Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein

Promotional photo of Epstein
Born Brian Samuel Epstein
19 September 1934(1934-09-19)
Liverpool, England
Died 27 August 1967(1967-08-27) (aged 32)
London, England
Occupation Businessman
Personal manager
Years active 1961–67
Known for Manager of:
The Beatles
Gerry & the Pacemakers
Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas
The Fourmost
Cilla Black
Official site

Brian Samuel Epstein (play /ˈɛpstn/; 19 September 1934 – 27 August 1967), was an English music entrepreneur, and is best known for being the manager of The Beatles up until his death. He also managed several other musical artists such as Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Cilla Black, The Remo Four & The Cyrkle. His management company was named NEMS Enterprises after his family's music stores, also called NEMS (North End Music Stores).

Epstein paid for The Beatles to record a demo in Decca's studios, which Epstein later persuaded George Martin to listen to, as Decca were not interested in signing the band. Epstein was then offered a contract by Martin on behalf of EMI's small Parlophone label, even though they had previously been rejected by almost every other British record company. Martin later explained that Epstein's enthusiasm and his confidence that The Beatles would one day become internationally famous convinced him to sign them.

Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose at his home in London in August 1967. The Beatles' early success has been attributed to Epstein's management and sense of style. McCartney said of Epstein: "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian".[1]


Family and early life

Epstein's grandfather, Isaac Epstein, was from Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) and arrived in England in the 1890s, at the age of eighteen.[2] His grandmother, Dinah, was the daughter of Joseph (who was a draper) and Esther Hyman, who emigrated from Russia to England (c. 1871/72) with their eldest son, Jacob. The Hymans had six more children.

The Epstein family's shops in Walton Road, Liverpool

Isaac Epstein married Dinah Hyman in Manchester in 1900.[3] In 1901, Isaac and Dinah were living at 80 Walton Road, Liverpool, with Isaac's sister, Rachael Epstein, above the furniture dealership he had recently founded.[4] Dinah and Isaac's third son was Harry Epstein; the father of Brian Epstein.[5] Eventually the family moved to a larger home at 27 Anfield Road, Liverpool (now a Beatles-themed hotel called Epstein House). After Harry and his brother Leslie had joined the family firm, Isaac Epstein founded "I. Epstein and Sons", and enlarged his furniture business by taking over adjacent shops (62/72 Walton Road) to sell a varied range of other goods, such as musical instruments and household appliances.[5][6] They called the expanding business NEMS (North End Music Stores) which offered lenient credit terms, and from which McCartney's father once bought a piano.[7][8][9]

Brian Epstein as an infant

Epstein's mother was formally named Malka (although always known by her family as Queenie, Malka translating as "queen" in Hebrew), and was a member of the Hyman furniture family, which owned the successful Sheffield Veneering Company.[5]

Epstein was born on 19 September 1934, in Rodney Street, Liverpool, England.[10] Harry and Queenie also had another son, Clive, who was born 22 months after his older brother.[11] During World War II, the Epsteins moved to Southport—where two schools expelled Epstein for laziness and poor performance—but returned to Liverpool in 1945.[12] The Epsteins lived at 197 Queens Drive, Childwall, in Liverpool, living there for 30 years.[13]

After his parents had moved him from one boarding school to another, including Clayesmore School in Dorset, the 14-year-old Epstein spent two years at Wrekin College in Shropshire, where he was taught the violin.[14] Shortly before his 16th birthday, he sent a long letter to his father, explaining that he wanted to become a dress designer, but Harry Epstein was adamantly opposed to this idea, and his son finally had to "report for duty" at the family's furniture shop.[15][11] After serving an apprenticeship for six months for another company,[16] he started work for his family's business on a £5 per week wage, and was congratulated on the first day of work after selling a £12 dining room table to a woman who had originally wanted to buy a mirror.[17]

In December 1952, Epstein was drafted as a data entry clerk into the Royal Army Service Corps, and was posted to the Albany Street Barracks near Regent's Park, in London, where he was often reprimanded for not picking up his army pay.[15] After returning to Liverpool Epstein was put in charge of Clarendon Furnishing shop in Hoylake, and in 1955 was made a director of NEMS.[11] In September 1956, he took a trip to London to meet a friend, but after being there for only one day, he was robbed of his passport, birth certificate, chequebook, wristwatch, and all the money he had on him. As he did not want his parents to find out, he worked as a department store clerk until he had earned enough money to buy a train ticket back to Liverpool.[18] Back in Liverpool, he confessed his homosexuality to a psychiatrist—a friend of the Epstein family—who suggested to Harry Epstein that his son should leave Liverpool as soon as possible. During the sessions Epstein revealed his ambition of becoming an actor, so his parents allowed him go to London to study.[11][18]

