Derek Taylor was The Beatles’ press officer, close friend to all the group’s members, and a noted journalist and music publicist.
He was born in Liverpool on 7 May 1932. After leaving school he began working as a journalist for The Hoylake and West Kirby Advertiser before moving to the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo. He also wrote for the News Chronicle and the Sunday Dispatch.
In 1958 Taylor married Joan Doughty in Bebington, Wirral. In 1962 he became the theatre critic and columnist for the Daily Express’s northern edition, which was based in Manchester, and additionally contributed to the Sunday Express.
Taylor first met The Beatles after being sent to cover their concert at the Manchester Odeon on 30 May 1963. The Daily Express, then somewhat sniffy about young rock ‘n’ roll groups, expected him to produce a negative report; instead he was fulsome in his praise.
I was still only thirty, but sufficiently unaware of the ‘young’ world in mid-spring 1963 to have not heard of this rising phenomenon. I was working as a journalist for the Daily Express in Manchester and went to cover a one-night stand at the Odeon, starring The Beatles and Roy Orbison. I watched the show and when, two hours later, it was all over bar the screaming, I went to the telephone and dictated my review without a note, just as it came, and they printed it.
I believed that in The Beatles the world had found the truest folk heroes of the century or, indeed, of any other time. From that day, 30th May 1963, I have never wavered in my certainty that they painted a new rainbow right across the world, with crocks of gold at each end and then some.
Taylor swiftly became acquainted with The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein. He continued to write about them in the Express, producing a number of exclusive stories and gaining their confidence.
With The Beatles’ profile in the ascendant, Taylor’s editors floated the idea of a column supposedly authored by a Beatle, to be ghostwritten by Taylor. George Harrison was chosen, and was initially given approval of Taylor’s copy. However, the first installment didn’t go quite as well as planned.
I was pleased when George’s Daily Express column fell to me, but I started on the wrong foot. I did a real ghosting job. George’s father was a bus driver, so I invented a conversation between his father and him in typical popular-newspaper style. It went like this: ‘So my dad said to me, “don’t worry about me, son, you stick to your guitar and I’ll carry on driving the big green jobs.”‘
I went down to London to deliver George’s first column and I was asked by Brian, ‘Oh, would you read it out for the boys? I’d like them to hear it.’ So I had to take this column out of my pocket and, as if George had written it, I started reading it: ‘…stick to your guitar and I’ll carry on driving the big green jobs.’ And George said, ‘What are big green jobs?’ I said, ‘Um, buses – Liverpool buses.’ George said, ‘I didn’t know they were called “big green jobs”.’ John said, ‘I didn’t know they were, either.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know that they are.’ I had just made it up. Which, of course, is what happens on newspapers and that’s why all these things sound so phoney.
Anyway, the long and short of it was, after I’d passed the test by admitting that I’d made up ‘big green jobs’, George said, ‘I’ll help you write the column – we can do it together.’
Subsequent articles were more of a collaboration between the two, with Harrison giving Taylor ideas, which were then written up for publication.
Although his work as a writer was respected by The Beatles, it took Derek Taylor some time to be accepted by the group. In January 1964, as The Beatles performed a series of concerts in Paris and prepared for their first trip to America, he finally made a breakthrough with John Lennon.
By Paris I was getting to be trusted, and one night John said to me, ‘Are you pretending to be from Liverpool or something?’ We were the last up and we’d had a few drinks and that’s how the conversation took this difficult turn. I said, ‘I don’t know about pretending, but anyway, I am from Liverpool.’ He said, ‘Yeah, born in Manchester.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s a narrow way of looking at it. At the moment I live in Manchester. A lot of people are not born where they happen to live later. I was born in Liverpool, lived in West Kirby, my wife’s from Birkenhead.’
All this was local stuff, and it was surprisingly quick to get under that harsh exterior of John’s to find a nice chap with whom, once you had proven you weren’t from Manchester and therefore useless, you could have quite a pleasant conversation on a variety of subjects. None of which I remember, because we did get very drunk together. I enjoyed that night a lot, just him and me.
Taylor’s relationships with the other Beatles were more straightforward. Although it took him longer to get to know Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, he was increasingly trusted as a confidant and collaborator.
I was now accepted by John. George and I had got along very well right from the start. He never did that ‘you’re from Manchester’ stuff. He was anxious to please, and still is. If he is committed to something, he does it with enormous thoroughness. He has rather a ‘straight-ahead’ way. So my ‘in’ through George was very comfortable. I didn’t know Ringo at all then, and Paul stood back a bit – he was very nice though. We seemed to have a lot in common: Merseyside grammar school boys, different ages, but we sort of fitted.
As The Beatles’ fame grew, Taylor was lured away from his journalism duties to join the group on a more permanent basis. It came about partly through the Daily Express’s unwillingness to allow him to report on the first US trip, and because Brian Epstein felt his organisation needed someone to handle the rising number of press requests.
It was obvious to me in Paris that they were going to be red hot. They’d reached number one in the [American] Cashbox chart with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, and the mania was spreading ahead of them. I did George’s final-before-America column, a ‘tomorrow the world’ kind of thing: ‘Tonight we conquered Versailles, and by implication, all of France fell… How New York will view our visit, we can only guess!’
But the Daily Express didn’t send me to America. They said, ‘We’ve got David English there, he’s the American correspondent.’ I thought, ‘He doesn’t know them, he doesn’t understand them, I’m the only one who understands them, I know these people.’ However, I was asked to help Brian Epstein with his book and we went down to Torquay for four days and wrote a pot-boiler – A Cellarful Of Noise. And he said on the third day, ‘I’ve had a lovely, lovely idea, Derek, I want you to join us.’
I thought this was incredible. I’d given up the idea of joining them for the time being, thinking, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ So after about fifteen years on newspapers I dropped out and joined The Beatles as Brian’s personal assistant, and eventually became The Beatles’ press assistant.