Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

The First AWSoP video

Joan May, for BtP

Joan May writes to 'Beyond the Pale' (May 2010)

I'm a fan of the first video for A Whiter Shade of Pale, with one glaring exception, and have recently learned a couple of things about it:   It was filmed in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire, England (panorama here).    "... Bob Dylan went ghost hunting there in the 1960s, and Procal [sic] Harum chose Witley Court as the backdrop for the video of their famous hit A Whiter Shade of Pale".

And according to the recent Procol Harum cover story in Shindig! magazine (November/December, 2009, by Alan Robinson), the video was directed by Peter Clifton, whose insertion of Vietnam War newsreel footage (my glaring exception noted above) caused the video to be banned from airplay on Top of the Pops. This led to the creation of the 'Scopitone' video, which is vastly inferior in my opinion: no performance footage, garish photography, band members in buffoonish poses, and only three of the five musicians who played on the recording.

The first video includes four of the five, and the Witley Court and performance footage is infinitely more esthetically pleasing to me – gorgeous cinematography, perfect for the mood of the song – but sadly those ugly incongruous Vietnam scenes ruin the overall effect.   It should be a relatively simple process, especially for a skilled film maker, to delete the newsreels from the video and substitute repeats of some of the other footage, or additional footage from the same shoots, if available, resulting in a consistently beautiful video, a great addition to the Procol artistic archives, which could be released to the public as a Bonus on a CD single or concert DVD.

According to Clifton's Wikipedia page, he's still productive (assuming it's the same Peter Clifton; there's no mention of Procol Harum/A Whiter Shade of Pale on the page).   Could Peter Clifton be implored to remove that fatal flaw from his otherwise magnificent film, transforming it into the masterpiece it always should have been?


1. Search YouTube for "Procol 1967" 1, or click the following titles to see the three video presentations of the song – Top of the Pops, Scopitone and Witley Court (also here).

2. Excerpts from the Wikipedia page about Peter Clifton (is it the same one?):
Peter Clifton (born 1947) is an Australian film director and producer, perhaps best known for directing the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same (1976). ....In 2006 it was reported that a 16 mm reel of the Apollo 11 moon landing belonging to Clifton, which had been held for twenty years in a Sydney vault as part of his personal film catalogue, was rediscovered. Clifton had ordered the reel in 1979 for a rock film he was making about Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, ordering the film for $US180 from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC but forgot he had it until seeing a news report on television. The footage of Neil Armstrong's "one small step" is considered among the most important artefacts of the 20th century but the original NASA tapes have been mislaid somewhere in the US. It is hoped documentation associated with Clifton's reel will help direct researchers to the warehouse or museum where the missing tapes are stored – if they still exist..

3. Clifton is briefly referenced at 'Beyond the Pale' as a participant in Henry Scott-Irvine's film-in-progress  

4. The following is what got me thinking again about the video: an article about early VJ Clay Cole's 2010 autobiography, including a recent interview with Cole that's very similar to what's in the book regarding AWSoP and Procol Harum:\all   [The material about AWSoP is on page 237; Matthew (spelled "Mathew") Fisher is acknowledged, along with a few others, for iconic Rock Hammond playing, and the authorship court case is also mentioned (page 270); Disc-O-Teen and Zacherley get name-checked on page 260]  

13 April 2010
Good Rockin' Last Night
by Ben Steelman
"...One story from Sh-Boom [the book title – jm] that Cole expanded upon Tuesday night was his role in the invention of the music video. It goes like this. Back in the spring of 1967, a British group called Procol Harum released a single called Whiter Shade of Pale ("We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor," with that electric organ doing fake Bach riffs in the background)."

I loved Whiter Shade of Pale," Cole said, "and I wanted them on the show. Trouble is, there WAS no Procol Harum — they were just a bunch of studio musicians who got together a couple times, never toured." [sic! – jm]. Well, Cole and Co kept asking, so eventually a tape appeared — "it arrived in a little box on my desk" — which provided the answer. Instead of concert footage, "they just did the images — horses galloping [sic], hippies dancing [sic] in Trafalgar Square." Perfect: Cole aired it regularly. Well, the band's producers had copied ideas from Richard Lester's Beatles movies like A Hard Day's Night, but pretty soon the Beatles and other groups were copycatting Procol Harum's approach to that particular single. And the video was born …"

Too bad about those errors, and that the first AWSoP video never reached Cole.

Thanks, Joan

More about A Whiter Shade of Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home