After saying the he "felt like an old man at the age of 21",[19] Epstein attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. His RADA classmates included actors Susannah York, Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole, but Epstein dropped out after the third term,[20] saying that he had become "too much of a businessman to enjoy being a student, and I didn't like being a student at all."[21] In 1964, he revealed that he would have liked to produce a theatre play, or even act, "in something by Chekov", or a "straight drama" by John Osborne.[22]

Back in Liverpool, his father put his son in charge of the record department of the newly-opened NEMS music store on Great Charlotte Street.[23] Epstein worked "day and night" at the store to make it a success, and it became one of the biggest musical retail outlets in the North of England.[24] The Epsteins opened a second store at 12–14 Whitechapel, and Epstein was put in charge of the entire operation. Epstein often walked across the road to the Lewis's department store (which also had a music section) where Peter Brown was employed. He watched Brown's sales technique and was impressed enough to lure Brown to work for NEMS with the offer of a higher salary and a commission on sales.[25] On 3 August 1961, Epstein started a regular music column in the Mersey Beat magazine, called 'Record Releases by Brian Epstein of NEMS'.[26]

The Beatles

Epstein at The Cavern Club (photo by David Steen)

The Beatles' name was supposedly first noticed by Epstein in issues of Mersey Beat, and on numerous posters around Liverpool, before he asked Bill Harry who they were, as Harry had previously convinced Epstein to sell the magazine at NEMS.[27] (The Beatles were featured on the front page of its second issue).[28][29] The Beatles had recorded the "My Bonnie" single with Tony Sheridan in Germany, and some months after its release Epstein asked Alistair Taylor about it in NEMS.[30] Epstein's version of the story was that a customer, Raymond Jones, walked into the NEMS shop and asked him for the "My Bonnie" single, which made Epstein curious about the group.[31] Taylor later claimed that he had used the name of Jones (a regular customer) to order the single and paid the deposit himself, knowing that Epstein would notice it, and order further copies.[32] Harry and McCartney later repudiated Epstein's story, as Harry had been talking to Epstein about The Beatles for a long time (being the group he promoted the most in the Mersey Beat magazine) with McCartney saying, "Brian [Epstein] knew perfectly well who The Beatles were—they were on the front page of the second issue of Mersey Beat".[33]

The Beatles were due to perform a lunchtime concert in the Cavern Club on 9 November 1961.[20] According to the club's owner, Sytner, Epstein had visited the club quite a few times previously on Saturday nights, once asking Sytner to book a group for his twenty-first birthday party.[34] Epstein asked Bill Harry to arrange for Epstein and his assistant Taylor to watch The Beatles perform, so Epstein and Taylor were allowed into the club without queuing, with a welcome message being announced over the club's public-address system by Bob Wooler, who was the resident DJ.[35] Epstein later talked about the performance:

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.[36]

After the performance, Epstein and Taylor went into the dressing room—which he later called "as big as a broom cupboard"—to talk to the group.[37] The Beatles, all regular NEMS customers, immediately recognised Epstein, but before Epstein could congratulate them on their performance, Harrison said, "And what brings Mr. Epstein here?"[38] Epstein replied with, "We just popped in to say hello. I enjoyed your performance". He introduced Taylor, who merely nodded a greeting, and then said, "Well done, then. Goodbye.", and left.[39] Epstein and Taylor went to Peacock's restaurant in Hackins Hey for lunch, and during the meal Epstein asked Taylor what he thought about the group. Taylor replied that he honestly thought they were "absolutely awful", but there was something "remarkable" about them. Epstein waited a long time before saying anything further, just sitting there smiling slightly, but eventually saying, "I think they're tremendous!" Later, when Epstein was paying the bill, he grabbed Taylor's arm and said, "Do you think I should manage them?"[40]

The Beatles played at The Cavern over the next three weeks, and Epstein was always there to watch them. He contacted Allan Williams (their previous promoter/manager) to confirm that Williams no longer had any ties to them, but Williams advised Epstein "not to touch them with a barge pole", because of a Hamburg concert percentage the group had refused to pay him.[41][42]

