50 years of Beatles: Ladies and Gentlemen, Beatlemania!

ALTOONA, Pa. — For most Americans, the explosive power of Beatlemania first revealed itself with the Beatles’ legend-making appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964. But back in their homeland, the Beatles’ fame had reached its fever pitch some four months earlier.

On Oct. 13, 1963, the band performed before a national television audience of 15 million viewers on the popular British variety show “Val Parnell’s Sunday Night” at the London Palladium. On that other magical Sunday evening, the Beatles’ rising star, already locked in an upward trajectory, managed to shine even brighter across the British isles.

That night, the Beatles played a four-song set that included “From Me to You,” “I’ll Get You” and “She Loves You,” their runaway No. 1 single. The band concluded their stint with their famously raucous cover version of “Twist and Shout.” While the group had been attracting increasingly ecstatic crowds throughout the spring and summer months, the scene at the Palladium was pure pandemonium. By the end of the show, more than 2,000 frenzied fans had collected outside on Oxford Street. “Screaming girls launched themselves against the police — sending helmets flying and constables reeling,” the Daily Herald reported the next morning.

Interestingly, the first usage of the term Beatlemania remains a matter of some dispute, although the phrase’s coinage can be directly attributed to Lisztomania — the mid-19th-century hysteria associated with Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. Scottish concert promoter Andi Lothian claims to be the progenitor of the term Beatlemania after having witnessed the band’s performance at Dundee’s Caird Hall on Oct. 5. As Lothian later recalled, “The girls were beginning to overwhelm us. I saw one of them almost getting to Ringo’s drum kit.... It was absolute pandemonium. Girls fainting, screaming, wet seats. The whole hall went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. I’d never seen anything like it.” After a bewildered Radio Scotland journalist reportedly asked, “For God’s sake, Andi, what’s happening?” Lothian confidently responded that “it’s only Beatlemania.”

Lothian’s memories notwithstanding, Canadian journalist Sandy Gardiner was known to take credit for the term’s first usage, which appeared in an Ottawa Journal article entitled “Heavy Disc Dose Spreads Disease in England.” Unfortunately for Gardiner’s oft-repeated claim, his article didn’t see publication until Nov. 9, 1963 — more than a month after Lothian’s utterance during the Beatles’ Dundee performance.

For most Beatles scholars and historians, the first usage of Beatlemania is typically associated with the Daily Mirror, one of Great Britain’s oldest tabloids. Nearly three weeks after the band’s sizzling performance at the Palladium, the Beatles had taken their act to rural Cheltenham, some two hours northwest of London, and the frenzied fan reaction that they had enjoyed after Val Parnell’s variety show ignited once again. The next morning, Nov. 2, 1963, the Beatles dominated the headlines, with the Daily Mirror trumpeting “Beatlemania! It’s happening everywhere,” in the enthusiastic words of beat reporter Don Short, “even in sedate Cheltenham.” But regardless of its origins, the term Beatlemania — as with the Beatles themselves — had arrived to stay.


Kenneth Womack is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including “Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles” (2007). He has also written three novels, including “John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel” (2010), “The Restaurant at the End of the World” (2012) and “Playing the Angel” (2013). A professor of English and Integrative Arts at Penn State Altoona, Womack was selected in April 2013 to serve as the sixth Penn State laureate.

 

 

Last Updated October 28, 2013