Derek Taylor interviews Brian Epstein

Derek Taylor, a Manchester-based journalist for the Daily Express, had seen The Beatles in the city on 30 May 1963, and had instantly fallen under their spell.

On 19 June, Taylor and an Express photographer, John Knill, travelled to Liverpool to interview the band’s manager Brian Epstein. It was a key encounter: Taylor later ghost-wrote Epstein’s biography A Cellarful Of Noise, collaborated with George Harrison on a newspaper column, became Epstein’s assistant and the band’s press officer during their 1964 US tour, and in 1968 was made press officer for Apple Corps.

I had made the interview arrangement through a helpful and pleasant young man called Barry Leonard – described in various Beatle publications since as ‘a former medical student’. On arriving in Liverpool, we phoned to check that the appointment was still on and then went to a musical-instrument shop to borrow some guitars – ‘symbols’ for the photographs. Corny? We certainly were. It was a corny paper in a corny world. Even the world ‘corny’ was corny. We arrived at NEMS (North End Music Stores: then part of the Epstein family business, later a huge showbiz agency) at around 3pm and found Brian standing in the outer office above the shop in Whitechapel.

Though courteous, he was not too friendly. John, no less confident than I, had however a slight stammer; realising that we had run into a ‘difficult subject’, he stammered the more as he suggested bringing up ‘the guitars – props for the photographs’ from the car. Brian was not pleased. ‘I am prepared to give an interview but I don’t know about photographs.’ After a lot of persuasion, the guitars were admitted; they were cheap-looking things, one of them scarlet and almost toy-sized. ‘Not at all what I would like to see any of The Boys using,’ he said. ‘I certainly won’t pose with them.’ There was a moment of silence, which I broke with a sincere statement about The Beatles and Gerry in concert. I’d never seen anyone better, I said – not Bob Hope, not Danny Kaye, not even Hitler dancing at the Majestic in Birkenhead could have come anywhere near. Brian relaxed a little; he agreed that indeed they were marvellous, and then we got stuck into a routine interview with the usual feinting, jabbing and pauses.

I decided he would have to be brought a little closer, pulled in to our side. He seemed to have a cold; I mentioned this but he looked away, saying it wasn’t important. Drawing on my intellect, I observed that it was never a pleasure to have to work when one had a cold, and this time his manner became fractionally warmer. I asked him where he was from. ‘Liverpool. I’m from here,’ he said, looking at me as if I were wandering in my mind. ‘I know Liverpool,’ I said. ‘I was born here. I was just wondering whereabouts in Liverpool you live, what district?’ ‘Just let’s leave it at Liverpool,’ he said, surprisingly. I said I wouldn’t print it but it would give me a better picture of him if I knew the, er, address. He blushed and said, finally, that it was Queens Drive. It was a small victory but an important one. If I couldn’t get him to tell me where he lived, then I wasn’t going to get anything out of him that really mattered.

The interview now improved at a rate of knots. We got our guitar shots and he told us a great deal; I reproduce the subsequent article as printed. After the interview, John and I celebrated our success with drink in the New Court in Victoria Street. We were very pleased with ourselves. ‘That was good,’ I said. ‘I thought the guitars had done us in,’ said John. And then we did have hysterics, laughing ourselves silly all the way back to Manchester. Tension over.

Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

The interview appeared in the 20 June 1963 edition of the Daily Express, under the headline “Epstein, the brain behind The Beatles”.

FLANKED by the symbols and symptoms of his success sits Brian Epstein, 28, ex-public schoolboy, ex-drama student, ex-furniture store boss, who suddenly owns the top three places in the nation’s disc charts.

Epstein’s is the cool, clear brain behind the extraordinary flight to stardom of The Beatles, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, and of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.

These three vocal and instrumental groups have been signed up by Epstein since October, 1961. All like Epstein are from Liverpool.

This week Gerry, with ‘I Like It’, Kramer with ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret?’ and The Beatles, with ‘From Me To You’, are 1, 2, 3 in the hit parade.

Never before have three groups – as distinct from solo performers – topped the charts. And when did any one provincial city ever figure so indestructibly in any branch of entertainment?

The success of the Liverpool Sound – that curiously tough nasal, vital impact of beat and voice – has been a feature of the pop music scene for some months.

But few people beyond Epstein – certainly no one outside that clique with Juke-Box-Jury minds who know what the public will want the month after next – could have foreseen that Liverpool groups would be impregnable in the Top Ten, week in week out.

Calm customer

Epstein is not surprised. Not by that, or by anything.

He is a very calm customer, a bachelor, extremely well spoken, fastidious, neat. Were it not for his buckled shoes and the royal blue initials on his white shirt, he could be in shipping or cotton. Or the bank, with an eye on the managership.

He dislikes publicity, has a deep sense of personal privacy.

Also he has an ear for music. Though he can’t read it – like each and every one of the young men in his groups – and he cannot play any musical instrument.

But Epstein knows a hit when he hears one and twenty months ago he heard such a hit. It was issued in Germany and it was recorded by the Beatles, a gay quartet of ex-grammar schoolboys then playing for a few pounds a week in Liverpool ballrooms.

“I signed them up fairly quickly,” said Epstein. “But first, like taking on an employee, I asked around a bit, found out their backgrounds, their reputations.

“Whatever happens to popular music, whatever happens to beat groups, the Beatles are in the business for life.”

In a whirl

The signing of the Pacemakers followed. The Beatles’ second disc, ‘Please Please Me’, reached No. 1 spot. To be replaced by the Pacemakers’ first, ‘How Do You Do It?’

Since then they have been constantly in the charts. And Epstein’s life has altered beyond belief.

“I have had to give up my private life completely. I now live in a constant whirl between Liverpool and London, on British Railways, in airliners, or on helicopter hops.

What do Epstein and his groups earn? You never get a straight answer to this one. But Mr Epstein would not quarrel with a top gross fee of £350 per group per night, now that all three have reached accepted star status.

That means £1,050 per night, for six nights a week. What, then, is Mr Epstein’s take? Guess again.

He will not say, but he commented: “Suppose it were 50%. That would not be unreasonable when you consider the money to be paid out, the promotion, and, moreover, the fact that all money made is ploughed back.

Temperament

Many stars pay their agents ten per cent. But they also carry personal managers, dressers, press-agents, secretaries. Mr Epstein is all of these.

“I know I have excellent lads and I know they trust me. I drew up contracts that I knew be fair and, more important, would still be considered fair when they had become stars.

“I have seen a lot of raw deals since I came into the business – jealousy, dissatisfaction, sharp practice. I want none of it.”

Mr Epstein came into the pop-world with little knowledge of the business. After leaving Wrekin College, he joined his father’s furniture business, then left to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

“But that I really disliked,” he said. “I left after 18 months. This pop music sphere may seem crueder than RARA, but it isn’t, and it suits my temperament.”

And his temperament seems to suit the three top places in the Top Twenty.

Derek Taylor
Daily Express, 20 June 1963
John Lennon beats up Cavern DJ Bob Wooler at Paul McCartney's 21st birthday party
Radio: Easy Beat
Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

Leave a Reply