27th August 1967: The Death of Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles
Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, who died on 27th August 1967

On 27th August 1967, Brian Epstein was found dead in his London flat. His Personal Assistant, Alistair Taylor, discovered his body. Many people still think that Brian committed suicide. Alistair explained what really happened in an interview with me for Liddypool, as he discussed Brian Epstein’s death, a very personal story.

David Bedford with Alistair Taylor, Brian Epstein's Personal Assistant
David Bedford with Alistair Taylor, Brian Epstein’s Personal Assistant

“Brian had called me on several occasions threatening to commit suicide, and when I went round to his flat, he would be sitting there quite calmly having a drink and wondering what the fuss was about.

If Brian couldn’t be their manager..

“Brian was into drugs and becoming more and more dependent on them. I could see how this changed his character, with him being more depressed. Many have suggested that The Beatles didn’t need him any more. However, Lennon summed it up when he said, ‘Well we’ve f***ing had it now’. Most importantly, the four Beatles were quite clear on this: if Brian couldn’t be their manager then nobody else could”.

How did Alistair recall that night?

“I remember coming home from San Francisco, walking through the door and saying hello to my wife Lesley, when the phone went. Epstein’s secretary rang and said she couldn’t get an answer from Brian. I had to apologise to Lesley and head off there.  Naturally, Lesley wasn’t impressed, but I had a feeling something was wrong. We went in to the flat, and I just remember Brian lying there and I immediately knew he was dead. 

“Therefore, I looked around, and presumed it wasn’t suicide, because firstly there was no note, but more importantly, I could see his pill bottles next to his bed, half full with the lids on. There were some letters on the bed and his favourite chocolate biscuits on a plate.”

“He did not commit suicide”

Most importantly, what caused Brian Epstein’s death? The coroner confirmed what Alistair said; it was an “incautious self-overdose”. The amount of drugs in his body was consistent with a build up over the previous weeks, and this would have had the side effect of making the user more and more forgetful. The official cause of death was ‘Carbrital poisoning’. ‘Time, place and circumstances: 3.00 p.m., Sunday 27 August 1967 at 24, Chapel Street, Westminster. Found dead in bed. Coroner’s conclusion: Incautious self-over-dosage. Accidental death’.

brian’s funeral and burial

Brian Epstein's grave in Aintree, Liverpool
Brian Epstein’s grave in Aintree, Liverpool

Brian Epstein’s body was brought back to Liverpool, and his funeral was held in his local synagogue at Greenbank Drive in Wavertree; he was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Aintree, North Liverpool. His contribution to the group’s success has been diminished over time, but to those in the know, it is immeasurable.

Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles by David Bedford
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles by David Bedford

Without Brian Epstein, The Beatles would never have got out of Liverpool, obtained a record deal, and gone on to have the fame and fortune they did. (This is an excerpt from Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles)

a statue for brian Epstein in liverpool

In 2019, Liverpool is now looking to raise the money to erect a statue to Brian Epstein. More news will follow. See www.epsteinstatue.co.uk

David Bedford

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1961 in Beatles History: The Beatles are the best group; Brian Epstein discovers The Beatles at The Cavern Club

Stu with The Beatles in Hamburg
Stu with The Beatles in Hamburg

Spring 1961 – The Beatles and Steve Calrow

Spring 1961 – John, Paul, George and Alan

24th June 1961 – Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers record “My Bonnie”

6th July 1961 – Bill Harry founds Mersey Beat

19th October 1961 – The Beatles and the Beatmakers

28th October 1961 – Raymond Jones asks for a copy of “My Bonnie”: interview with Alistair Taylor

9th November 1961 – Brian Epstein discovers The Beatles at the Cavern

10th November 1961 – Sam Leach and Operation Big Beat

24th November 1961 – The Beatles and Davy Jones

December 1961 – Tony Barrow and The Beatles

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Alistair Taylor, Beatles “Mr Fix-it” and Brian Epstein’s PA

Alistair Taylor – Hello Goodbye

David with Alistair Taylor, Brian Epstein's PA
David with Alistair

In May 2004 I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with Alistair Taylor on a trip from his home in Matlock, Derbyshire to Liverpool. Alistair was known as The Beatles ‘Mr. Fix-it’ and was a vital cog in the day-to-day operation of NEMS Enterprises. He was Brian Epstein‘s P.A. and the man to whom John, Paul, George and Ringo turned if they needed anything.

