The Man That Made The Beatles
Published: 25th June 2015
Paul McCartney has often been heard claiming that if there was ever a fifth Beatle, it was Brian Epstein. Brian was the non-band member who made the most contributions to their success. He was a very successful manager for groups besides The Beatles, and music entrepreneur with his family company NEMS Ė North End Music Stores.
Brian was the older of two sons in a Jewish English family that ran a small chain of well-known furniture stores in Liverpool. Brian reluctantly joined the family business after expressing to this father that he wanted to be a dress designer. He was never a strong student; being removed from a couple of boarding schools, and after a short stint as a floor salesman, he was drafted in to the army.
Brianís time in the army was as a data entry clerk. He followed that with more work in the furniture business and was soon made a director of the NEMS. It was around 1955, when young Brian confessed to a psychiatrist that he was a homosexual. At the time, it was illegal to be gay, and Brain headed to London. He had an interest in acting and enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
It was Brianís drive for business that led him to leave the program in his third year. He was much more interested in the production side of theatre and film. He returned to London and took over the newest music store in his familyís chain. He worked diligently at making the store a success, and it had a reputation amongst the new hip music scene that was emerging. This was when Brian noticed the Beatles. They had been featured in a local music scene magazine, heíd seen them on posters, and heíd heard about them from others. They had released a single, My Bonnie, whose growing sales in the music store caught his attention too.
In November of 1961, Epstein made a point of visiting The Cavern for one of the lunchtime shows that featured The Beatles. Immediately, Brian was struck by the personal charm and charisma of the group as they performed. Their beat and musicality was different and he found them refreshing, witty and humourous as they entertained.
The band met Brian briefly in their tiny dressing room after the show, but barely a conversation took place. Later that night, Brian expressed to a friend how tremendous he found the group to be and immediately recognized their potential. He started attending The Cavern regularly when The Beatles were performing. He investigated their existing managerial arrangement, and sensing an opening, he proposed becoming their new manager in December 1961.
The band members were skeptical of Brian at first; he appeared to be a successful businessman with a nice car, fancy suits, and a professional image. Why would he want to work with them Ė young, green and knowing so little about business?
Family members advised all the boys, especially since a few were under the legal age of 21 to sign a contract. But Brian was savvy about the music business. They agreed to a five-year contract, which gave Brian Epstein 25% of the gross income. Brian had developed a management division from NEMS and convinced his family that the management would only take up his effort part time. The Beatles signed, but Brian did not. He did, however, sign Lennon and McCartney the following year to a publishing contract with NEMS for three years.
Brian may have been new to management, but he knew what image was about and what the public wanted. He influenced the early dress code and style of The Beatles. He encouraged them to clean up their act as far as smoking, swearing , drinking and eating on stage, pushing for a more polished act. He got them to bow together at the end of the performance. The boys were reluctant at first, but the changes had impact. They started playing better venues and became more organized about their playing commitments.
Brian worked diligently at getting The Beatles their first contract. He personally paid for a demo tape for an opportunity at Decca Records, but a contract didnít follow. Eventually, in May of 1962 he was able to get the attention of George Martin at Parlophone, a division of EMI. Martin felt EMI had nothing to lose and offered a strange contract Ė the band would receive one penny from every record sold. In January 1967, Epstein renegotiated a contract with EMI for nine years, at a much better rate.
As manager of The Beatles, Brian Epstein had an unusual job description. When it was decided that drummer Pete Best was to be dismissed, the job of letting him go fell to Brian. In August of 1962, Brian Epstein fired Pete Best, with no explanation. Bestís position wasnít immediately filled, and Brian even offered it to a friend of Pete Bestís from another group The Big Three. The spot was offered to Ringo Starr and the rest is history.
As soon as Beatlemania hit, Brian was kept very busy with touring, television and film work between 1962 and 1965. By 1966, the band wanted to stop touring against Brianís advice, but their careers were changing as a group and individually.
Brian was an integral part of the Beatles make up. He was a good friend to each of them. He was Johnís best man at his wedding to Cynthia, and godfather to son Julian. The boys were quite defensive too of Brian. They wouldnít let anyone working around them use homophobic put downs or off the cuff jokes about Brianís orientation.
Apart from The Beatles, Brian managed other group at the time including : The Dakotas, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer and the Remo Four. He also stood behind the politicians who campaigned to legalize cannabis, unsuccessfully. He grew dependent on amphetamines and sadly died in his home in London of an accidental overdose. Brian was just 32.
Brianís brother Clive assumed control of NEMS following Brianís death. He was the second largest shareholder in the company. At one point up and coming producer Robert Stigwood tried to buy out NEMS but was kept at bay by The Beatles themselves. They had no trust of Stigwood, someone they didnít know, and had immense trust in Brian. In later years they discussed how they never read any of the contracts he had them sign.
Brian Epsteinís autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, was published in October in 1964 and later outside the UK. Epsteinís assistant of many years, Derek Taylor, did the ghost-writing.
This article is copyright