Management contract

In a meeting with the group at NEMS on 3 December 1961, Epstein proposed the idea of managing them.[43] Lennon, Harrison and Pete Best arrived late for the meeting in the afternoon at 4 pm—they had been drinking at the Grapes pub in Mathew Street—but McCartney was not with them, because, as Harrison explained, he had just got up and was "taking a bath". Epstein was upset at this, but was placated by Harrison jokingly saying, "He may be late, but he'll be very clean."[44] Lennon had invited Wooler to be at the meeting so he could later give his opinion of Epstein, but introduced him by saying, "This is me dad".[45] Epstein was reticent throughout the short meeting, only asking if they had a manager (to which they replied in the negative) and culminating with, "It seems to me that with everything going on, someone ought to be looking after you".[46] Epstein had further meetings with the group on 6 December and 10 December 1961.[47] On 13 December 1961, after Epstein's invitation, Mike Smith of Decca records travelled from London to Liverpool to watch the group at the Cavern Club, which led to an audition in London on 1 January 1962 (see The Decca Audition).[47]

Being under the age of 21, McCartney, Harrison and Best had to have the legal consent of their parents to enter into a contract. Best and his mother (Mona Best, owner of The Casbah Coffee Club) were impressed with Epstein because of his office, expensive watch, suits and large car, as were the other Beatles, and Best’s mother thought Epstein "could be good for them [The Beatles]".[48] McCartney's father was sceptical about a Jewish manager, and warned his son to be careful about finances.[49] Lennon's guardian, Mimi Smith, refused at first, believing that Epstein had enough money to drop the group after a few months when something else came along that interested him, but as Lennon had just turned twenty-one, his Aunt's advice could be ignored.[50]

The Beatles finally signed a five-year contract with Epstein on 24 January 1962,[29] which gave Epstein 25 per cent of their gross income. The Beatles would then share any income after various expenses had been deducted.[47] Epstein then formed the management company NEMS Enterprises, telling his parents that managing The Beatles was only a part-time occupation, and would never interfere with the family business.[36] The Beatles signed Epstein's first management contract, but Epstein did not sign it himself, although English law would have enforced the contract through the doctrine of part performance.[51] He later told Taylor, "Well, if they ever want to tear it up, they can hold me but I can't hold them".[52] The contract stated that Epstein would receive a management commission of 25% per cent of their gross income, after a certain financial threshold had been reached.[53] The Beatles argued for a smaller percentage, but Epstein pointed out that he had been paying their expenses for months, without receiving anything in return.[54] On 1 October 1962, four days before the release of "Love Me Do", Epstein signed Lennon and McCartney to a three-year NEMS publishing contract.[6][55][56]

Appearance on stage

Although Epstein had had no prior experience of artist management, he had a strong influence on their early dress-code and attitude on stage.[52] When Epstein discovered the band, they wore blue jeans and leather jackets, performing at rowdy rock 'n' roll shows where they would stop and start songs when they felt like it, or when an audience member requested a certain song. Epstein encouraged them to wear suits and ties; insisted that they stop swearing, smoking, drinking or eating onstage; and also suggested the famous synchronised bow at the end of their performances.[57] McCartney was the first to agree with Epstein's ideas, believing it was, in part, due to Epstein's RADA training.[58] Epstein explained that the process from leather and jeans to suits was a slower process: "I encouraged them, at first, to get out of the leather jackets and jeans, and I wouldn't allow them to appear in jeans after a short time, and then, after that step, I got them to wear sweaters on stage, and then, very reluctantly, eventually, suits."[59] The collarless suits the group started wearing were of German design (they had seen them in Hamburg),[60] which Epstein approved of, saying: "I thought it was an excellent design at the time."[61]

Lennon was against the idea of wearing suits and ties, but later said, "I'll wear a suit. I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me".[62] Epstein began seeking publicity by "charming and smarming ... the newspaper people", as Lennon said in 1972.[63] According to McCartney, "The gigs went up in stature and though the pay went up only a little bit, it did go up", and that the band was "now playing better places".[64] Another improvement Epstein made was that the group was now far more organised, having a single concert diary in which to record bookings, rather than using whoever's diary was to hand.[64] Although usually calling him Mr Epstein, or Brian, in interviews, the group abbreviated his name to "Eppy" or "Bri" in private, which they did for anyone connected to them that were considered friends.[65]

Record contract

The telegram that Epstein sent to Mersey Beat newspaper in Liverpool to announce that he had secured The Beatles their first recording contract