As we collected him, he said that he was tired and that we weren’t to be offended if he dropped off to sleep on the journey. Yes right, Alistair!

Alistair taylor and the beatles

For the next two hours I enjoyed the company of one of the nicest men you could hope to meet. He was great fun, entertaining, and yet humble and full of stories. Alistair didn’t see the need to talk up his part in The Beatles’ story, something he has been accused of. He spoke lovingly of his wife Lesley who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their long and happy marriage. Sadly, within a matter of weeks, Alistair passed away, and was soon followed by his beloved Lesley.

Alistair was born in Runcorn, Cheshire, to the south of Liverpool, on 21 June 1935. After a brief spell in London, where he met Lesley, he returned north to work for a timber merchant, William Evans in Widnes, though this didn’t satisfy him.

So Alistair, how did you come to work for Brian epstein? 

“I saw an advert in the local paper for a Sales Assistant in NEMS, ‘apply to Brian Epstein’. Naturally, I quickly answered the ad. When I met Brian, we got on really well and talked about all aspects of music. My love was always for jazz, which was different to Brian who loved classical music. At the end of the interview, which lasted for two hours, Brian said I was over-qualified for the position that was advertised and he couldn’t pay me enough for the position on offer. My heart sank.

But then he said he wanted to employ me as his personal assistant, for £10 per week. I didn’t really understand what he wanted, but of course I said yes! It was the beginning of a great relationship with Brian, which had its highs and lows. He sacked me four times, and I resigned a couple of times too!

Brian was gay. I knew that. He knew that I knew that, and it didn’t matter. He knew I wasn’t gay, and was happily married. It never interfered in our business relationship.”

Alistair’s voice suddenly became more serious.

“I loved him”

“At this point, I want to say something that has been edited out of interviews in the past. I loved Brian. It doesn’t have to be complicated by homosexual overtones. It wasn’t like that. I loved him. He was awkward, irritating, annoying and frustrating, but I loved him. Full stop.

Once I had started working there, Brian and I had a little bet on each big record coming out. We would have to say if it was going to be a hit or not. Needless to say, even though he didn’t like pop music, he could hear a hit a mile away. I rarely got it right; I can’t remember him getting it wrong, ever! The bet was only a G & T (Gin and Tonic) but he was incredible.

He introduced this remarkable system of record ordering with these little tags so that we knew when we had to re-order. In the end, if Brian put in a large order for a particular record, the other retailers would order them too. Brian was that impressive, and his opinion was often sought.”

What about Raymond Jones, Alistair?

“I was Raymond Jones. Kids were coming into the shop and asking for this record ‘My Bonnie’ by The Beatles. We didn’t have it and, until somebody put in an actual order, Brian wouldn’t do anything. You see, Brian had this claim that if you ordered a record by anyone, anywhere, he would find it. However, no matter how many people asked for it, nobody had ordered it by paying a deposit. Particularly as this was a German import, this was even more important.

I knew we would sell lots of copies, so I made out the order form and paid the deposit from my own pocket in the name of Raymond Jones, one of our regular customers.

“My bonnie” by the beatles?

Now we had an order, Brian and I set about tracking it down. Of course, it was recorded in Germany, and was recorded under the name of Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. Brian ordered the first batch and they sold out in no time at all.

So, a few years ago, I announced that I was Raymond Jones. And that is it, it was me.”

the real Raymond jones?

