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"If the Beatles served in the British Army...?" Topic

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826 hits since 19 Apr 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Apr 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

The Beatles and every other Sixties British band lucked out when National Service was abolished on the cusp of calling up all the founding members of the "British Invasion." Had National Service remained in effect, all of those proto-bands would have been torn asunder before making their mark, almost certainly never to reform.

Had the Beatles been conscripted, what regiments might they have served in?

It's fun to guess. It would be even more fun for some clever PhotoShop expert to create some hypothetical portraits of the military Sgt. Pepper's band. We have a pretty good idea of what John Lennon might have looked like thanks to his role as Musketeer Gripweed in the 1967 movie "How I Won the War," altho the WWII battledress was disappearing by 1960. I like to think of him in the Liverpool Scottish, given his affection for Scotland and bagpipes, in a Forbes tartan kilt and glengarry. But this being a TA regiment at the time, it probably wouldn't have been an option for a conscript. So maybe he winds up in the King's Regiment (Manchester and Liverpool) or perhaps Lancashire Fusiliers, local units. Same for Paul McCartney when his time comes.

George Harrison I see perhaps going to the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) (successor to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, in which his grandfather Henry served and died in the First World War (in 1915, on the first day of the battle of Loos).

Richard Starkey? Hmm… too small for the infantry, I'd say he winds up in the Army Catering Corps or some similar support unit, washing dishes, peeling spuds…. or goes to the music school and winds up playing the snare in a marching band!

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 11:55 a.m. PST

The drummer for the Rollling Stones did his national serice.

Mick the Metalsmith19 Apr 2017 11:59 a.m. PST

I think had conscription been an issue they would have been medics or conscientious objectors if they had a say in it.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Apr 2017 12:21 p.m. PST

Yeah, I forgot about Old Man Charley Watts. I'm not up on my Stones' history, but I bet he wasn't in that group at the time he was called up.

I've been reading in Mark Lewisohn's big Beatles tome that John, at least, was already fretting about fleeing to France (or Ireland) rather than report for induction. I wonder if this was viable back then, were Britons fleeing national service granted asylum in neighboring countries?

dBerczerk19 Apr 2017 12:29 p.m. PST

Surely the Beatles would have served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

Mick the Metalsmith19 Apr 2017 2:12 p.m. PST


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 2:41 p.m. PST

Given that France also had conscription at the time, I doubt an asylum claim based on fleeing the British draft would have been looked on with much favor there. Can't speak for Ireland.

It would have been a spectacularly stupid move, though. The legal and financial difficulties would have gone on for years. Their fans were going or had gone on this hypothesis, and Elvis doing his time would have been fresh in everyone's mind.

And note Elvis' career hardly missed a beat. Already famous entertainers would have been used for entertainment. My guess is that those less famous when called up would still have been in bands after their national service--it's not as though they had other career options--but the composition of each band would be a little different, clustering around release dates. Lots of difference in who was a "one hit wonder" and who made a fortune, but not much in overall effect.

zoneofcontrol19 Apr 2017 2:54 p.m. PST

Sgt. Pepper would have been their Plt. Sgt.

KSmyth19 Apr 2017 7:18 p.m. PST

Ringo was a pretty sickly kid, and I bet he wouldn't have passed the physical with his medical history.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Apr 2017 10:17 p.m. PST

Hah, submarine duty, yes of course!

That hadn't occurred to me, Ringo's health issues. I need to double-check that part of the book and see if Ringo was worried about what lay in store for him. Might he have been sent to a non-combat job or did National Service discriminate much along those lines?

Robert P, the thing about NS and the Beatles is that they weren't yet famous Beatles when their NS time would have come up -- the band would have been still-born, essentially, it was still in a very rough, nebulous form in the late 50s, so John and Ringo, born in 1940, would have been hauled away first, followed a few years later by Paul, then a year later still by George. It's hard to imagine them regrouping long years afterward, after many years of interruption and different discharge dates. Elvis at least was already established, and a solo act.

There's a parallel discussion of this topic on the Parlour/Lounge forum, for exalted Supporting Members, with some other posts and information that don't get cross-posted here.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 1:17 a.m. PST

Tanks, they had a ticket to ride.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 2:18 p.m. PST

Yeah, Piper. Got that pretty much. (And I am a supporting member--secret handshake and everything.) But my point was--burn me for heresy here--the Beatles as such don't matter. The "British Invasion" arguably does. All those talented kids familiar with American music of a slightly earlier period are still going to wind up in bands of about the same size, making much the same music. Matters for individual songs, of course. And you have to figure that it would make a lot of difference to a few marginal figures: some of the multi-millionaires of our reality would be counting pennies or maybe doing nostalgia tours, and some the other way around. But the music on my British Invasion CDs would sound pretty much the same.

Consider the "panzer generals" of WWII or Napoleon's marshals. You've got dozens of men with pretty similar training and experience. The groups is historically important, but not necessarily the individual. If Ney died in Egypt, maybe Desaix or Kleber commands a corps in 1805. If Rommel dies in 1940, maybe Balck gets the North Africa assignment.

Fame isn't the same thing as being irreplaceable.

forrester20 Apr 2017 3:17 p.m. PST

It's difficult to see who could have come to the fore as alternative front runners in the place of the Beatles, when you look at who else was around in say 1960. The sound of the "British Invasion" would have been more diluted and less distinctive.
What we might perhaps have had is the likes of John Lennon with a different set of mates in a different garden shed. Perhaps they would have taken the US by storm as The Quarrymen?

Long ago in Huyton Merseyside, in the walkway under the railway station, someone had scrawled "Send the Beatles to Cyprus".
So perhaps THERE might have lain a military role for them?

Supercilius Maximus20 Apr 2017 10:35 p.m. PST

The British Army has recovered from worse things.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member21 Apr 2017 11:50 a.m. PST

Ha! Those funny Scouser wags! Still the same as they was before they was….

I don't see an ersatz Beatles coming along, that was a unique combination of personalities and lightning wouldn't have struck a different group. (Lennon's old Quarry Men group was already breaking apart within a few years of them all leaving school, members drifted away in pursuit of steady jobs and marriage.) Certainly the two chief Beatle songwriters needed each other to attain the commercial breakthroughs they did, and without those Lennon-McCartney originals there is no Beatles. Without a Beatles, who was going to spearhead a British Invasion? We forget that there had been NO British musical group to make it big in the US (or globally) before the Beatles. The Fabs knocked in the door for the others to follow. I can't see the Kinks or Stones or Dave Clark Five (!) or Gerry and the Pacemakers conquering America from out of nowhere like the Beatles did. And their inspiration caused a lot of American bands and musicians to make music a career and find success.

Historically it might not have mattered, but culturally, the British Invasion changed a lot -- and in the long run, that may prove to be more important than elections or wars or economic policy.

Let's see, National Service breaks up the band well before they can achieve success or coalesce into a tight unit -- and afterward, an embittered John Lennon reverts to petty Merseyside criminality, hooliganism, and idleness; Paul McCartney resettles in London and works in the musical theatre with moderate success; George Harrison finds work as an anonymous session musician (also in London) and ekes out a living through this and stints in bar bands; and Ringo returns to Liverpool as well and drums on weekends with a succession of local groups for a fiver a night and resumes apprenticeship as a machinist.

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