I recently took in a screening at The Regent Street Cinema of ‘The Brian Epstein Story’, the classic old BBC Arena programme. Epstein was of course the manager of The Beatles in their 1960s hey day and considered by many, not least members of the fab four themselves, as the fifth Beatle.
To students of the Fabs, the tale of how he found them performing in the Cavern Club one November lunch time in 1961 and how he turned the four ‘ill clad’ scruffs into the lovable mop tops is well known. But what of the man himself?
Brian himself came from an upper middle class Jewish family who lived Liverpool and had troubled school years; he was expelled twice from the ten he finally attended.
Brian’s early life after school was a troubled one. A homosexual, which was illegal at that time, he had a penchant for rough trade – no, not the record label/shop as someone said on the night of the screening – but rather street tough rent boys. And Brian, liked them the rougher the better…
He was then discharged after ten months of his two-year National Service army career early; he just wasn’t cut out for that life. His real passion was acting and he applied to join RADA the drama school in London. Classmates included Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole, but he left there in his third term declaring the student life wasn’t for him. Another compulsive passion was gambling and many nights later much money was staked at the exclusive gambling houses of London and elsewhere.
But first, upon returning to Liverpool he was thrust into becoming the manager of one of the families furniture stores in Hoylake at the tender age of just 21 and a very successful job he made of it too.
He moved on to then manage NEMS, the families music store in the centre of Liverpool and under Brian’s direction, the shop was well known for stocking all of the latest records and them some. He went out of his way to have every record he was asked for, including the German import single ‘My Bonnie’ on which the then Hamburg based Beatles backed singer Tony Sheridan.
Following that Cavern visit mentioned earlier, Brian began to mange the band, and slowly at first, things began to take off for them. After a couple of failed auditions, a recording deal with EMI/Parlophone was signed. With producer George Martin at the controls and the songwriting skill of Lennon and McCartney beginning to bear serious fruit, the whole thing went from strength to full on Beatlemania
But it was Brian, with his theatrical background and business nous in making the right moves at the right time, which became an integral part of the whole package.
I couldn’t help but think sitting there in the dark, hearing the full fascinating story told by those who knew and loved Brian, where the absolute faith in the band came from?
Epstein had gone on record early and declared the band would become ‘bigger than Elvis’ and he wasn’t wrong.
On the surface the partnership of him and them might have appeared odd. But the band trusted him and he loved ‘his boys.’ It was a perfect set up
Sure, it later transpired, he made a few wrong moves, notably the poor deal with the bands merchandise, but you would do well to remember, that NO ONE had done any of this before, certainly not on this scale, so mistakes were bound to happen.
Slowly as the relentless years of touring for the band became dangerous and in some cases a monotonous chore, they retreated to the studio to create. First up, was Sgt. Peppers, a groundbreaking album in so many ways.
Brian, though busy with his other stable of stars such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Billy J Kramer, began to realise the band had begun to out grow him.
The taking prescribed drugs to help him not only go to sleep, but to then wake up again, increased and he overdosed. Thankfully he was discovered in time and pumped out and a spell in The Priory Clinic ensued.
Not long after he overdosed again, but this time he wasn’t found in time and died on 27th August 1967.
Brain Epstein was 32
The Mumper of SE5