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Brian Epstein

Jon Savage tells the tragic tale of the architect of the Fab Four’s success, and the torment that the laws against homosexuality caused him
UNTIMELY DEMISE Brian Epstein’s life was one of secrets that haunted him until his death at the age of 32

In February 1962, Brian Epstein travelled to London to hear the results of the Beatles’ demonstration test they had recorded a month earlier. The meeting with talent scout Dick Rowe was held in the Decca Records executive dining room on the South Bank. Feeling sure that the Beatles would be offered a contract, Epstein was devastated to receive a rejection. His response was typical: “You must be out of your mind,” he retorted. “These boys are going to explode. I am confident that one day they will be bigger than Elvis Presley.”

There was nothing bigger than Elvis Presley, and nothing less current, as far as A&R (Artists and Repertoire) men were concerned, than guitar groups. Despite the fact that the instrumentalonly group, the Shadows, regularly had top-ten records, the prevailing wind was for solo performers. The UK top ten for 3 February, for instance, contained eight solo singers and instrumentalists (such as Cli Richard, Chubby Checker and Billy Fury) and two jazz-band leaders (Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball).

Epstein was flying in the face of the trends, but he was offering the future – always a tricky thing for the music industry to handle, preferring as it does simple formulae despite the perennial demand for novelty. His retort would have been laughed off in early 1962, particularly as it came from the manager of a group from Liverpool, but Epstein’s prediction came true. The Beatles eclipsed Elvis, and Epstein had been first to conceive of the thought, even before the group themselves.

Assuming the Beatles’ management in December 1961, Epstein quickly started as he meant to go on. He tightened up their date sheet, gave them itineraries, got more money, and started to seek a record contract. He also got them out of the black leather outfits they had worn for most of 1961 and into smart Italian-style suits. John Lennon later complained about it, but this was the statement of a reformed sinner. All the group agreed to the change because they all wanted success.

Epstein grounded the Beatles. He gave them unconditional love in the widest sense – which they sometimes abused, but basically respected and appreciated – and deftly oriented them within the show-business mores of the day. The Beatles would, from 1965 on, change the music industry forever, but until then, becoming a successful pop group involved doing variety shows, wearing uniform clothes, and being polite and disciplined. With his theatrical training and interest in presentation, Epstein turned a group of Liverpool hard rockers into a prototypical Boy Band.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month’s issue… Alexander the Great Find out how the Greek warrior’s insatiable appetite for conquest built an empire that stretched over three continents. Plus: the Terracotta Warriors; the tragic tale of the man behind the Beatles; Top 10 secret societies and the most historically accurate film.