The Cool Brian Behind the Bonfire

This article written by Gail Cameron, appeared in LIFE magazine in the August 28, 1964 issue.

As with any other world-shaking cataclysm, the Beatle phenomenon is found to set historians searching for the precise thing that triggered it. They need to look no further than the simple intuition of a bland and exceedingly improbable young British businessman named Brian Epstein.
Though he did not exactly invent the Beatles (they did that themselves), he did discover them. That to Epstein, today the sun never sets on the sight of Beatle hairdos or the sound of the Beatle beat. He has done more to expand British influence around the world than anybody else since Queen Victoria and maybe even Sir Francis Drake.
It would be difficult to imagine a more unlikely candidate. At 29, the world hottest showbiz entrepreneur is a soft-spoken, conservatively tailored young man with a personality as flamboyant as that of a research chemist.
In fact, little in Epstein's background prepared him for the heady title recently conferred upon him by the British press: Czar of Sound. As a child he took a few abortive violin lessons. And on the day almost three years ago he stepped into The Cavern, a stormy Liverpool club situated under a onetime vegetable warehouse, to see the Beatles for the first time, practically the only thing he know about show business was that he didn't like it.
But he did know a little about merchandising phonograph records, having launched a record department in his parents' prosperous Liverpool furniture business.
A young customer named Raymond Jones had popped in one day to request a record of "My Bonnie," sung by the Beatles as background accompaniment for a pop singer named Tony Sheridan.
"Sung by what?" said Epstein.
"The Beatles."
He said he would try to track the record down, and did. He ordered 200 copies which sold out. Curious about the fuss, he descended into the dive that he found "vile and smelly" but which is now almost a British national shrine.
The Beatles were on stage, "raving it up" as they say in Liverpudlian. Epstein did a double-take at the first scruffy sight of them, but listened in complete fascination.
"I sensed that something was happening," he was to recall later, "something terribly exciting, although I didn't know what it was. There was this amazingly direct communication with the audience and this absolutely marvelous humor. There was something about it that was totally of today. I knew they could be one of the biggest theatrical attractions in the world."
He returned to the club several more times, and eventually suggested becoming the boys' manager. For some years Epstein had been feeling bottled-up in the family business. As it happens, the Beatles simultaneously were desparing of ever breaking out into the big world beyond Liverpool and had just about decided to chuck the whole thing. Impressed, they quickly accepted his offer-though Epstein had no idea how a management contract should ever be drawn up. His percentage, they agreed, would be 25%.
Brian's life looked up immediately. "Everything about the Beatles was right for me," he says. "They represented the direct, uninhibited relationships which I had never found and felt deprived of. And my own sense of inferiority and frustration evaporated because I knew I could help them and they wanted me to and trusted me to."

But it didn't happen overnight. It took one full year to overcome England and another for total global conquest. Basically, what Epstein did for the Beatles at the outset was to resist the temptation to tamper with their act and to concentrate on landing them a recording contract. He did tidy them up a bit, decreeing an end to the battered jeans and rumpled leather in favor of the tailored, collarless suits that evenually sent shock waves through the whole clothing industry. He also got them to a barber who tamed the Historic Hair but, praise, did not whack it all off.
Cutting reocords was something else again. Decca indifferently sat still for an audition but turned the Beatles down cold on the imperious grounds that "groups are out, particularly four-groups, and guitars are finished." Most specifically, said Decca, noise generated by the Beatles was "not commercial." Just as imperiously Epstein told Decca his boys some day would be bigger than Elvis Presley.
"The worst part of it," says Epstein, "was being so sure about the boys myself. It's frustrating when nobody agrees with you."
One day Epstein took the Decca tapes to a London recording shop to have them transferred to discs. The sound engineer without warning erupted with enthusiasm and sent Epstein to a recording producer named George Martin at E.M.I., a London recording company. He listened - and signed the boys.
Before E.M.I. had cut any records, Martin decided that there was something faulty in Beatle Pete Best's work at the drums. This posed something of a problem for Epstein, but the three other Beatles helped resolve it by agreeing that Best would have to go.
Enter Ringo Starr, in beard. Charter Beatle John Lennon prescribed a razor but told Ringo to "keep your sidies." With or without whiskers, the teen-agers back home in Liverpool were having none of Ringo, at least not until the idea took hold. "Pete forever, Ringo never!" they chanted in a mass protest. Ringo survived to become teen-age America's nomination for President of the U.S.
In no time at all, as the Beatles and their recordings began to get around, they became celebrities - in Britain and then the rest of the world. The Royal Family requested - and got - autographs. The Beatles' heads were cast in bronze sculpture and likenesses of their bodies were enshrined in wax at Madame Tussaud's. There they stand practically on top of England's fab bard, William Shakespeare, whose 400th anniversary year has witnessed the glorification of the world "YEAH!"
Epstein foudn time to expand and diversify. He smoked out a parade of young pop performers who, together with the Beatles, took over the top-selling spots in Britain's weekly report charts as though by ironclad lease. Always it was Epstein's uncanny intuition about who and what will will be a hit in the volatile teen-age market that represented the final authority. Epstein had become the Sol Hurok of pop.
To his hectic headquarters, hard by the London Palladium, Epstein tools serenely in his elaborately appointed black Bentley S-3, and is the only calm person within sight or earshot. Messengers in Beatle haircuts dash in and out with tea to steady the nerves of 20 other staff members who try to control the cacophony and the traffic of performers, producers, reporters, fans - and accountants.
Meanwhile, back at the bank, the deluge of Beatle money has become almost indecent, and the Beatles and Epstein find themselves gasping in the rarefield air of international finance. Royalties from 80 million Beatle records are pouring in from all over the world. The first Beatle movie, A Hard Day's Night, has broken all records in England and grossed $1.6 million in its first week in the U.S. There are huge percentages from hundreds of by-products, from bedspreads to bubble gum. The British magazine Queen, assessing the balance of payments, has concluded that the Beatles are not only the biggest revenue-earning group in entertainment history but also "England's most fantastic economic complex."
So complicated in this complex that nobody, not even Epstein, seems to know its full extent or worth. Profits to the Beatles in the past two years have been estimated at between $10 and $20 million.
Sometimes the money has come pouring in for no reason at all beyond the merest hint that the Beatles might be going somewhere to perform. Prior to the current U.S. invasion some cities were sold out before the tickets officially went on sale - and once or twice, before any appearance was scheduled at all.
Such a situation prompted Epstein on one occasion to make what is probably the most bizarre request ever heard in show business. "Norman," he pleaded to his U.S. booking agent by transatlantic phone, "you have simply got to do something about all that money pouring in. You've got to find some way to stop it."

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