaped their destinies in show business, said, "I don't know of any four young lads more deserving their success because they've really worked hard to get it. And they've remained as nice as they were when I met them. Naturally they've smartened up a great deal. At first I thought they looked a mess. But I knew this could be changed. It was their tremendous personally which really attracted me to take them on. I knew they would make it."

"I definitely think the Beatles are an art form. I wouldn't say that all pop is art. Bit I would ay that I am involved with the 10% that has artistic merit". 

The Beatles however have become, in the eyes of their followers, more than just a pop group. They have emerged as symbols of modern youth. To take it further they have become a religion. And this is where most criticism has been aimed in the direction of The Beatles. There are many people who believe Beatlemania to be a dangerous cut.

"It has a disturbing influence on the young," said one school mistress. "Instead of keeping up with homework I've discovered many of my girls spend their evenings playing Beatles records."

Henry Price, M.P. for West Lewisham spoke out against the cult. He said, "That beat of The Beatles will have to be beaten. It is quite useless decrying it, being rude about it and about those who like it - unless decrying it being, rude about it and about those who lil sit - Beatles has captured the imagination of a proportion of our young people. This is only a small proportion, but some of them have been carried too far by it."

He added, "Somethings more worthwhile will have to be found to capture the imagination of teenagers."

I suspect if Mr. Price had the answer, every agent, every disc company's recording manager would be on to him like a shot, in hope that he could supply the answer to what might follow the Beatles.

There have also been criticisms aimed at the group as being a disturbing sexual influence on the young. A lot of twaddle, I say.

The Beatles naturally agree with me. They say, "People seem to think all teenagers are sex mad. It's not true. It's some of the older people who are the sex-mad ones. They're the ones who get divorced, jailed for assaulting girls… and spend such a lot of time looking at dirty books and pictures in shop windows."… "I'm glad to say," smiled one of them, "we're all well-behaved. We don't drink very much. Just a little now and again. There's nothing wrong in that, it there? But we don't touch a drop when we're working. And we smoke."

"I'm the heaviest smoker," admitted John. "I get through about 20 a day. We don't mind being photographed when we've either got fags in our mouths or glasses in our hands. All of us up in Liverpool were fed up with the clean-living, non-smoking, non-drinking bit. Kids aren't like that. Nor are we, even though we do lead clean healthy lives. But if you put out a phoney image, the kids think you're a phoney, too. We've always believed in being honest with ourselves and our fans. You can't fool the fans. The public aren't fooled at all these days." Those who snub the power of the Beatles and their effect on a modern teenage society are heavily out-numbered. Men of the Church have spoken up for them.

The Rev. Ronald Gibbons, of Basildon, asked the Beatles to make a tape-recording of "O Come All Ye Faithful - Yeah, yeah, yeah!" so he could play it at his last Christmas service. He believes that the boys have such a tremendous influence on their followers that they could found a new religion.

"Their faithful followers would do anything for them," he said. "So why shouldn't the Beatles make use of their tremendous power in a good cause. At the same time they could destroy the image that all teenagers are hooligans with nothing but empty minds. The Beatles personality cult, which has made the teenagers love every hair on their heads, can be the very shot-in-the-arm churches need today."

The Rev. Brian Bird is a keen jazz and pop enthusiast. He has written books about teenagers and music (He wrote Skiffle. The Story of Folk Song with a Beat). He has always firmly believed in the marriage of jazz and pop with the Chruch at make Services more intelligible to the younger generation. As Vicar of Edwardstone and Rector of Groton, Suffolk, I asked him what his impression of The Beatles was.

"The Beatles," he said, "are four nice young men who sing and play well. They're lively, personable chaps with a sense of humour. The youngster identify themselves with John, Paul, George and Ringo, especially the boys who copy their appearance. There's nothing really remarkable about this. Beatle hair-cuts and clothes are quite a nice change. Girls have been frequently changing their hair styles and girls also want to go 'Beatle', why not? I agree with the Headmaster who allowed his senior girls to design their own school clothes. They produced a 'Beatle' look. 'Fine,' said the Head, 'This is being progressive.'"

Many people think this worship of The Beatles is unhealthy and that is almost making a religion of them. How do you feel about this? I asked.

"In a sense they have become a religion," he smiled. "Most youngsters never so near the Church to worship God nowadays, so the Beatles would seem to have become their object of worship instead. This, according to some, is a bad thing. I think what the critics are opposed to basically, is the sort of music the Beatles play and sing. They imagine that it is arousing wrong feelings in the young, and it has a sexy slant. Honestly, I cannot see this. They sing about teenage love, which is a natural, important, and beautiful thing to all young people. And the feeling of youth for 'beat' music is largely a corporate one. The twist, shout and scream in groups, and enjoy the group playing. This is a marked change from the individual adulation according to solo singers such as Elvis, Cliff, Billy and Adam. And I think that twisting as a form of corporate expression in dance is not nearly so sexy as the more personal and exclusive slow fox-trot or salts.

"I am convinced," he continued, "that all this so-called Beatlemania is not entirely mass hysteria, as some assert. It's a feeling of solidarity, of belonging, of security. The young folk get away from an unsatisfactory, drab, everyday life into a world of youthful enthusiasm which makes them feel secure and purposeful.

"This is, of course, what any religion ought to give them - an object of worship and feeling of identity.

"There are so many possibilities in 'beat' music since it moves young people to feelings of some depth. The Beatles are now the image on which the feelings of so many young people - whatever depth they may have - are concentrated. 'He who knows about depth, knows about God,' the Bishop of Woolwich tells us in his book 'Honest To God,' quoting a well-known American theologian. And depth can be found in various ways, not only in Church."

The Rev. Brian Bird added, "If the Beatles played for hymns in Westminster Abbey they would probably fill it. I would dearly like to see the Beatle produce some 'beat' hymns, Gospel songs or spirituals.  Not necessarily to attract the young into Church, but simply because it would be good music, understood and appreciated. John, Paul, George and Ringo, could put new life into the old Christian faith and make it more intelligible to the young. As General Frederick Coutts, new head of the Salvation Army said recently, 'I don't know The Beatles. I've never heard of them. But I'm sure that if these lads put their talent to Christian account they would do great work for us.' The General is right. He is no "square". He knows as I do, that it's a round world we live in, and that we are all in it together. And that a 'beat' is fundamental to life, and you've got to swing then you sing." 

Psychiatrists have also tired to analyse the devour of Beatlemania. One said, "A lot of feeling among the girls is phoney. But it would not have taken on the magnitude it has if there had not been the need to release sexual urges. These urges exist within us and they demand to be taken notice of."

Another said, "This is one way of flinging off childhood restrictions and letting themselves go. The fact that tens of thousands of others are shrieking along with her at the same time makes a girl feel she is living life to the full with people her own age. It is harmless."

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