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© Barrie Wentzell, 1965
The Brits discovered Bob Dylan in 1963, on a BBC TV play on Sunday evening 13th January! With not many places to go on a Sunday evening, most Brits watched Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the new commercial TV station, or watched the Play of the Week on BBC. Up and coming playwrights like Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard had a bash on TV. This particular Sunday, the BBC was showing a truly odd one called The Madhouse on Castle
Street, in which a young chap with a guitar appeared, sitting on the stairs of a dilapidated house singing a song called “Blowing in the Wind.” The next day everyone I met was saying, “Did you see that guy on TV last night? Who was that man? Where can we get his record? Does he even have one out?”
It was Bob Dylan, who had been spotted singing in a folk club in New York by TV director Phillip Savile and persuaded to come to England to be in a TV play by Jamaican author Evan Jones. Bob spent a couple of weeks in London while doing the play and visited all the folk and music venues picking up songs from Martin Carthy and other English artists, soaking up the styles and songs for later assimilation into his own music.
On the first of June, 1965, Bob came to the BBC Studios in London, to do a live concert. I went along to rehearsals but the studio was empty, so I headed off to the canteen/
bar where I ran into some musicians I knew from The Pretty Things. Sitting a few tables away were Bob Dylan and his chum Bobby Neuwirth. I sat and chatted with the Pretty Things, who later would be immortalized in a line in one of Bob’s songs, “The Sweet Pretty Things are in bed now, of course.”
As Mr. Dylan and Bobby N. were chatting away quite merrily at their table, which was covered in beer glasses and clouded in smoke, I gingerly pointed my camera at Bob hoping he wouldn’t mind me taking a few pics of him. He looked up with a rather intimidating glance, visible even through his dark glasses, and I clicked the shutter. I asked him if I could shoot a few pictures, to which he sarcastically replied, “Sure you can shoot yourself if you want to.” I asked him a few more questions and he responded by giving me the treatment of putting the questions back to me with great wit. As I took a few more snaps, he really sent me up as he laughed and joked with Bobby N. at my expense.
I should have carried on shooting but decided it was going nowhere. I took a few more pictures
at the rehearsal and I went back home, but out of the blue a friend gave me a free pass for the taping of Dylan’s show at the BBC TV later that evening. What an event, Bob in command and playing some of his early classic songs to an entranced audience of around 100 people. The show was broadcast later in two parts on the 26th June 1965. Unfortunately, as video tape was costly back then, in order to economize, the BBC wiped its archives of many recordings from this period so as to reuse them. While no copy has been ever been found of Dylan’s first and monumental appearance in BBC’s Madhouse on Castle Street. Amazingly, there is an audio recording of the 1965 BBC TV show on YouTube, but it’s a mystery as to whether the video of the show still exists. Indeed Monty Python would have met the same fate, until Terry Jones managed to buy back the tapes from the BBC before deletion. Also John Peel’s historic radio BBC recordings were mostly saved for posterity by John Walters the BBC producer. Glad I kept my old negatives!