Epstein made numerous trips to London to visit record companies with the hope of securing a record contract, but was rejected by many, including Columbia, Pye, Philips, Oriole, and most famously, Decca (see The Decca audition).[66] The Beatles later found out that Epstein had paid Decca producer Tony Meehan (ex-drummer of the Shadows) to produce the studio recordings.[66] While Epstein was negotiating with Decca, he also approached EMI marketing executive Ron White, who later contacted EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell, but they all declined to record the group.[67] White could not contact EMI's fourth staff producer, Martin, as he was on holiday.[68]

On 8 May 1962, Epstein visited the HMV (EMI) store at 363 Oxford Street, London, to have the Decca audition tape transferred to 78 rpm acetates. An HMV disc-cutter named Jim Foy liked the recordings, and suggested that Epstein should contact Sid Coleman, the head of EMI's record publishing company, Ardmore & Beechwood, who had offices on the top floor. Coleman liked the recordings, and sent Epstein to Martin, the A&R manager of Parlophone.[69] On 9 May 1962, Epstein met Martin at EMI's Abbey Road Studios,[69] and immediately sent a telegram to The Beatles in Hamburg confirming that they had been accepted. The Beatles were signed by EMI's small Parlophone label after the group had been rejected by almost every other British record company, and without Martin ever having seen them play live.[70] Martin later explained that Epstein's enthusiasm, and his conviction that The Beatles would one day become internationally famous, convinced him to sign them.[52]

The Beatles' recording contract that EMI offered Epstein gave them one penny for each record sold, which was split among the four members, meaning one farthing per group member. The royalty rate was further reduced for singles sold outside the UK, on which the group received half of one penny (again split between the whole band) per single.[71] Martin said later that EMI had "nothing to lose" by signing a contract with them.[72]

Martin scheduled an audition at Abbey Road Studios which convinced Martin that they were good enough, but with one exception: He felt the recording would be better served by an experienced session drummer in place of Best.[70] When the news came that Martin wanted to replace Best on their recordings with a session drummer, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison asked Epstein to fire Best from the band.[52] Epstein agonised about the decision, and asked the Cavern's DJ, Bob Wooler, if it was a good idea, to which Wooler replied that Best was very popular with the fans and they would not like it at all.[73] Starr took his place, as Starr had previously played with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and had previously stepped in to drum with them when Best was ill or unable to play.[70]

Epstein renegotiated EMI's royalty rate, and on 27 January 1966, The Beatles signed a new nine-year contract with EMI, but with a clause stating that 25 per cent would be paid to NEMS for the full nine years, even if The Beatles decided not to renew their management contract with Epstein, which was up for renewal the following year.[74]

After Candlestick Park

The Beatles' hectic schedule of touring, television, and film work between 1963–65 kept Epstein very busy. Their last live concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 29 August 1966, and Epstein's management duties changed to reflect the changing nature of their career. He wanted them to continue touring, but they adamantly refused.[75]

Business dealings

Epstein (standing) with some of his NEMS artists (Lennon, Starr, Harrison and McCartney are on the far left).

Epstein once offered the individual Beatles a fixed wage of £50-a-week for life, instead of receiving money from record sales. Harrison remembered that he was earning £25 a week at the time—which was more than the £10 a week his father was earning—but the group declined Epstein's offer, as they thought that they were worth much more than £50-a-week.[76]

The Beatles' concerts were booked by Epstein himself, and he also presented groups managed by NEMS as an opening act, thereby making money for NEMS as the promoter, booking agent, and manager for all the concerts.[77] NEMS had a staff of 25 at the time of its move from Liverpool to London in 1964.[78] The Beatles were constantly in demand by concert promoters, and Epstein took advantage of the situation to avoid paying some taxes by accepting "hidden" fees on the night of a performance, which he always kept in a brown paper bag.[79]

Epstein also successfully managed Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (who had three hits with Lennon-McCartney songs) the Fourmost (their first two singles were written by Lennon) the Cyrkle (Epstein's first American group) and Cilla Black (who was Epstein's only female artist) as well as Tommy Quickly, and Sounds Incorporated (later known as Sounds Inc.).[80] He sent his stable of artists on "package tours" around the UK (as was common at the time) which meant each act played short sets, interspersed with a compère or a comedian.[81] Epstein revealed that even though he was entitled to be reimbursed by acts for expenses incurred, he paid for his own flights to and from the US, as he did not see himself as being part of a touring group,[82] and that photographs, transport, and international telephone calls were paid from his own 25 per cent share in profits.[83]

