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Happy Birthday Wilfrid Brambell and Please Please Me.

March 22, 2016


“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” Ephesians-4-22 King James Version (KJV).
The King James Version of the Bible contains a number of references to “the old man” – basically meaning – “the former, unregenerate unredeemed self”. But as a child, whenever I heard the phrase read out in church, I thought of Wilfrid Brambell. “The old man” who is to be put aside always presented himself to my imagination as Old Steptoe, a dirty, leering, irredeemable reprobate.

Anyhoo – he was born 106 years ago today.

Wilfrid Brambell was more than just Old Steptoe. But Steptoe and Son was an extraordinary piece of work in many ways. Although the writing was attributed to the Galton and Simpson writing partnership, I swear that Samuel Beckett was guest writer for several episodes.

And of course, Wilfrid Brambell co-starred with The Beatles in Hard Day’s Night as Paul’s grandfather – “a very CLEAN old man” to distinguish the character from Harry Corbett’s familiar exasperated yelp. But not distinguish him all that much.
In real life, of course, Wilfrid Brambell was a talented and versatile Irish actor with an impressive CV, a cultivated and eloquent soul. A bit like the late Frank Kelly, he was most famous for playing someone as unlike himself as can be imagined.

Oddly enough, today is also the 55th birthday of the release of the Please Please Me album. This album, famously recorded in just one day, is close to being a kind of perfect thing, bristling with naive energy.

“I Saw Her Standing There” is an authentic classic – a song that John called “one of Paul’s” but which Paul recalls John helping with. Oddly enough, it would end up being the very last song which John Lennon sang in front of a live audience.

The harmonica dominates many of the other tracks – notably “Love Me Do” – which in its very simplicity makes me feel like I’m smelling salty Merseyside air.  And the innocence of “Chains” and “Boys” sung by George and Ringo, adult songs given a kind of polyamorous confusion by the unreflective verve of the performances.  Then there’s the dreamy West Side Story idealism of “There’s a Place”, the primitive trotting sincerity of “PS I Love You” and the energy of the title track “Please Please Me” itself. The advice of George Martin to speed up this song is one of his single greatest contributions to the Beatles’ career. And of course, there is “Twist and Shout” – recorded in one take after a long long day’s work – which still stands as one of the most extreme rock and roll performances ever recorded.

All these songs are short by twenty-first century standards.  All are urgent.

Wilfred Bramble started playing old people when he was still in his forties.

Please Please Me will always be young.

Because it sounds like young people. And it always will.


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  1. Pedant mode. It was Galton, not Dalton.
    By a curious coincidence I wrote a small entry about Steptoe in response to one of the Daily Prompts.

  2. Why yes. It was Galton wasn’t it. Cheerfully amended.

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