Before the dawn of the internet and social media, celebrities relied on fan clubs as a more personal way to connect with fans. For publicity agents, they became an adjunct to the teen and celebrity magazines of the era and presented a steady audience that would be the first to buy whatever their client was selling. In return, the fan club members received autographed photos and often got first notice of upcoming film and music releases, public appearances, and sometimes, special visitations from the celebrities at annual meetings.
As soon as the Beatles became popular in England, their fan club cropped up. It was run out of the London offices of Brian Epstein’s company, NEMS Enterprises. NEMS managed the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and other bands at the time. Members of the Official Beatles Fan Club had access to publicity photos and info on the Fab Four that was unavailable elsewhere. In 1963, Tony Barrow, the press officer for NEMS, suggested the band record their thanks and holiday greetings on a flexi-disc that would be distributed to the fan club members. The idea was accepted with the intent that the recording pay for itself through fan club membership fees, though as part of the Beatles’ marketing, NEMS was prepared to accept the cost in exchange for fan goodwill.
Barrow wrote a script for each of the boys to read after the recording session that produced I Want to Hold Your Hand in October of 1963. It became obvious that the words read by John, Paul, George and Ringo were not their own as they fumbled through the script, ad-libbed and generally made fun of the whole process. Though the holiday message was intended to be a one-time release, it was a hit with fans, so NEMS continued to produce one every year through 1969.
1964 was the year the Beatles conquered America, but the Christmas message the band recorded in late October arrived too late to be distributed to the newly-minted U.S. Beatles Fan Club. Consequently, U.S. fans received the 1963 package that year as part of their $2.00 annual membership fee. The U.S. club members received soundcards instead of flexi-discs; boomers recall soundcards as the cardboard disc promotional items that were often adhered to the back of cereal boxes. Sound quality was hardly a concern with these items intended to be tossed after a single play.
By 1965, the band warmed up to the idea and gained control of the content. Their annual holiday messages got more elaborate, and some years featured new songs written for the occasion.
In 1966, the band recorded their message as a concept show that took its basis from the English pantomime musical comedy shows they saw at Christmastime when they were kids. Christmastime Is Here Again, was a new song recorded the day after the release of Magical Mystery Tour for the 1966 fan package. For the first time, some fans grumbled at the changes that were taking place in the bands’ sound, that culminated in the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band seven months later. While some girls didn’t like the new direction, more boys joined the club that year.
The band had officially broken up by Christmas of 1970, though the Fan Clubs remained in existence through 1972. Apple Records was looking for a way to thank loyal fans after the break up. Several ideas were put forth, but it was decided that fans would receive an LP as a parting gift that contained the Christmas messages recorded from 1963 to 1969.
In 2017, Apple released a CD box set of the Christmas messages, including reproductions of each year’s artwork, printed matter and remastered sound.
Mister Boomer and his siblings were never much for joining fan clubs. The only fan club Mister B belonged to was for Soupy Sales. His sister flirted with the idea of joining a Bobby Sherman fan club, but settled for a wall poster. Nonetheless, the Beatles had a big presence in the Boomer household. Brother Boomer brought home Beatles 45 RPMs and albums as soon as they were released. In fact, the first package of 45 RPMs the family bought had a Beatles record in it (I Feel Fine backed with She’s a Woman). It was the only record visible in the label-sized cellophane window of the 10-record package.
The first that Mister Boomer heard of the Beatles Christmas messages came from his transistor radio. One year, Mister B thinks it was 1965 or ’66, a local radio station played the fan club message on the air. After that point, he recalls hearing several stars of the time — including the Beach Boys — relaying Christmas greetings on radio bumpers, those short breaks between records and commercials.
How about it, boomers? Were you an official Beatles Fan Club member who received the annual holiday message package? Do you still have them now?