Alumni stories: Celebrating the 'Rathbone Beetle' on John Lennon's 80th Birthday

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Rathbone Beatles and students parade 'The Beetle' through Liverpool. Image courtesy of University of Liverpool Library

On 9 October 2020, the Victoria Gallery and Museum celebrated what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday with a special commemorative video featuring photographs from the University of Liverpool’s Special Collections and Archives.

The photographs showed University students ‘The Rathbone Beatles’ taking part in the Panto Day Procession on Saturday 15 February 1964. The student group rode on top of ‘The Rathbone Beetle’; a huge float which was constructed by students from Rathbone Halls of Residence. When complete, the float measured 45ft long, and weighed one ton.

The Panto Day Procession was a charitable event, founded in 1897, which eventually consisted of huge departmental floats and people wearing costumes processing from campus, through the city, before arriving at the Empire Theatre for the pantomime. In this particular year, the “Rathbone Beetle” was the deserved winner of first prize, with students raising an incredible £10,000 for Merseyside charities in the process.

Of the four ‘student Beatles’ Eric Barlow, who played John Lennon in the group, recalled: “The construction of the Beetle was a marvellous team effort involving architects, engineers, of all disciplines, scoundrels who were able to procure things etc.”

One of those involved in the building of ‘The Rathbone Beetle’ was the husband of Jean Q (Medicine, 1970), also a student, who spotted the video online. Jean said: "My husband, who died two years ago now, studied civil engineering at Liverpool and lived in Rathbone Hall in 1964. He took part in the construction of the Beetle and helped carry it round Liverpool. I was a student myself then and followed the Beetle around the city centre.”

“I can clearly remember the laughs and gasps as the students started to get it balanced for the trip at the top of Brownlow Hill and the fun and music we enjoyed all day. The Beetle could not follow the rest of the floats for the whole circuit as it was too tall to fit under telephone wires so it detoured past the Playhouse and doubled back to join the parade. It was an amazing day and it was lovely to be reminded of it. I only wish my husband had been here to see it. However, I am sure our children and grandchildren will really appreciate it."

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