Memory Lane: All you need is... liquorice?

Clevedon liquorice Beatles record

Clevedon liquorice Beatles record

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NOT so much A Taste of Honey for The Beatles in Blackpool, rather a taste of liquorice...

A “long eating” liquorice record was just one of many novelties that came out of the resort as the Fab Four made their mark around the world.

Excel TV lamp advertisement for a Beatles table

Excel TV lamp advertisement for a Beatles table

In America, one enterprising company was even selling – wait for it – “Beatle Breath” at 10 cents a can, while another was offering one inch squares of “sheets The Beatles slept on”!

A Can of Beatle Breath is the title of a book being written on early Beatles merchandise and author Marcus Gray hopes Memory Lane readers will be able to help him fill in a few gaps.

He says: “It’s a collection of the stories behind the numerous official and unofficial items produced to capitalise on the first wave of Beatlemania, from acrylic wigs to wallpaper.

“Given that The Beatles hailed from nearby Liverpool, and Blackpool was the North West’s main summer holiday destination and entertainment centre, it’s hardly surprising some of the very earliest merchandise originated in the town.”

Marcus says: “Quite possibly the very first authorised Beatles items sold anywhere were the black and white postcards and pin-up portraits produced by Valex of Blackpool, a company established and set up by local entrepreneur and sometime pop group road manager John Vale.”

Thanks to a feature in The Gazette in February, 2008, Marcus has already traced and talked to Harry Feeney, the current guardian of the Valex archives, and, via Harry, John Vale Jr of the Creepy Crawly Roadshow fame. But any other information on the Valex-Beatles connection would be welcome.

Marcus says: “Within a couple of months of the first Valex card appearing, rival long-established Blackpool company Starpic was producing similar items. And by November 1963, a new concern, Blackpool Publishers, was producing colour-tinted calendars and posters, and even a Beatles headscarf bearing the legend ‘designed by Barnett’.

“It’s been suggested to me that the man behind both of these Beatles ventures and, possibly, others was local printer Harry Bainbridge, then of Fylde Printers, and later of Trident. Mr Bainbridge is no longer with us, but I’d love to hear from family or friends who could tell me more. And perhaps identify the mysterious designer Barnett.”

Another postcard company called Brel might or might not have had Blackpool origins, according to Marcus’s research.

He says: “Of course, Blackpool was quick off the mark with Beatles rock. RD Blackwood and Son secured the official licence to make Beatles rock, sweets and lollipops, which they produced for much of the 1964 season. Geoff and Margaret Race at Blackwoods have been very helpful, but, understandably enough, don’t have a photographic record of the items or any surviving wrappers. Who could have anticipated an inquiry about Beatles rock 50 years later? So if anyone out there does have anything, I’d be more than pleased to hear from them.”

Blackwoods didn’t quite have a monopoly. In November 1963, Palace Rock started selling an unofficial 6in toffee disc in the style of a Beatles single.

Marcus says: “When The Beatles threatened legal action, Palace agreed licensing terms. In spring 1964, shortly after the band conquered America, national newspapers reported that Palace had received an order from the States for 10m discs. Production quickly shifted to another, larger, local firm, Clevedon Confectionery, and from toffee to liquorice. I’d be keen to hear from anyone who worked for those companies at the time or knows more about that mind-boggling order, which should surely have guaranteed Palace/Clevedon a US number one hit?

“By early 1964, a company called Excel Fancy Goods, of Back St Heliers Road, had an official licence to make 3D TV lamps. In those days it was the done thing to watch TV with a novelty light on top of the set. I’ve seen a photo of the item, but never the real thing, so again, if anyone has any memories to share, or still has a Beatles lamp sitting where it can regularly outshine the talent on X Factor, I would like to know,” says Marcus, who can be contacted by email at red.barn@yahoo.co.uk, on 02890 590312 (before 9pm please) or c/o 44 Salisbury Avenue, Belfast, BT15 5DZ.