In his book Rock on the Radio, Bill Aitken reveals some of the behind-the-scenes conversations which led to the likes of The Beatles, Marc Bolan, Free and Queen, broadcasting their music to millions, often before they had recording contracts.
In an interview with the BBC publication The Ariel today, he tells how in 1962, one junior producer at the BBC was prepared to give the Beatles a break after Decca had decided they had no future in show business.
He recalled how they’d got together in Manchester to listen to the latest batch of audition tapes – that producer was Peter Pilbeam, who when interviewed 50 years later told Aitken:
“But all it took was for just one of the producers on the audition panel to pick up on a band and then they were in. I chose the Beatles… The Beatles were definitely a breath of fresh air.?
Pilbeam’s verdict on the band’s first audition was: ‘Paul McCartney – no, John Lennon – yes… Overall – yes’.
The Beatles did five national broadcasts from BBC Manchester before they were famous. The first four performances consisted mainly of covers; by the fifth show in March 1963, all their numbers were Lennon and McCartney compositions, including Please Please Me and I Saw Her Standing There.
It’s among a number of stories from former BBC radio producers and sound engineers that have been contributed to the book which Aitken says he has written for the sake of his grandchildren.
Aitken, who is still a writer and broadcaster recorded, live music sessions for the John Peel show, and, uniquely, performed his own compositions on the same show.
Between spells working as a tv, radio and film music composer / producer at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop he also worked with Lord Benjamin Britten, Sir Peter Pears, Sir Edward Downes, Ronnie Barker, Douglas Adams, Sir Ian Holm and Dame Judi Dench.
Rock on the Radio by Bill Aitken is available on Kindle.