England got a lot more of The Beatles than Americans did during the group's formative years. Between 1962 and 1965, The Beatles were featured on 53 BBC radio programs, including their own series, Pop Go the Beatles. They performed originals and covers and chatted with BBC hosts.
The Beatles: On Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2 has just been released. Kevin Howlett produced both that and the newly remastered reissue of the first volume, which was originally released in 1994. For reasons he explains to Fresh Air host Terry Gross, Howlett had to search for many of these recordings, and they weren't easy to find.
Howlett has written a new companion book called The Beatles: The BBC Archives, which includes transcriptions of the band's BBC radio and TV interviews as well as fascinating internal memos about the Beatles and their music.
On the challenges of his project working in the BBC archive
My quest to restore the BBC archive [of the Beatles] goes way back to 1981 when I joined the national pop network in this country, BBC Radio 1, as a young rookie producer. I was 24 years old. The management knew I was a Beatles fanatic, I was a child in the '60s growing up with the Beatles, and they gave me this task. What a dream thing to be handed. They said, "Can you investigate what programs the Beatles performed music in and what songs they did?" And the BBC's written archives are a wonderful place where they kept every single piece of paper relating to the Beatles' performances, so when I wrote the book it was a magnificent source of material: memos, contracts, audience research reports — so that was fine, you could find out all of the information.
But then finding the music on the tapes? That was a completely different matter. Some of these recordings come from transcription discs, LPs that were distributed by the BBC to other countries for broadcast. Some come from producer listening copies. There were some producers at the time that thought maybe it is worth keeping this material, and in some of these cases, listeners who taped off the radio.
On The Beatles' audition for the BBC
The very first thing that Brian Epstein did when he took over the management of The Beatles was to fill out an application form for the variety department of the BBC. This, again, reminds us that there was no rock business as we know it. This was show business and they would be on with all sorts of other acts, radio ventriloquists even, that kind of thing.
So he fills out the application form. They're invited to do an audition and they turn up at the Manchester Playhouse and they perform four songs. The producer Peter Pilbeam selected them for broadcast. That was quite something because some other very popular Liverpool groups — they all failed their auditions with Peter Pilbeam, but he passed The Beatles and in the book, you can see Peter Pilbeam's comments [on the back of the application] and he says, "Not as rock-y as most, more country and western with a tendency to play music" — one of the great understatements, I think. He also makes a comment about the vocalists and he said, "John Lennon, yes. Paul McCartney, no." But Paul did sing on the first broadcast, so he must've changed his mind about that.
But, well done, Peter Pilbeam, because this is well before they were signed to Parlophone Records by George Martin and a long time before they released their first single, "Love Me Do," in the U.K. So the BBC was very quick to see the potential of this group.
On how The Beatles changed the tone of the BBC
I think it's important to put yourself back in that era, and this is the year  before it all happens in America and internationally, this is the breakthrough year for The Beatles, make or break time. And what they were doing was revolutionary and shocking: the choice of material, the way they were allowed to be themselves on the air and be so witty and irreverent, all in a very good-natured way, but the culture clash of the cheeky lads from Liverpool with the trained actors who might be presenting programs with them.
So [the BBC's] light-years away from The Beatles, they're not music experts and they do these wonderfully corny links and you can hear The Beatles having such a great time and giggling away at some of these links. It was just radical to hear that on the BBC. In those days if you presented a program, you had to submit your script two weeks in advance and someone would go through it with a blue pencil altering your grammar. There was no spontaneity on the BBC. But because The Beatles were recording for the Popular Music Department, which was live music, they were allowed to be more natural in what was called "The Announcements." So they are themselves [and] that was quite shocking. BBC was a very formal institution.
On reading the audience research reports from the BBC shows
Going through the written archives, I loved looking through all of the audience research reports. There would be a listening panel and a TV panel, people selected to make comments on radio and TV programs broadcasted by the BBC. And they're all kept in the written archives and you read through these reports and there are some facsimiles of them in the file of documents that comes with the book. The one from a program called From Us To You broadcast on Easter Monday in 1964 and you read through and a security guard says, "The Beatles were vastly overrated, their performance was decidedly amateur and their entertainment value — nil." Somebody else says, "Noisy, boring, waste of time."
Consider how many synonyms there are for tedium: boredom, monotony, uniformity, dreariness, ennui, listlessness, each with its own subtle nuances. Perhaps it says something about our society that we must differentiate between the boredom of the office cubicle and of the traffic jam.
None of the authors below set out to write a book about tedium, but hovering always just behind the scenes is that debilitating affliction, sluggish and repetitious, playing a central role in their lives.
One of the enlightening things about these three books is how the experience of tedium is a condition of the human body, marked by some form of physical confinement or limitation — even if it's self-imposed, in the case of Shapiro. Ultimately, it's up to the mind to try to find an escape hatch.
