A BBC season celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the Beatles’ best-known albums
Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution TV BBC Two, scheduled for early June
Though it’s perennially “20 years ago today” since “Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play”, it’s now half a century since the Beatles released their eighth studio album, on 1 June 1967. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the UK album chart for 27 weeks and provided the soundtrack to a psychedelic summer that saw a collision between mainstream society and the counterculture represented by the hippies.
The BBC’s anniversary season is anchored by Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution, a documentary including material never before accessible outside Abbey Road. Broadcaster and composer Howard Goodall presents an insightful take on the Fab Four’s world as, having given up touring in 1966, they poured their energies into studio work.
On Radio 2, Sgt. Pepper Forever (Wednesday 24 and 31 May) is a two-part detailed look at the recording process. Presented by Martin Freeman, it features Giles Martin (son of Pepper producer Sir George Martin), who recently crafted a new stereo mix of the album, reflecting on the innovative techniques employed by his father.
In Paul Merton on the Beatles (Radio 2, Monday 29 May), the comedian offers a counterfactual take on musical history: what if the Beatles hadn’t split up? Would John, Paul, George and Ringo collectively have gone back to the rock’n’roll covers of their mop-top incarnation, as they did in their solo careers? Merton also imagines what songs might have featured on an album that followed Abbey Road and Let It Be.
On Radio 4 Extra (Saturday 3 June), Samira Ahmed introduces a 13-hour mix of documentaries, dramas and comedies that celebrate the famous faces featured on Peter Blake’s Pepper cover, including Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein, Marlon Brando and Oscar Wilde. And on BBC Radio 6 Music, Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s show on Thursday 15 June celebrates the music of Liverpool over the past 50 years.
To get an international perspective, tune in to BBC World Service on Saturday 27 May for How Sgt. Pepper Changed the World, in which Brazilian musician and political activist Gilberto Gil explores how the album spread “the opulent revolutionary optimism of psychedelia” around the world.
The Fab Four at the press launch of Sgt Pepper in May 1967