Brian Samuel Epstein was born on 19 September 1934 on Rodney Street, Liverpool. His parents were Harry and Malka Epstein. Before his death in 1967 he would make his fortune as manager of The Beatles, as well as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas.
Harry and Malka (known to all as Queenie, as Malka is the Hebrew word for ‘queen’) owned a furniture store in Liverpool. Later the family business expanded and they bought the North End Road Music Store (known as NEMS) next door.
In 1950, at the age of 16, Brian began working at the family’s Walton Road store, although he wanted to become a dress designer – a move opposed by his father. He was conscripted to the army at 18, but was discharged after 10 months for being emotionally and mentally unfit.
In his autobiography A Cellarful Of Noise, published in October 1964, Epstein claimed he was caught impersonating an officer. The hidden truth was that he had asked a tailor to make an officer’s uniform, which he wore while cruising the bars of London. He was arrested by the military police, but avoided a court martial by agreeing to see an army psychiatrist who uncovered Epstein’s homosexuality.
Upon his return to Liverpool in 1954 he was put in charge of Clarendon Furnishing, a branch of the Epstein family business in the Hoylake district. He proved a successful salesman, but persuaded his parents to let him train as an actor at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts.Brian passed the RADA audition, and became a classmate of Susannah York, Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole. However, he dropped out after the third term.
He returned once more to work for his parents, and in 1955, at the age of 21, he was made a director of NEMS.
When Harry Epstein opened a new NEMS store on Liverpool’s Great Charlotte Street, Brian was put in charge of managing the ground floor. He expanded from selling pianos and wireless radios to gramophone records, and the shop became one of the biggest music outlets in the north of England.
The record department was such a success that he was put in charge of a new NEMS branch which opened at 12-14 Whitechapel. Around this time he asked Bill Harry – the editor of Mersey Beat magazine, which Brian had sold since its first issue in July 1961 – if he could write a music column. His first article, under the heading ‘Record Releases, by Brian Epstein of NEMS’, appeared in the third issue on 3 August 1961.
With The Beatles
Mersey Beat was where Epstein first noticed the name The Beatles, who were featured on the cover of issue two. His curiosity is said to have been was piqued when a customer, Raymond Jones, entered NEMS and asked Epstein for a copy of ‘My Bonnie’, the single recorded by the band with singer Tony Sheridan in Hamburg.
At about three o’clock on Saturday, October 28th, 1961, an eighteen-year-old boy called Raymond Jones, wearing jeans and black leather jacket, walked into a record-store in Whitechapel, Liverpool, and said: ‘There’s a record I want. It’s “My Bonnie” and it was made in Germany. Have you got it?’
Behind the counter was Brian Epstein, twenty-seven, director of the store. He shook his head. ‘Who is the record by?’ he asked. ‘You won’t have heard of them,’ said Jones. ‘It’s by a group called The Beatles….’
Prologue to A Cellarful Of Noise
The Whitechapel store was a short walk from the Cavern Club in Mathew Street. On 9 November 1961 he watched The Beatles play a lunchtime concert, after which he entered the dressing room and met the group.
Despite his lack of experience, Epstein became their manager in January 1962, and quickly asserted his influence over their dress and onstage performance.
After hawking the band around a number of London labels, Epstein eventually secured an audition at EMI’s Abbey Road studios, where George Martin decided to sign them.
Epstein was key to the success of The Beatles – Paul McCartney later said: “If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian”. He also managed a number of other Liverpool acts, including Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, and Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas.
As The Beatles retired from live performance in 1966, Epstein found his influence on the group waning. He had used amphetamines from the earliest days with the band, but his use of pills became an increasing problem as he became more involved in the London drug scene of the 1960s.
During the recording of Sgt Pepper, Epstein spent time trying to kick his drug habit, including spells in the Priory in Putney, London.
Brian Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose on 27 August 1967. His death was most likely due to a build-up of the sedative Carbitral, mixed with alcohol.
At the time The Beatles were in Bangor, north Wales, for a meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They did not attend the funeral, in order to not attract the media and fans, but were present at a memorial service at the New London Synagogue.
Epstein is buried at the Kirkdale Jewish Cemetery in Liverpool.