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The Life of Brian

Brian Samuel Epstein was born to Harry and Malka Epstein on September 19, 1934 in a private nursing home in Liverpool. His brother Clive was born 22 months later. His father Harry called his mother Queenie because Malka is the Hebrew word for "queen". Next to the furniture store that the Epstein family owned was The North End Road Music Stores. James McCartney Sr.'s family was one of the local families that bought pianos there on extended-purchase plans. The Epsteins later expanded and took over NEMS.

Brian started to work at the family furniture store at Walton Road in 1950 at the age of 16. Two years later he was conscripted for National Service, but he was discharged from his two-year stint after ten months as being emotionally and mentally unfit. (He tells the story about being caught innocently impersonating an officer in A Cellarful of Noise.) Upon his return in 1954 he was put in charge of another branch of the family business, Clarendon Furnishing in Hoylake, and he was very successful, a born salesman.

However, Brian had other plans for his own life, and after some pleading with his parents was allowed to join the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts to train as an actor. He passed the audition, but soon discovered he wasn't cut out for show business, and returned to the family business.

When his father opened a new NEMS store on Great Charlotte St, Brian was put in charge of the ground floor, where he expanded from pianos and wireless sets to gramophone records. The new record department was so successful that another NEMS branch was opened at 12-14 Whitechapel, with Brian in charge. Meanwhile, Brian, who had been selling the music publication Mersey Beat since its first issue on July 6, 1961, became interested in the local music scene, and asked its editor Bill Harry if he could contribute a record column. His first column appeared in the third issue of Mersey Beat on August 3, 1961.

Brian's new NEMS store on Whitechapel was only down the street and around the corner from a dingy, basement club called The Cavern.

Alistair Taylor, long-time assistant to Brian Epstein, from an interview with Martin Lewis at the re-created Cavern Club in 1995:

"We found this record in Germany by a guy called Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers, the boys were just a backing group, and one day Brian came into the shop and he said, 'By the way, do you remember that record that we sold so many of, that band the Beatles?' So I said, yeah. So he said, 'Well, they're playing at the Cavern. Let's go down and see them, and we'll see what they're like.'

"And it was jammed solid, and we just sat at the back feeling rather embarressed, and I suddenly realised my foot was tapping, and I hated pop music, and Brian hated it even more than me, and I looked 'round and so was his."

"And after a while Brian started talking about it, and he said, 'What did you think?' And I said I thought they were awful, quite honestly, but absolutely incredible. So he said, 'that's exactly my feelings. Do you think I should manage them?' And I said, yeah."

Alistair talks about the day Brian met the Beatles

Brian Epstein recalled meeting the Beatles that day:

"I hadn't had anything to do with management of pop artists before that day that I went down to the Cavern Club and heard the Beatles playing, and this was quite a new world, really, for me.

"I was immediately struck by their music, their beat, and their sense of humour on stage. And even afterwards when I met them I was struck again by their personal charm. And it was there that really it all started..."

Brian remembering the day he met the Beatles

Queenie Epstein, Brian's mother, remembers Brian talking to his parents after he met the Beatles:

"He asked his father and myself to listen to a record. He said, 'Forget about the singer, just listen to the backing group.' Actually, we were always fairly interested in all the records, because being in the business [NEMS record store].

And he said, 'They are four boys and I'd like to manage them. It wouldn't take any longer than two half days at a time, it's just sort of a part-time occupation.' He said it would never interfere with business.

"But the first time we met the Beatles, Brian was very insistent that we should go ahead with them, and I'd never been to a rock and roll concert before and I asked him what I should wear. And he said he hadn't either..."

101k Real Audio File Queenie Epstein remembering Brian talking about the Beatles

It was decided that Brian would be the Beatles' manager at a meeting on December 10, 1961. Their first contract was for a five year period. The contract was formally signed at Pete Best's house on January 24, 1962, with Alistair Taylor as witness, although Brian, himself, didn't sign it. When asked why later, Brian answered "Well, if they ever want to tear it up, they can hold me but I can't hold them."

Brian smartened up the Beatles' stage appearance by putting them in matching suits and he instructed them not to smoke or swear on stage. Brian also encouraged the boys to make a rather theatrical synchronized bow at the conclusion of each song when performing in concert or on television. All of the Beatles went along with their new image although there was some initial very minor grumbling from John and George.

During his 'demythologize the Beatles' phase in 1970, John made references to how these image changes had somehow "tamed the real Beatles" and that he'd been against it at the time. However, most contemporary reports - and indeed recent McCartney comments - note that at the time, all of the Beatles (including John) were happy to follow Epstein's shrewd advice, particularly when it proved to be 100% effective. The reality is that in the climate of the early 60's no British or American TV show would have given the Beatles (or any other pop group) even five seconds of air time looking as they did pre-Brian.

Now that he was signed to be their manager, it was Brian's job to get them a recording contract. He used the clout of his family's record stores in Liverpool to get meetings with all the major British record companies. But the Beatles were rejected by every label including the two biggest companies, EMI and Decca. Brian finally secured a contract for the Beatles in June 1962 when they were signed by George Martin, head of one of EMI's smallest labels, Parlophone.

George Martin commented later that he signed the Beatles in considerable part because of Epstein's enthusiasm. He thought that the Beatles had promise, but he was not entirely convinced by their talent. However, he was very impressed by Epstein's conviction that the Beatles would be world famous.

Brian on Hullabuloo

Shortly after they signed with EMI, John, Paul and George (who had been together as the nucleus of the group since 1958) gave Brian the unpleasant job of telling drummer Pete Best that they wanted him out of the group, to be replaced by Ringo Starr. Brian was uncomfortable but accomplished this difficult task.

In a very real sense Epstein had now passed his 'audition' with the Beatles. In a mere six months he had secured them the record contract that they had desired for so long. And he had proven his ability to handle the most awkward of managerial tasks.

In addition to managing the Beatles, Brian managed other artists. Brian also appeared on several TV shows in Britain, and hosted a regular segment of the US TV show Hullabaloo.

But Brian's first love was always the Beatles. His joy in life was seeing their ever-burgeoning success and ensuring their happiness. This devotion to work was often at the expense of his personal life.

In April 1964, at the age of 29, he hired Derek Taylor (who subsequently became the Beatles' legendary publicist) to co-write his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise which was published in October of that year. Together with writer Ray Coleman's Brian Epstein (the only biography of him) - published in 1989 - these two books constitute the most authoritive sources for information about the man who guided the Beatles to becoming the most successful popular artists of all time.

During the time Brian managed the Beatles, they enjoyed the greatest success that any popular artists had ever achieved. Their career trajectory was meteoric. There was not a single reversal of fortune in the entire 5 3/4 years. Once he died the Beatles became embroiled in a tangle of conflicts, money squabbles and personal jealousies. They had lost the one man who united them and who was capable of resolving their differences.

From the first Beatles success until his tragic death in August 1967, Brian took care of every aspect of the Beatles' career. When he died the difference was immediately felt. While the Beatles continued to make magnificent music, their business affairs rapidly crumbled. Within two years of Brian's death the end of the Beatles was clearly in sight. By 1970 it was all over.

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