And that's how books happen.
Said Sayrafiezadeh is the author of Brief Encounters with the Enemy.
As you're thinking about this year's Thanksgiving menu, you might be feeling a bit bored. Green bean casserole? Been there. Turkey and stuffing? Meh. Pumpkin pie? Cliché.
We were looking for a little Thanksgiving inspiration, so we reached out to culinary legend Patricia Wells. The veteran restaurant critic and cookbook author has been teaching French cooking for nearly two decades in Paris and Provence.
Wells gave NPR's Rachel Martin some suggestions on how to put a French twist on this very American holiday. These dishes are from The French Kitchen Cookbook, Wells' latest collection of recipes and chef's tips.
Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup with Crab And Cilantro
In lieu of pumpkin pie, try this soup, ripe with flavors of citrus, ginger and coconut.
Equipment: A blender or a food processor; 8 warmed, shallow soup bowls.
3 shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste, preferably organic
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 pound (500 g) pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed (or 2 cups; 500 ml canned pumpkin puree)
One 28-ounce (765 g) can peeled Italian plum tomatoes in juice
3 cups (750 ml) Homemade Vegetable Stock or Homemade Chicken Stock
1 cup (250 ml) coconut juice, preferably organic
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce, preferably Red Boat brand
7 ounces (200 g) fresh crabmeat
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
- In a large saucepan, combine the shallots, curry paste, and ginger and cook over low heat until the shallots are soft and the mixture is well combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture for garnish.
- Add the pumpkin, tomatoes (with juices), and vegetable or chicken stock and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Transfer to the blender or food processor and puree.
- Return the mixture to the saucepan and add the coconut juice. Stir to blend. Bring back to a simmer. Stir in the lime juice and fish sauce.
- Place several tablespoons of the crabmeat in the center of each soup bowl. Pour the soup all around the crabmeat. Garnish with the reserved curry-ginger mixture and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves.
Make-ahead note: Complete the recipe through step 2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Complete at serving time.
Seared Duck Breast with Fresh Figs and Black Currant Sauce
Duck makes a rich, juicy alternative to turkey.
Equipment: A warmed platter; 4 warmed dinner plates.
16 fresh figs
2 fatted duck breasts (magret), each about 1 pound (500 g)
Fine sea salt
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (125 ml) best-quality balsamic vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) or black currant juice
- Stand each fig, stem end up, on a cutting board. Trim off and discard the stem end of the fig. Make an X-shaped incision into each fig, cutting about one-third of the way down through the fruit.
- Remove the duck from the refrigerator 10 minutes in advance before cooking. With a sharp knife, make about 10 diagonal incisions in the skin of each duck breast. Make about 10 additional diagonal incisions to create a crisscross pattern. The cuts should be deep but should not go all the way through to the flesh. (The scoring will help the fat melt while cooking and will stop the duck breast from shrinking up as it cooks.) Season the breasts all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. When the pan is warm, place the breasts, skin side down, in the pan. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently until the skin is a uniform, deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove and discard the fat in the pan. Cook the breasts skin side up for 10 minutes more for medium-rare duck, or cook to desired doneness.
- Remove the duck from the skillet and place the breasts side by side on the warmed platter. Season generously with salt and pepper. Tent loosely with foil and let the duck rest for at least 10 minutes, to allow the juices to retreat back into the meat.
- In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar andcrème de cassis and warm over low heat.
- In a saucepan that will hold the figs snugly, arrange them tightly in a single layer, cut end up. Pour the warm vinegar mixture over the figs and cook over low heat, basting the figs with the liquid, for about 3 minutes.
- Cut the duck breasts on the diagonal into thick slices, and arrange on the warmed dinner plates. Spoon the sauce over the duck slices, and arrange the figs alongside. Serve.
Wine suggestion: Almost any good southern Rhône red would be perfect here. Cassis is an overriding flavor in the wines of the region; try the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne from the Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin, the Réserve des Seigneurs, loaded with the spice of red and black currants as well as kirsch.
Variation: Substitute cherries for the figs and cherry eau-de-vie for the crème de cassis.
This cross between mashed potatoes and potato pancakes is particularly appropriate this year, as Thanksgiving coincides with the first day of Hanukkah.
Equipment: A steamer.
1 pound (500 g) firm, yellow-fleshed potatoes, such Yukon Gold (each about 4 ounces; 125 g), scrubbed but not peeled, halved lengthwise
5 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled, halved, and green germ removed
4 large fresh summer savory or thyme sprigs
2 fennel frond sprigs
2 tablespoons duck fat or unsalted butter
Fleur de sel
Coarse, freshly ground black pepper
- Pour 1 quart (1 l) of water into the bottom of the steamer. Add the garlic, summer savory, and fennel sprigs and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Place the potatoes, cut side down, on the steaming rack. Place the rack over the simmering water, cover, and steam just until the potatoes are fully cooked and can easily be pierced with the tip of a knife, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Place a clean dish towel on a work surface, cover it with plastic wrap, and set the cooked potatoes on top of the plastic wrap. Spread another piece of plastic wrap over the potatoes. Smash each potato gently with the palm of your hand to burst it open. Each potato should still maintain its shape.
