Some Boomers Got Christmas Greetings from the Beatles

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?

Boomers Wore Nehru Jackets … Temporarily

The style that came to be known in the Western World as the Nehru jacket came to the Boomer Generation in variety of ways. The fashion item itself had its origins in Asia thousands of years ago. Most of Asian cultures had a variation on the straight, thigh-length jacket with a collarless neckline. The jacket, so called because it was worn over a shirt, was generally reserved for the noble class or used as ceremonial garb.

The garment we knew as the “Nehru jacket” was so named after India’s political activist and first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964). As a constant reminder of his objection to British rule, he wore a traditional coat that resembled the styles of Achkan, Sherwani or Bandhgala designs that spoke of Indian culture in the years immediately before and after India gained its independence in the 1940s.

The U.S. got its first-hand look at Nehru’s mode of dress in 1962. China had just acted aggressively by moving troops into northern India, alarming world leaders in the process. In an effort to sway Nehru into joining the fight against Communism, President Kennedy invited him to visit the White House. A pacifist at heart like his co-activist friend Gandhi, Nehru called China “India’s brother.” Shortly thereafter China withdrew its troops. Photos of the President and the First Lady with the Prime Minister and his wife fascinated fashionistas in Britain and the U.S.

One of the earliest commonly-viewed influences of the style turned up in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). The title character (played by Joseph Wiseman) wore a Mandarin collar jacket that was probably more Chinese-influenced than Indian. As the villain in the film, he was the antithesis of India’s Prime Minister.

A burgeoning counterculture fashion industry and a growing number of disaffected youth  began looking to the East for guidance, after rejecting “Western values” as they saw them. They coalesced when the Beatles began wearing collarless suits in the early 1960s; the Beatles had a huge influence on the elevation of the Nehru jacket, but not in the main form Mandarin collar we recall from the era. Rather, British designers used the style as inspiration for collarless suit jackets. Before the Beatles, it was common for rock ‘n roll band members to wear business suits and ties. The Beatles were among the first to straddle the line between respectable and irreverent by wearing collarless suit jackets.

Timothy Leary wore a collarless Asian-style garment in the days of his Hippie influence.

In 1966 the Beatles visited India to study meditation. By the time they returned to Britain, Eastern philosophy and style had permeated the counterculture, especially the Hippies. British designers, keen on expanding the new Age of Fashion, seized the moment and produced variations of their own on a jacket they now labelled as “Nehru,” both to honor the pacifist man and give a Western name to an Asian style. Nonetheless, even though there are photos of John and George wearing Indian-style Nehru jackets around the time of their India trip, it is worth noting that the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967), the first released after their trip, does not depict the Fab Four wearing Nehru jackets. Rather, they are dressed in military-style band uniforms that do have a collarless neckline.

Fashion followers say the popularity of the jacket, which had been on the rise up to the Summer of Love in 1967, took a nosedive after celebrities such as Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joe Namath began wearing the style on a regular basis, often paired with a turtleneck and beads or a medallion necklace. By that point — around 1968 — jackets, vests, shirts and blouses sporting the Nehru collar were available across the consumer spectrum for men, women and children. The Nehru was doomed to be a fashion fad in the Western world, though it still turns up as hip wear for some popular musicians.

And that is where Mister Boomer’s awareness entered. On a family trip to New York City in 1967, Brother Boomer slipped into a shop in Greenwich Village and emerged with the most beautiful Nehru jacket Mister B has seen to this day. It was jet black with a gold brocade paisley design that was all at once modern and timeless, classy and fashion-forward. When the family returned home, Mister Boomer kept an eye out for a similar garment for himself. The closest he came was a short-sleeve shirt that sported a Nehru collar. It was blue with a gold paisley pattern, but paled in comparison to the masterful garment his brother had procured. Mister Boomer did not get invited to many parties, but does recall that in his earliest high school days, he wore his short-sleeve Nehru to one. Needless to say, he was the only one dressed in that style.

How about it, boomers? Did you wear Nehru-style clothing? If so, was it a fashion statement or a cultural statement?