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(Credit: Parlophone Music Sweden)

Music

The ridiculous reason the BBC banned 'I Am The Walrus' by The Beatles

@SamWKemp

If there’s one rule that British musicians can count on, it’s that getting a song banned by the BBC will make it a hit. The national broadcasting network has always been something of an institution and has often reflected the values and attitudes of the British nation with startling clarity. Perhaps that gives us some indication as to why, in the 1960s, the BBC banned so many songs on the grounds that they were either insensitive, immoral, or, as was the case with The Beatles’ surrealist masterpiece,’ I Am The Walrus’, downright pornographic.

It was a period of societal shift. Rejecting conformity of the ’40s and ’50s, young Britons embraced everything from the pill to rock ‘n’ roll to set themselves apart from their parent’s generation. This posed a particular problem for the BBC. Unlike many Radio and TV networks in the US, The BBC was and is funded by the taxpayer.

This is important because it must be seen to speak for the entire nation and remain unbiased. Now, considering that the 1960s saw a substantial generational rift open up, with one portion of society embracing all things provocative and another retreating into unrealistic notions of propriety, you can see how this might have been difficult. However, conservatism won out more often than not, meaning that the likes of ‘A Day in The Life’ by The Beatles, ‘Anarchy in The UK’ by Sex Pistols, and ‘Lola’ by The Kinks were banned for a whole host of pedantic reasons.

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So why did the BBC take offence to ‘I Am The Walrus’? Surely, John Lennon’s nonsensical lyrics would have allowed it to escape the ever-watchful eye of the BBC censorship board? Well, unfortunately, those bizzare lyrics weren’t quite bizzare enough. While lines such as “I am the egg man/they are the egg men” were given the green light, the BBC took offence to: “pornographic priestess/ Boy, you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down,” taking the lyrics as an indication that ‘I Am The Walrus’ was about sex. No doubt, the gender-swapping in this line also made the sweat run cold of many a tweed-suited BBC official.

In an interview conducted later in his career, Lennon expressed his bewilderment at the BBC’s decision to take ‘I am The Walrus’ off the air: “The words didn’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions, and it’s ridiculous. I’ve had tongue in cheek all along–all of them had tongue in cheek. Just because other people see depths of whatever in it…What does it really mean, ‘I am the Eggman?’ It could have been ‘The pudding Basin’ for all I care. It’s not that serious.”

Thankfully, the ban didn’t stop the song from catching on. Arguably, it actually helped the track embed itself in the cultural psyche to the extent that, today, ‘I Am The Walrus’ is regarded as a pinnacle of countercultural provocation in the UK.