“For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands,” John Lennon instructed the 1963 Royal Variety Performance audience at the Prince of Wales theatre in London. “And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewellery.”
It was a brave joke greeted by laughter and applause, part of an important performance that helped to catapult the Beatles to superstardom.
Nearly 60 years on, memories of the show will be revived when autographs from all four Beatles, from the night itself, are sold at auction. The lot is part of an annual Beatles auction in Liverpool, which is still going strong after more than 30 years, testament to the band’s enduring legacy.
Later this month, fans will be able to buy concert programmes, signed photos and other memorabilia which includes a brick, but no ordinary brick, and the net curtains which hung in the window of Ringo Starr’s house. After he left.
“The auctions are always hugely popular,” said Stephen Bailey, manager of the Beatles Shop in Mathew Street, which organises the auctions. “There is so much interest. Even ticket stubs are going through the roof these days. If you find a little ticket stub for a Beatles concert you went to, you’re looking at at least £200.”
The variety show autographs are from November 1963. “It was a huge night for the Beatles,” said Bailey. “It really catapulted them into the national consciousness. It helped them become amazingly famous.”
In the royal box were the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. At the end, the Beatles joined other acts including Marlene Dietrich, Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell (Steptoe and Son), Harry Secombe, Tommy Steele, Max Bygraves and the Pinky and Perky puppeteers Jan and Vlasta Dalibor for a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
The autographs were obtained by the actor Gerald James – one of Secombe’s “Pickwickians” that night – for his daughter.
Bailey said it was the only full set of autographs from that evening he was aware of and, along with a photograph from the night, they are expected to fetch £5,000.
The auction lots also include a brick from the Cavern club, one of 5,000 salvaged by Royal Life insurance in 1983 during a redevelopment. Each was sold for £5, with the proceeds going towards the Strawberry Fields children’s home. Today the brick is worth something like £500-£600. Bailey too has one, although he has no plans to sell his yet.
“I can clearly remember going along and paying my £5. I’ve still got it at home, it’s called my pet brick,” he said. “It’s just kept on the shelf by the computer desk and it doesn’t require much attention or feeding so it’s a wonderful thing.”
Other lots include net curtains from Ringo Starr’s childhood home on Admiral Grove in the Dingle area of Liverpool. Not from Ringo’s time, but many years later when a subsequent owner would have fans taking photographs outside on an almost daily basis. “These net curtains will have appeared in every fan picture you have ever seen of Ringo’s house,” said Bailey.
Also up for sale are fake Beatles signatures, made by Mal Evans, the Beatles road manager; a 1964 “Make a Date With the Beatles” calendar, and a collection of 1960s concert programmes.
Bailey has had people coming in to offer Beatles bits for sale for decades. Sometimes they even come with fake Cavern club bricks. One of the most eye-opening offers was John Lennon’s toilet, he said.
“The guy had all the paperwork for it. He worked on replacing all John Lennon’s plumbing at Tittenhurst Park [Lennon’s home in Berkshire].
“He kept it as a flowerpot in his back garden for years. We said it was going to sell for either £1,000 or £10,000. It sold for £10,000 eventually.”
• The Beatles auction is at the Cato Crane auction rooms in Liverpool on 27 August.