- In a large skillet, heat the duck fat or butter over medium heat. Brown the potatoes until firm and golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Season with fleur de sel and pepper. Serve warm.
Intense Chocolate Custards with Nibs
Chocolate isn't a traditional flavor for Thanksgiving desserts, and that's a real shame. This dessert is so deeply chocolatey, a very small serving will satisfy even the most committed chocoholic.
Equipment: A double boiler; a baster; eight 1/4-cup (65 ml) vodka or shot glasses.
5 ounces (150 g) bittersweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Guanaja 70 percent
3/4 cup (185 ml) light cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
Fleur de sel
About 1 tablespoon chocolate nibs (see Note)
- Break the chocolate into small pieces.
- In the top of the double boiler set over, but not touching, boiling water, heat the cream and 1/4 cup (60 ml) of water just until warm. Add the chocolate pieces, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and stir to melt and combine. Spoon the mixture into the glasses. (I have found that if you use a baster to "pipe" the chocolate into the glasses, it is less messy.) Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.
- At serving time, sprinkle with fleur de sel and chocolate nibs.
Make-ahead note: The custards can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, covered, and refrigerated.
Note: What are nibs? Chocolate nibs are pieces of cacao beans that have been roasted and hulled. Nibs taste faintly similar to roasted coffee beans. They have a great crunch, a slightly nutty flavor, and a pleasant touch of bitterness.
Wine suggestion: I love to serve this treat with the chocolate-friendly, sweet Banyuls reserve wine from Domaine La Tour Vieille in the Languedoc. With its touch of spice, hint of chocolate, and overtones of raspberry, what could be a finer partner for a chocolate dessert?
Recipes from The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence by Patricia Wells. Copyright 2013 by Patricia Wells Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins.
Nicholas Dawidoff's Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football may be the best book I've ever read about football. It is certainly the most detailed account of the players inside the helmets and the coaches obscured from an enthralled public by large, laminated playsheets.
Like a brilliant coach, Dawidoff's approach relies on smart tactics and skillful execution. First of all, he outworked the competition, living with the New York Jets all year. The coaches kept such long hours, and Dawidoff's home was so far away from the training facility, that the coaching staff offered up couches and spare bedrooms to their chronicler.
If the coaches worked until 3 in the morning, Dawidoff worked until 3 in the morning. Dawidoff became so close to the team that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine named a blitz after him and even allowed the writer to call plays in a preseason game.
Dawidoff reveals the game through his access and skills of observation and expression. Jets fans, who wondered what went wrong during a disappointing 8-8 season in 2011, will revel in details, like linebacker Aaron Maybin's need to wear wristbands with plays written on them because he simply couldn't remember his assignments.
Also compelling: the explanation behind key plays in a late-season loss to the New York Giants that essentially eliminated the Jets from playoff contention.
In that game, Jets safety Brodney Pool's absence on a Victor Cruz 99-yard Giants touchdown was baffling. His ineffective tackling on an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run was also ruinous. Dawidoff reports Pool was likely concussed during an earlier play.
Dawidoff never calls Pool's condition a concussion, but describes Pool as half-blind and disoriented on the sideline. Pool insisted the coaches not be told of his condition because he was sure head coach Rex Ryan would remove him from the game. As Jets then-defensive leader Jim Leonhard says, Ryan "wants guys to be healthy. He knows it's bigger than football. He doesn't put people in harm's way."
That assessment of Ryan rings true throughout the book, and Dawidoff calls him the most inspirational person he's ever met. Throughout Collision Low Crossers, Dawidoff humanizes the coaches and players.
For instance, the Jets offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, was fired after the 2011 season. From hundreds of calls to sports radio and dozens of conversations with friends and family members who are Jets fans, I haven't heard one person express remorse for that personnel decision. Typical of the criticism of the coordinator was this passage on Sports Illustrated:
"For many the fault will lie with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who's likely to play the role of scapegoat in light of New York's failure to make the playoffs. That's fine — the Jets were unimaginative in their play-calling for much of the season and often failed to take advantage of their talented roster."
That's unfathomable, Dawidoff says. "If anything, like a lot of coaches, what he had going for him was imagination. What a coach can do is spend his whole life looking at his opponent, trying to understand his opponent, trying to understand his deficiencies."
