Leslie Woodhead remembers his first encounter with the Beatles – and Brian Epstein in 1962

Denis Forman had hired a young filmmaker called Michael Grigsby with a promise to make documentaries, but while we were waiting. Sidney deeply distrusted film. He didn’t want film to happen on Granada’s premises because he rightly thought, “Once I’ve got one unit, I’ll have to have 12.” And he was completely right – quite soon that turned out to be the case. But anyway, Grigsby, who was a really fascinating and inventive film-maker in the really kind of observational school of Denis Mitchell and people like that, I got paired with Grigsby to make little northern films – and that’s when I feel that my life at Granada started. I was instantly captivated by the idea of making films, which I knew absolutely nothing about, so I toured in my little blue Mini with Grigsby, around the north of England, as a researcher, doing these little four-minute films. And they were contrasts – the idea was we would look at contracting things happening in our region. So we had a guy who was a clog-maker, and we contrasted him with a young man who, incredibly, was a dress designer in Uppermill. God knows how he survived that in the early 60s! That was one of our contrasts – and that’s where my collision with The Beatles happened.

The guy who was running us here was a very mad Australian called David Baker (unverified), who was running People and Places at that time. And he said, “Let’s do a musical one of these Northern Contrasts – find the most traditional and untraditional music things that are happening in our region.” So I lined up the The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band and off we went and filmed them. Then I remember asking a fellow researcher on People and Places, a guy called Dick Fontaine, a guy who is now head of documentaries at the National Film School. “Any ideas? What’s the thing that’s most unlike The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band in our area?” And he said, “I’ve heard there are these kids in Liverpool who are making a bit of a noise. Why don’t you ring up a man called Epstein and see what’s possible?” So I called and talked to Brian, met him in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, went down to the Cavern Club, was completely blown away on a winter evening in ’62, we agreed that we would come and film with them and we did that in August ’62 in the Cavern Club, a lunchtime session, which became the first film ever made with The Beatles.

And that went by, I was fascinated by the Beatles, and followed them around the northern clubs as long as they were still playing the northern clubs, but we couldn’t transmit the film because the Brighouse Band would have broken the local programmes budget for a month if we’d paid them full MU rates, so we were stuck with this half a film of The Beatles, and finally Brian Epstein collared me when I went to a concert – they were playing with Little Richard at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton – and said, “When are you going to put the boys on TV?” And he wasn’t kidding. He had me pinned against a wall, but more ferocious than the public vision might suggest. So the only thing we could do, since we couldn’t say, “Brian, we’ve only got half a film, we can’t put the boys on television,” was to get them into the studio, which we did – and they did their first TV on People and Places, and then several more visits to both People and Places and Scene at 6.30, so that established that relationship.

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