The story of Raymond Jones’ request resurfaced again in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorised biography of the group. Interestingly, Davies embellished the tale by claiming Brian Epstein had never heard of The Beatles before that date.
It happened, just to be precise, at three o’clock on the afternoon of 28 October 1961. A youth in a black leather jacket called Raymond Jones walked into the NEMS record store in Whitechapel, Liverpool, and asked for a record called My Bonnie by a group called The Beatles. Brian Epstein, who was behind the counter, said he was terribly sorry. He’d never heard of that record nor of a group called The Beatles.
In A Cellarful Of Noise, Epstein claimed that he had seen The Beatles’ name on a poster advertising a Liverpool performance, and recalled having seen them in his shop. In the book he claimed that Jones and two Liverpudlian girls asked for My Bonnie. The story goes that Epstein resolved to investigate further, telephoning the store’s suppliers the following Monday to order copies for his customers.
Polydor Records had despatched his order of 200 copies of My Bonnie: an event loyally noted by Mersey Beat. The record sold moderately well among The Beatles’ following, though some – Raymond Jones included – were disappointed to find them only a backing group to Tony Sheridan and billed as ‘the Beat Brothers’.
Bill Harry featured the group so frequently in his magazine Mersey Beat that Epstein was well aware of their name, if not their music.
The first week of July 1961 was when I entered NEMS with copies of Mersey Beat and asked to see the manager. Brian Epstein came down from his office and I showed him copies of the first issue and he ordered one dozen copies. He then phoned me and ordered more (my telephone number was on page 2, next to ‘Being A Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles’ by John Lennon).
He expressed surprise at how rapidly the issues sold. The first issue was dated 6 July 1961 and the second issue was published on 20 July. Brian ordered 144 copies of the second issue. This amount of copies in a single record store was unprecedented. They all sold out.
Brian had no awareness at all of the music scene on Merseyside and was completely surprised at reading in Mersey Beat that there was so much happening locally. He invited me into his office to discuss it and seemed quite amazed at the musical activity…
Following his discussions with me, when asking about the groups, the Beatles name often cropped up because they were the ones I kept promoting in Mersey Beat above all others.
Epstein was presumably only spurred into visiting the Cavern Club to see them after My Bonnie was requested by NEMS customers. It remains significant that Jones was mentioned by Epstein in both the newspaper interview and in A Cellarful Of Noise.
In a 1995 interview published in the Manchester Evening Standard newspaper, however, Brian Epstein’s former assistant Alistair Taylor told journalist Bill McCoid that he was the originator of the Raymond Jones story.
’I’ve never told anyone this before, but I ordered My Bonny [sic] – I am Raymond Jones’. … Do George, Paul and Ringo know this? ‘Nobody knows it.’ Did Brian know? Taylor shakes his head. ‘Nobody knows.’ Why have you kept this secret all this time? ‘It’s part of the myth. I’ve kept the myth going. There are many myths.’ Why did you order that Beatles record then? ‘Because we knew they were big in Liverpool. So Brian and I said: OK, yeah, let’s find it. I just made it up. I became Raymond Jones.’…
You ordered the record? ‘Yeah.’ You told Brian you’d had an order from Raymond Jones? ‘Yeah’. Have you felt you should have got the credit you deserved for it this last 34 years? ‘Yeah, of course I do. Yeah, sure.’ So Brian never saw Raymond Jones? ‘No, nobody ever sees Raymond Jones.’ The nearest anyone’s ever got to Raymond Jones is you? ‘Absolutely. It’s a thing I’ve kept under my belt. We had to do it.’
4 November 1995
Taylor’s claim that he and Epstein knew that The Beatles were “big in Liverpool” is intriguing, as it directly contradicts the myth that Epstein was unaware of the group until Jones asked for the single.
A Cellarful Of Noise was ghost-written by The Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor – no relation to Alistair. Epstein and Derek Taylor spent four days in early 1964 at the Imperial Hotel, Torquay, where they discussed the group’s manager’s life story, which Taylor then turned into the book.
Because of the frenetic pace surrounding The Beatles at the time, and the involvement of NEMS, it is not inconceivable that Alistair Taylor also had some involvement in providing details for the book.
Taylor is known to have actively maintained the Raymond Jones story in the years after The Beatles split up. On several occasions he appeared on UK radio shows asking for Jones to come forward.
Well Raymond Jones has come forward only once in 40 years in a very drunken phone call to Radio Merseyside. I don’t remember Raymond Jones. So I leave it up in the air. You can either believe the late Bob Wooler or me. Either there is a Raymond Jones or I made it up.
So why would Taylor have thought it necessary to invent a customer? At the time the minimum order undertaken by NEMS was 25 copies of a single. Epstein had a policy of satisfying every customer’s request. Despite knowing of The Beatles’ local popularity, the company’s policy required a customer to place an order prior to a new record being stocked.
The truth is that we were being asked for My Bonnie but no one actually ordered it. Brian would order any record once we had a firm order for it. I thought that we were losing sales and I wrote an order in the book under the name Raymond Jones and, from that moment the legend grew.
The Beatles Book, 1997
The truth is actually rather different. Raymond Jones did exist: he was born in 1941 and worked for a printing company in Liverpool. He saw The Beatles perform on a number of occasions in the city, and did order a copy of My Bonnie from Brian Epstein in NEMS.
In August 2010 Ray Jones gave an interview to this website from his home in Spain. He was keen to set the record straight about the Alistair Taylor allegations, and spoke of his memories of The Beatles and how he received a signed copy of A Cellarful Of Noise from Brian Epstein.