The Beatles’ 1963 Christmas Shows Were Bizarre: ‘We Didn’t Like Doing Pantomime’

The Beatles did some strange things in their 10 years together, but their Christmas show definitely ranks high on their list of most bizarre. The Beatles Christmas Show was the brainchild of the group’s manager, Brian Epstein. The performances were held at the Astoria Cinema in Finsbury Park, London, and began on Christmas Eve in 1963. All 100,000 tickets sold out. It’s safe to say that they were a smash hit.

In fact, they were so successful that they carried on until January 1964.

The Beatles performing during their Christmas Show in London, 1963.
The Beatles | Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What was ‘The Beatles Christmas Show’ about?

The Beatles Christmas Show was part musical performance, part British pantomime, an act involving music, jokes, and slapstick comedy based around a children’s story or fairy tale, usually Christmas-themed.

The group performed a couple of songs, then escaped backstage to change into their pantomime costumes. Meanwhile, Epstein’s other acts took to the stage. After their pantomime, the band once again ran backstage to change back into their normal Beatles suits and returned to the stage for their finale.

“We didn’t like doing pantomime,” George Harrison said (per Mental Floss), “so we did our own show, more or less like a pop show, but we kept appearing every few minutes dressed up … for a laugh.”

John Lennon was “Sir Jasper,” the villain, who wore a hoaky black cape and black mustache. Paul McCartney was the good guy, “Fearless Paul,” the signalman. George Harrison played the girl-in-distress, and wore a scarf over his head. Ringo Starr, well, he got the very Ringo-like role as the only real pantomime in the skit, the “Special Effects.” He played the rain, snow, or any other effect they needed in the play. When he played the “Snow,” Ringo reached into a container of snowflakes and threw them all over the stage and his fellow Beatles.

“The basic plot: Sir Jasper (John) kidnaps the helpless girl (George) and ties her (him) to the railroad tracks, before Fearless Paul (Paul) comes in and saves her (him). All the while, Ringo as “Special Effects” is adding humorous effects,” Mental Floss wrote.

Like their musical acts, The Beatles couldn’t really get through the entire skit without inciting screams from their female audience members. So, the group couldn’t hear themselves, but they still put their all into the performance.

The Beatles during 'The Beatles Christmas Show,' in London, 1963.
The Beatles | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images

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The female audience loved every minute but the male audience heckled the band

While the female audience members loved the show, the males saw through the corniness of the skit. Mental Floss wrote that the sketch was “so hokey that males in the audience actually heckled the Fab Four. (There is footage of The Beatles being heckled during the skit at one show, and Lennon shouting ‘Shut up!’ to the hecklers).”

“The Beatles were never much for rehearsals,” said Tony Barrow, the group’s publicist. “That never really mattered as far as the songs were concerned, but the fact that they were so bad at doing the sketches was an added extra for the show—it was organized chaos, but it was very funny chaos.”

“Let’s face it,” Paul said, “they would have laughed if we had just sat there and read the Liverpool telephone directory.”

The Beatles Christmas Show was hoaky, but it was a success. So, the group agreed to do it one more time.

The Beatles during 'Another Beatles Christmas Show,' in London, 1964.
The Beatles | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

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The first shows were a success so The Beatles agreed to do ‘Another Beatles Christmas Show’ in 1964

Since the first shows were such a hit, The Beatles agreed to do Another Beatles Christmas Show in 1964. The show had a similar format. However, the Beatles were even bigger stars this time than they were the previous year. They’d already been around the world, including the US. Beatlemania was in full force.

Which begs the question: why did they agree to do a second show? Clearly, the most famous band in the world didn’t mind doing outrageous skits wearing equally bizarre costumes. “John wore a blonde women’s wig with pigtails. Paul and George each wore Victorian outfits, and Ringo wore a lion costume, with a lion’s mane draped around his head,” Mental Floss wrote.

It was once again a huge hit. However, by the end, or maybe from day one, The Beatles realized this wasn’t what they wanted to do. They wanted to be a credible band. When Epstein announced the following year’s show and the skits it would feature (Cinderella, Mother Goose, and Little Red Riding Hood), the band firmly declined.

At least the paying members of the group’s fan club got to receive The Beatles’ Christmas records for the next couple of years. Those were just as corny and bizarre.