BBC Radio 2 gets Elvis and Beatlemania

From a press release to
Posted 24 July 2015, 8.00pm edt


This August Bank Holiday, BBC Radio 2 will be marking the 50th anniversary of a momentous meeting between Elvis Presley and the young pretenders of pop, The Beatles, with a weekend of programmes including a drama, a series of documentaries, special features and some great music.

The weekend culminates in a unique drama, starring Tom Hughes as John Lennon, which is inspired by a secret meeting that took place in Elvis’s Bel Air mansion on August 27th 1965. That night is probably the most seismic meeting in music. No cameras, no recording equipment – and only those who were there really know what happened. ‘When Elvis Met The Beatles’ (Monday 31st August, 7pm) recreates that evening, bringing alive the story when they met exactly 50 years ago, inviting listeners to be a fly on the wall.

Written by Jeff Young, the drama puts music at the heart of their meeting. Listeners will hear how music broke the ice between the two parties, discover what songs were played on Elvis’ Jukebox and who sang what in a mythical jam session. This wasn’t just the meeting of the two biggest music names in history – it was passing of the baton from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to the upstarts from Liverpool.

Tom Hughes, star of recently acclaimed BBC Two drama ‘The Game’, plays John Lennon, alongside Kevin Mains as Elvis Presley (he previously played Paul McCartney in ITV’s Cilla and Elvis in the West End production of Million Dollar Quartet).

Tom says: "It's said that you shouldn't meet your heroes, I'm not sure that's true. John Lennon is a hero of mine. I'll never have the chance to meet him, so playing him is the next best thing. I was delighted to be asked and I just hope that in some way I've done this great man justice."

Other cast include Tom Dunlea as Ringo (All Is By My Side, and he played the same Beatle in Cilla), Shaun Mason (Luther, Good Cop) as Paul McCartney, Michael Hawkins as George Harrison (a role he also played in Cilla), Daniel Lapaine (Zero Dark Thirty, Muriel's Wedding) as Brian Epstein, and Colin Stinton (The Bourne Ultimatum, Foyle’s War) playing Colonel Tom Parker. Music is from leading Elvis tribute act, Pete Storm, and members of ‘Imagine the Beatles’ with Paul McCartney sung by Rob Simpson, John Lennon by Geoff Raggett and George Harrison by Adj Buffone.

The drama is by Liverpool-based screenwriter and playwright, Jeff Young, one of the BBC’s most experienced radio dramatists with over 25 radio plays broadcast in the last 20 years, plus a major stage adaptation of The Who’s Quadrophenia which toured the UK in 2009.

Jeff Young says: “I was a big Beatles fan when I was younger but for this project, initially, I knew very little about the Elvis and Beatles meeting. Then as I began researching the story, the strangeness of the meeting and the psychological dimensions, the dramatic opportunities became obvious. The larger than life characters involved, including Brian Epstein and Colonel Tom Parker, all set against a backdrop of corrupt American politics and the disastrous war in Vietnam, made for a strange and compelling narrative.

He continues, “The piece that has emerged is a kind of fake documentary. Elvis’s life was an American Tragedy and the seeds of it are sown here in this meeting between the King and the pretenders to the throne. The Beatles were so young, bewildered and overwhelmed by their rapid rise to fame. In writing this drama I went back my old Beatles records and I became a Beatles fan, all over again.”

Other programmes across the weekend include:

Johnnie Walker Meets Priscilla Presley (Thursday 27th August, 6pm), an in-depth personal conversation in which Priscilla talks about meeting Elvis, his extraordinary music and film career, the ‘68 Comeback Special, the profound effect he had on her life, plus a brand new project involving Elvis recordings backed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

‘Elvis’s Suitcase of 78s’ (Wednesday 26th August, 10pm), tells the story of Elvis Presley’s personal collection of 78 records. In 1968 Scotty Moore owned a recording studio in Nashville and Presley was so worried about his precious collection getting broken that he took them to Scotty in a small suitcase and asked him to dub them on to reel to reel tape so he could listen to them at home without worrying about damaging them. Elvis then recorded the ’68 Comeback special with Scotty, after which Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, prohibited Elvis from ever speaking to Scotty again. Elvis never collected his suitcase. In this documentary Chris Issak travels to Nashville to meet Scotty, and discover more about Elvis’s 78s collection.

There will also be Beatles and Elvis features within the network’s regular weekend shows including ‘Elaine Paige On Sunday’, ‘Sounds Of The 70s’, ‘The Radio 2 Arts Show’ and ‘America’s Greatest Hits’ with Paul Gambaccini, ‘Sunday Love Songs’ with Steve Wright, and Clare Teal; with ‘Sounds of The 60s’ and ‘Pick Of The Pops’ featuring the musical legends in their charts.

And on Bank Holiday Monday 31st August, from Sara Cox at Radio 2 Breakfast through to Simon Mayo at Drivetime, there will be an ‘Elvis Vs The Beatles’ countdown of the Top 50 best-selling songs in the UK, with Mayo playing the Number 1 track at the end of his show. And in his Pop Master quiz, Ken Bruce (9.30am-12pm) will offer bonus rounds on The Beatles and Elvis.

More information

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