How does this fit? Local radio presenter and writer Spencer Leigh tracked down the real Raymond Jones a few years ago. Bob Wooler even had an address for him at 48, Stonefield Road, Liverpool. Therefore, there was also a local lad called Raymond Jones, who asked Brian Epstein for the record and told him, when asked, who The Beatles were and where they were playing. But what about Alistair’s tale?

Well, we know that Raymond Jones came into the shop and talked to Brian about The Beatles and the record, but maybe did not place the order and paying the deposit required before Brian would track it down. Therefore, Alistair told me that he simply used the real Raymond Jones’ details for the order, and paid the deposit himself. Not the normal practice but, as this was a German import, taking a deposit was the standard for NEMS.

Whatever the motive, in this small way Alistair became ‘Raymond Jones’ but the real Raymond Jones remains an integral part of the story.

brian and Alistair visit the cavern

Of course, the big event was the trip to The Cavern on 9 November 1961. What exactly happened?

“Brian wanted to go and see The Beatles who were so popular. Everyone was talking about them and we had sold so many copies of the record. Brian didn’t know where The Cavern was, which of course I did as I had been there when it was a jazz club. He was amazed to realize how close it was.

the beatles were loud, awful, and not that good

“We went down into the cellar, and that smell of rotting fruit and vegetables never left The Cavern. It was smelly and horrible, and Brian and I looked out of place in our smart suits. We sat at the back and watched while the place went mad for these scruffy musicians. The noise was terrible. They were loud, awful, unprofessional, scruffy and frankly not that good. But we both couldn’t help tapping our feet to the rhythm. They had something. Don’t ask me what it was, because I don’t know. If I did I would have been a rich man. I call it ingredient ‘X’.

“They played five songs I think, but the one that made us stop and take notice was when they introduced a song of their own called ‘Hello Little Girl’, which The Fourmost later recorded. It wasn’t just that they were prepared to play their own song but that it went down well. Maybe that is what Brian saw in them.

“Anyway, we left and went to the Peacock Restaurant as planned, and that is where Brian dropped the bombshell. He asked me ‘Who do you work for? Me or NEMS? What would you say to me managing The Beatles?’ I was a little lost for words.

the biggest mistake

“Brian was a man who was bored easily, and The Beatles came along at the right time. He then made me the offer, which could have made me a wealthy man. He offered me a percentage of The Beatles, there and then. I couldn’t contribute anything financially, so I said I couldn’t accept his offer. Brian understood but asked me if I would work for him in managing The Beatles. Of course I would. I would have done anything for him. And so that is where it all began. It was the biggest financial mistake of my life, but you can’t change things”.

How did you get this title of The Beatles’ ‘Mr. Fix-it’?

“Whatever The Beatles wanted, I fixed it for them. I was Brian’s general manager, so I stayed at home while the boys went on tour, because I looked after all the artists for Brian, not just The Beatles. Later on, I sorted out cars, houses, trains and planes and even buying an island. Whenever they went on tour, I made the arrangements. I loved it; it was great fun. I was there when they signed their management contract with Brian, which, of course, Epstein didn’t sign. I signed as witness, but Brian wouldn’t; in my opinion, I think he wanted a way for The Beatles to get out of it if it didn’t work out. He was an honourable man, and was stepping out into a new world. If it did go wrong, he didn’t want them tied into a long, complicated contract. That’s what he was like.

“They just went along the line and signed, and then I did. I remember Paul saying something like, ‘We’re going to be stars, but if we don’t make it together, I’m going to be a star’. That was Paul for you”.

What do you remember about the beatles in Liverpool?

“They were always hanging around the shop. I remember John and Paul coming into NEMS and asking if they could borrow a typist, called Barbara I think. They brought song lyrics in on scraps of paper—once it was on toilet paper—and she typed them up and then threw the scraps in the bin. Imagine what they would be worth now”.

the beatles; scandals, girls

So Alistair, with their fame bringing untold riches, and the pick of the girls, surely there must have been scandals and claims?

