The 1973 Paul McCartney TV Special might be the exact moment people started rolling their eyes at Paul McCartney

 Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
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50 years ago, on 16 April, 1973, Paul McCartney's television special, James Paul McCartney, premiered on the ABC network in the US (and later in the UK, on 10 May). A mixture of staged segments, live shows, promo videos and documentary footage, it was savaged by critics. That idea that we all have of Paul "Thumbs aloft!" McCartney – Macca the light-entertainer, squeaky clean and too-eager to please? There's a good chance it all started right here.

Back in 1973, McCartney had put the Beatles behind him, retreated to the country and started a family. He didn't ask to make a TV special – he was blackmailed into it. TV tycoon Lew Grade owned a stake in McCartney’s publishing company Northern Songs and had an axe to grind: From 1971, Macca had been adding his wife Linda as a co-writer on his songs and this angered Grade. Linda’s credit meant that he wasn’t making as much money as he would have likes. Legal action was threatened and the solution was a TV special on ATV.

The title James Paul McCartney – his real name – gives you some idea of what he was aiming for: an honest insight into his life, his family and his roots. The result was a frequently cheesy, often cringe-inducing, 70s variety show with twee country scenes, random people in the street singing Beatles songs, a long documentary sequence featuring McCartney in a pub in Liverpool 'avin' a knees up, and a Buzby Berkley-style dance sequence.

The critics stuck the boot in.

”McCartney has neither the personality nor the all-round versatility to carry such an hour-long program,” said one. "McCartney belongs to yesterday." Melody Maker called it "overblown and silly". Rolling Stone critic Lenny Kaye – later of the Patti Smith Group – said it "did nothing to heal McCartney’s ongoing image problem, it certainly didn’t help his musical offerings, which came off as forgettably ordinary and certainly disappointing.”

The year before, McCartney had been arrested for drug possession, and then his farm in Scotland was raided after cannabis was found growing there. In December that year, the BBC banned Wings' single Hi, Hi, Hi. Not because it sounded like a drugs reference but because of the lines about doing it like a rabbit: “I want you to lie on the bed and get you ready for my body gun – and do it, do it, do it/Like a rabbit, I’m gonna grab it til the night is done.

Maybe, after all that, McCartney was trying too hard to put across an image of himself as a normal family guy – or maybe a load of good intentions got ruined in the edit. McCartney himself was lukewarm about it: "It was a start," he said. "We all got on telly and we all got some experience working with cameras and stuff. But I think we could do better…"

On the plus side, his old bandmate John Lennon kinda liked it: “I liked parts of Paul’s TV special, especially the intro,” he said. “The bit filmed in Liverpool made me squirm a bit. But Paul’s a pro. He always has been.”

Watch it here:

The James Paul McCartney TV Special was included as part of the Red Rose Speedway boxset in 2018.