That kind of respect for the coaches might not be what fans want to hear. We're always told the game is remorseless, a notion that practically demands callousness among fans. Discovering the drive, humor, dedication and humanity in our gladiators could shake the screaming partisans and the fire-the-coach callers on sports radio.
Collision Low Crossers resonates with the fan who has a long connection to the game, who either played, coached, or both. A fan for whom the bonds of a Pop Warner or high school team were meaningful, and for whom the NFL is an exulted, yet mysterious destination.
As Matt de le Pena's book, The Living, opens, a young man named Shy works as a towel boy by day and a water boy at night, spending his summer earning money on a cruise ship.
Then the big one hits — the epochal earthquake that Californians have always heard would strike one day — and 17-year-old Shy is flung into shark-infested seas from a sinking ship.
The Living is de le Pena's fifth novel for young adults. It is at once a disaster epic, a survival story and a coming of age novel, told through the life of a young man who is becoming aware of class, prejudice and romance. De la Pena joins NPR's Scott Simon to speak about family, social class and the necessity of context — whether that's a high school or the vast backdrop of nature.
On what fascinates him about Shy
I actually stole him from a failed novel I wrote probably about six years ago. The novel failed, but I loved this kid Shy. ...
The biggest thing is that a kid growing up in a working-class environment often doesn't know how to show emotion. They're taught to be tough, machismo. I think it's fun to watch those characters try to figure out what to do with their heart.
On what attracted him to writing fiction
I was really drawn to spoken-word style poetry. I loved the rhythms, and for some reason, I was just drawn to this poetry as a way of expressing my feelings, because I didn't have any other outlet. But once I got into college, I discovered literature — in particular, multicultural literature. I just started to understand the power of story and narrative, and you know, like anyone else, I kind of wanted to do it, too.
On being a self-described working-class writer
When I was young, I grew up in a family of working-class people. Not just my parents, but my extended family, as well. There wasn't education, but I will tell you one thing: I saw my dad get up every single day — never took a sick day. That experience of seeing my dad work so hard and my mom work so hard, it translates for me into the writing process in this way: I have to clock in every day, just like my dad did, going to the zoo. It's just that I'm sitting at a desk, writing a book.
On his father's unlikely path to becoming an avid reader
When I was born, he was a teenager. He got a job immediately, worked that job for 25 years — until they found a way to get him out of there, because he didn't have the education to be at the position he'd worked himself up to. So my dad lost his identity, because he believed that the San Diego Zoo was his identity.
Eventually, he found literature — through me, actually. He borrowed one of my novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude. He read it; he liked it. He wouldn't tell me anything more than [that] he liked it. But eventually, he started reading every single book that I gave to him. Covertly, he enrolled himself in a community college, and then ultimately went to the University of California at Santa Cruz and got his bachelor's in literature.
It's really just changed this man's life. The last time I was home, he points to a James Joyce line and said, "This is why we read James Joyce, Matt." Which is just such a shock, considering where he'd come from.
On the influence of social class on his fiction
In all of my books, I really want to work with working-class people. My goal is to show the moments of grace and dignity in their lives.
But this book was different, because I now had them interacting with extreme wealth. And I think it was the first time that they started to understand, "Wow, in the construct of this country, my life doesn't mean as much." But now when the earthquake hits and everything is falling apart, all of that is stripped away and humans are just humans again. It was a very interesting thing for me to follow. I didn't even know that that was going to be a big part of the book until this earthquake hit.
On the challenges of writing for the young adult genre
When I first became a young adult author, I thought, "Wow, I'm going to have to really eliminate some content." But that's not the case. You just have to make sure it's not gratuitous, but you can really do anything you want in young adult as long as it's good.
Here's what I've learned: If you're going to write a young adult novel about a 17-year-old character, it can't be from the point of a 52-year-old man looking back at when he was 17. The character has to be 17 right now. The feel of the prose has to be immediate.
On how speech changes depending on context
I always tell kids that every single one of them switches codes depending on who they're speaking to. The one lucky thing about my life is that I'm invited to high schools and colleges all over the country. I will speak to the group, but then I'll sort of [sit] in the background and just listen to young people speak. I also play a lot of pick-up basketball, so I also listen to people speak in that context. Sometimes, I don't even think I'm writing books. I'm just plagiarizing the world.
On seeing yourself in literature — and in relation to the wider world
I write about mixed kids, and I want mixed kids to see themselves in literature. I think that's incredibly important. And I also want them to be confronted with the fact that their lives don't mean as much as we tell them they do. Eventually, they're going to find their path, but I think you have to know how little you are before you can become somebody important.
And what the natural world does for us, is it can show us how little we are. I think, living in New York, I often find myself looking around and saying, "Wow, humans believe that they dominate the earth." But then if you go to a place where the ocean rules, you realize, "Wow, I'm so small." And I think that's really important for humans to realize.