“The Beatles had managed to get into trouble with local girls, and most of the girls who were pregnant were looked after by Brian. I often had to be the one to hand out the cheques. It is true that many of these girls could have come forward and destroyed the image that The Beatles had tried so hard to portray, but they were willing to settle without undue publicity”.

George harrison: “I’m no longer a beatle”

We started to discuss the time when he thought The Beatles had had enough of touring. Most people know that after their last concert in 1966, George famously said that he was no longer a Beatle. But to my amazement, Alistair recalled a much earlier conversation.

“George told me back in 1963 that he was already starting to have second thoughts about fame”.

He recalled an incident when The Beatles were flying to London from Liverpool Airport, but George hadn’t turned up. The others went to London, leaving Alistair to contact George.

“I rang him at home to find out what was going on. George said, ‘I don’t want to be a Beatle’. In a panic, I went round to talk to him and George said he didn’t like all the pressure and the frenzy of the crowds and the fans. Thankfully, he came to his senses and the matter was never discussed again until they finished touring in 1966”.

Brian was determined to get the beatles a record deal, wasn’t he?

“Oh yes. I remember seeing him at his desk crying. In the end, he virtually resorted to blackmail. NEMS was the biggest record retailer around, and so he threatened to withdraw his business”.

Was NEMS that big? How does that work?

“He could buy his records through a different company, like Decca. It was only anything on HMV (His Masters Voice) that he had to buy from EMI direct, and that wasn’t a big concern. The rest of the records he could get elsewhere, so that was a lot of business to them. I believe it was only this that made them do something. Of course, they just fobbed him off on to George Martin who was looking after comedy records, but at least it was something”.

It all went ‘pear-shaped’ at Apple, didn’t it?

“I was the face of Apple for the advertising. McCartney asked me to pose as a oneman band in the newspapers to get people to send in their tapes for consideration. Then everyone sent stuff in and it all quickly went mad. Money was being wasted and I could see it. People were leeching off them—it was a disaster.

“The end was no great surprise to me. I was out at a business lunch when I received a phone call from the office. They told to come straight back. I told them I couldn’t as I was in a business meeting. The message was, ‘come back now’. I had a feeling what was going on. I made it back to Peter Brown’s office. He basically told me that I was out and I had the afternoon to clear my desk.

There was Allen Klein’s hit list and I was number one on the list—I saw it. I went home and Lesley knew straight away there was something wrong. She even guessed that I’d lost my job. I wanted to get in touch with the lads, not to beg for my job back—I had too much pride for that—but to see if they knew what was happening. I rang them all—one of them I know was in the background when I called—but they wouldn’t speak to me. That hurt me.

After all I’d done, they couldn’t and wouldn’t speak to me. I was closest to Paul, spending time at his house more than the others, because he was still living in London.

the beatles; “hello, goodbye”

The whole ‘Hello, Goodbye’ thing happened at Paul’s house. I was round there one night and I asked him how he wrote songs. We sat at his piano and he said, ‘I’ll say one thing, you say the opposite’ so we went black, white, yes, no, hello, goodbye. Not long after, the song ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was written, so I like to think of that as my little contribution”.

Alistair was done with The Beatles and, to their shame, he was left to eek out a living washing dishes in a little Bed & Breakfast in Derbyshire. He could have had millions thanks to Brian, but turned his opportunity down. When he was sacked from Apple, they could have looked after him, but they didn’t.

Alistair and I had a great journey together and he gave me his phone number to follow up. He gave an interview to Fulcrum TV and then sadly, a few weeks later he died quite suddenly. He had seen so much and been so close to The Beatles’ inner circle, and yet had been let down by them.

Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles by David Bedford
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles by David Bedford

However, being the gentleman that he was, he didn’t bear any grudges against them, but rather talked fondly of them.

It was great to meet you Alistair—hello and goodbye.

You can read this and other interviews in Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles

David Bedford

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