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In Liverpool, the Beatles Play On

By Bill O'Brian
The Washington Post
Sunday, February 28, 1999; Page E02

On the shelves are Beatles keychains, Beatles belt buckles, Beatles rugby shirts for sale. In the display case are Beatles watches, Beatles caps and Beatles badges. Not to mention the Beatles posters, pens and pennants nearby, the Sgt. Pepper sweat shirts, the Yellow Submarine duffel bags and the silver-plated Beatles spoons.

At the ticket counter is a personable young woman explaining that for the British equivalent of $27, the three of us--my skeptical wife, my even more skeptical teenage son and myself--can experience the "award-winning visitor attraction" known as the Beatles Story. I feel silly, like a gullible groupie, but I plunk down the money anyway, mostly because I'm the one who dragged us to Liverpool, England, in the first place, and it's too late to turn back. I'm the one who, since my childhood and their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," has been fascinated by the Beatles--as much by their shaping mid-century pop culture as by their music.

Part museum, part arcade, part Graceland and part subterranean labyrinth, the Beatles Story is a permanent walk-through exhibition in the Britannia Pavilion at the Albert Dock on Liverpool's Mersey River.

Factoids are its forte. Among the details you'll discover (or rediscover, depending on the severity of your affliction) are the Beatles' moms' maiden names (Elsie Gleave Starkey, Julia Stanley Lennon, Mary Patricia Mohin McCartney, Louise French Harrison) and their fathers' occupations (respectively, confectioner, steamship steward, lathe turner at an aircraft factory and corporate bus driver). That information is found on replicas of their County Borough of Liverpool birth certificates.

In due time as we stroll through the cavernous, music-infused display, we're also informed that Paul met John in 1957. That Paul and John met George in 1958. That one-time band member and bass guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe died in 1962. That Ringo Starr replaced their first regular drummer, Pete Best, also in 1962. That Ringo had his tonsils removed at University Hospital in London on Dec. 1, 1964, and that he played a cameo role in Mae West's final film, "Sextette," in January 1978. That John Lennon's appearance with Elton John on Nov. 28, 1974, at Madison Square Garden was his last concert. That (Sir!) Paul McCartney was fined $175 for growing marijuana in the greenhouse of his Scottish farm in 1973. That George Harrison was banned from driving for a year in 1971 for speeding.

But the Beatles Story is not all trivia. Many of the 18 displays cover ground familiar to anyone who took a breath during the '60s. Even if the artifacts aren't museum quality, seeing them all presented under one roof in the seaport city that the group made famous is somehow extraordinary. Exhibits are devoted to the band's formative time spent in Hamburg, Germany; to "the psychedelic years"; to London's Abbey Road studio and the album cover it engendered; to "Yellow Submarine"; to the classic "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" montage; to manager Brian Epstein's death in 1967 and the subsequent formation of Apple Corps Limited; to the group's breakup, which was initiated by McCartney in 1970 but did not finish wending through the court system until 1975; and to the inevitable solo careers.

By far the most distinctive displays, though, are those about the early days in Liverpool. We learn, among other things, that many local fans refused to buy the group's first single, "Love Me Do," as it ascended the national charts--for fear that the world would discover Liverpool's secret treasure and the Beatles would be gone for good from the city's pubs. Of course, just months after "Love Me Do" peaked at No. 17 in Britain in October 1962, their second single, "Please Please Me," made it to No. 1, and soon the quartet was touring America and the world. When the Beatles returned for a homecoming concert at Liverpool's 2,300-seat Empire Theatre on Dec. 5, 1965, at least 37,000 requests for tickets went unfilled. Those local fans' fears had been realized.

If the Liverpool days are the most seminal part of the Beatles Story, the large memorial to John Lennon, called the White Room, is the most mesmerizing, complete with stark white walls and black sunglasses atop a white piano.

Later, outside the pavilion, Kerry Light, 20, of North Chatham, N.Y., is still moved by the whole experience. She and three American friends who are studying for a time in Lancaster, England, are recapping their day. Despite being too young to remember even the circumstances of Lennon's murder in 1980, they had spent the morning taking a two-hour guided minibus tour of Beatles landmarks in the city and the afternoon inside the Beatles Story.

"The main reason we came to Liverpool was the Beatles," says Light.

Me too.

Liverpool is approximately four hours by train from London, one hour from Manchester. Albert Dock is a pleasant 15-minute walk through town from the Lime Street train station. The Beatles Story admission is about $11 for adults, $8 for students and $27 for a family of four. For more Beatles/Liverpool information, contact the British Tourist Authority (551 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10176, 1-800-462-2748 or /beatles.html.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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