Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events

Larry Holzwarth - July 5, 2018

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
Freddie and the Dreamers were another act poised to follow the Beatles’ success in America. Wikimedia

Planning for the invasion

The British Invasion was no accident. It was a cultural event which was carefully calculated, with advance planning on both sides of the Atlantic, spearheaded by the success of the Beatles. When American disk jockeys began playing the Beatles records a campaign to promote the band began, supported by merchandise which included bumper stickers which announced “The Beatles Are Coming”, in a cadence reminiscent of Paul Revere. Campaign buttons advertised Ringo for President, and novelty items such as Beatle wigs appeared in stores. The band was reported on by CBS News (in a report which had been originally scheduled for November 22, 1963, but delayed because of the assassination of President Kennedy) and on the popular Jack Paar Show.

In 1963 a company was set up to handle Beatle merchandising known as Seltaeb. It was one of Brian Epstein’s worst business deals, in which he gave away 90% of the revenue from merchandising the band, leading to a series of lawsuits after the band’s marketing power was revealed. The Beatles name and images appeared on plastic guitars and drum sets, tee shirts (over one million sold in three days in 1964), scarves, coffee mugs, wigs, candy and gum, and even on empty cans which announced on their label that the Beatles had breathed into them. Beatles dolls sold over 500,000 in 1964. By the end of the year Seltaeb had licensed over 150 Beatles items.

Despite the massive sales the Beatles “…never saw a penny out of the merchandising”, according to American attorney Nat Weiss. Though the Beatles lost out on a fortune due to Epstein’s acceptance of a contract with little knowledge of the potential market for Beatles merchandise, they did gain from the boost in publicity which the buying frenzy generated. Epstein did manage to renegotiate the amount due NEMS under the contract, increasing it to 49%, and later sued Seltaeb for improper accounting procedures, but the lawsuits and related court cases ended up costing the Beatles and NEMS $100 million by the time the dust settled.

The value of the publicity generated by the merchandise which appeared even before the Beatles arrived in New York for the first time was evident in the reception they received at the airport, which was attended by reporters from all of the major news outlets, as well as thousands of nearly hysterical fans. The first time Americans saw the Beatles perform live was not onstage as a band, but in a news conference in which they charmed the hardened American press with their wit and antics. The majority of the press and television coverage of them was favorable, leading undoubtedly to an increase in their audience when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

During the Beatles first visit to America they performed on Ed Sullivan and in two live concerts in Washington DC and New York’s Carnegie Hall before returning to England. Their first tour of America didn’t occur until late summer, by which time the British Invasion was well underway. The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and other acts had taken the country by storm, all of which helped sell additional Beatles merchandise and records, and created a fervor for the band to return. The Beatles performed thirty concerts in twenty-three American cities in August, 1964, with ticket sales of over $1 million dollars.

Here is the British Invasion of the Sixties in 10 Events
By the time the Beatles participated in this October 1966 sound survey their days as a performing band were over. Wikimedia

The End of the British Invasion

By the end of 1966 the thrust of the British Invasion had ebbed. New acts continued to come to America from Britain, and a comparable flow of American acts to the UK emerged by the end of 1966. New sounds from California in the United States brought a more equitable distribution of record sales and chart positions. The Mersey sound lost popularity and those bands which were unable to adjust fell by the wayside. Gerry and the Pacemakers disbanded in 1966, though they reformed later as an oldies act. The Searchers kept working but by the end of 1966 they were no longer charting records and they never again reached the peak they achieved during the British Invasion.

The Beatles, who had started it all, quit touring after their American tour in August 1966, and though they continued to provide films of some of their songs on an exclusive basis to The Ed Sullivan Show, they became a studio band. The following year Brian Epstein was found dead in his London home, from an overdose of barbiturates. A London Metropolitan Police detective named Norman Pilcher began a campaign to bust rock stars and other celebrities, and members of the Rolling Stones (Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards), The Beatles, (John Lennon and George Harrison) and several others found themselves arrested, and later experienced visa problems affecting their ability to tour in America.

Fashion changed from the flashiness under the British Invasion to that of the flower power and hippie image which originated on America’s west coast and transferred to England. Tight peg legged trousers were replaced with bell bottomed jeans, and denim jackets, covered with patches and the more tattered the better, became popular. Music, which during the British Invasion was primarily about youthful love, became oriented towards social problems, including the war in Southeast Asia and the civil rights movement. A brief interlude of psychedelia in 1966 and throughout 1967 was replaced by 1968 with songs like the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man and the Beatles Revolution.

Emulation of British culture was replaced with emulation of student protesters and antiwar demonstrations. America became divided by the war, by the civil rights movement, and by the growing feminist movement. The music of the British Invasion became increasingly dated, and only the bands which evolved, the Beatles, Kinks, Rolling Stones, and others among them, continued to be relevant in the American music scene. The audience which had driven the success of the British bands – young teens – turned to what became known as bubble gum music, fed by performers such as The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Monkees, The Archies, and Tommy Roe.

Although the British Invasion was short and most of the bands which created it faded into oblivion, their influence on American music and culture was long lasting. The invasion spanned the period between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War. For most Americans the period of the British Invasion was one of relative peace and prosperity, with newly empowered youths using their buying influence to shape trends in music, films, and fashion in a manner which had never been seen before. Nostalgia for that time is one reason that the music of the time remains popular today.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The British Invasion: From the Beatles to the Stones, the Sixties Belonged to Britain”, by Parke Puterbaugh, Rolling Stone Magazine, July 14, 1988

“All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema”, by Charles Barr, 1986

“Shindig! Tapes Bring 1960s Rock Back to Life”, by David Wharton, The Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1999

“Twist and Shout!: Merseybeat, The Cavern, The Star-Club, and The Beatles”, by Spencer Leigh, 2004

“Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles”, by Ray Coleman, 1989

“Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”, by Bill Wyman, 1997

“Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now”, by Barry Miles, 1998

“John Lennon: The Rolling Stone Interview”, by Jonathan Cott, November 23, 1968

“The Beatles: The Biography”, by Bob Spitz, 2005

“The British Invasion”, by David Kamp, Vanity Fair, November 2002