The Beatles toured the Philippines in July 1966, playing two shows at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manilla,[84] but Epstein unintentionally snubbed the nation's first lady, Imelda Marcos, when presented with an invitation to a breakfast party.[85] Epstein politely declined on behalf of the group, as it had been their policy never to accept such official invitations.[86] The Beatles and their entourage were ejected from their hotel the same day and were given a police escort to the airport, even though Epstein made a televised statement publicly apologising for the misunderstanding, which was not heard because of static.[84] They boarded the plane to fly home, but Epstein and Beatles' assistant, Mal Evans, were ordered off, with both believing they would not be allowed back on the plane.[87] Epstein was forced to give the tax authorities £6,800 worth of Philippine peso notes from the Manila shows, and had to sign the tax bond verifying the exchange before being allowed back on the plane.[88]

Epstein added the Vic Lewis Organisation under the control of NEMS in 1966,[81] and later brought impresario Robert Stigwood in as a manager. He offered to sell the control of NEMS to Stigwood, but did not tell any of the group about the decision.[89] McCartney had been taking a much more active interest in NEMS' finances, as the group were becoming aware that some artists with more ruthless managers—such as the Rolling Stones under Allen Klein—claimed to be receiving more commercially advantageous terms. After Epstein's death his brother, Clive, took over the control of NEMS; being the second largest shareholder of the company.[90] Stigwood then tried to take over the management of NEMS, but all four Beatles vehemently opposed him, with Lennon saying, "We don't know you. Why would we do this?"[89]

McCartney admitted that they signed all the contracts Epstein presented to them without reading them first, but when Lennon was asked for a comment about Epstein's business dealings after Epstein’s death, he said, "Well, he was alright. I've found out since, of course, that he wasn't quite as honest to us as he made out". Many other interviews with Lennon report him as being very loyal to Epstein, however, even saying, "We had complete faith in him when he was running us. To us, he was the expert".[91][92] When asked, in 1964, about his own standing as a manager or businessman, Epstein replied, "Fair, as a businessman, fair. I've got a business background, and probably, a reasonable business brain. I'm no, sort of, genius [laughter]." Asked about his defects, Epstein said, "I'm probably too conscious of ideas, rather than finance behind ideas."[93]


Before The Beatles achieved nationwide success in Britain, Epstein had permitted a company (run by his cousins that catered initially to fan club members)[94] to produce Beatles' sweaters for 30 shillings and badges for 6 pence, eventually selling 15,000 sweaters and 50,000 badges as The Beatles' popularity grew.[95] When Beatlemania stormed the UK in November 1963, Epstein was besieged by novelty goods companies wanting to use The Beatles' name on plastic guitars, drums, disc racks, badges, belts and other merchandise. Epstein was adamant that The Beatles would not directly endorse any product, but through NEMS Enterprises he would grant discretionary licences to companies who were able to produce a quality product at a fair price, although many companies were already selling products without a licence.[96]

During the first Beatles' flight to America, Epstein was offered numerous samples of products by merchandisers, including clocks, pens, cigarette lighters, plastic wigs, bracelets, and games, but Epstein rejected all of them. David Jacobs, the lawyer for NEMS, had already given away 90 per cent of merchandising rights to Nicky Byrne in England, which later turned out to be a financial disaster, as that left only 10 per cent for Epstein, NEMS and The Beatles.[97] Byrne took over Epstein's Stramsact merchandising in the UK and set up Seltaeb (Beatles spelled backwards) in the US. While The Beatles were ensconced in the Plaza hotel in New York, Epstein was further besieged by calls and visits from merchandisers, promoters, television commentators, and hustlers—all demanding to talk to him.[98]

Mindful of the number of records the group was selling in America, Capitol Records sent a well-spoken Yorkshire woman, Wendy Hanson, to the Plaza hotel to act as Epstein's secretary, and to filter his calls.[99] Hanson later worked solely with Epstein in his Albemarle Street office, which was separate from the NEMS office.[100] Lennon later said: "On the business end he [Epstein] ripped us off on the Seltaeb thing".[101] McCartney said years later: "He [Epstein] looked to his dad for business advice, and his dad knew how to run a furniture store in Liverpool".[102]


Epstein asked chartered accountant James Trevor Isherwood to set up a company to collect Lennon and McCartney's PRS payments—called Lenmac—which he did on 12 May 1964. When he first visited Epstein's office, Isherwood was surprised to learn that Epstein took 25 per cent of the gross income, and not what he thought was the usual 10 per cent other managers received at that time.[103] All of Epstein's expenses were also deducted from any of his artists' gross income, which meant office rental, staff wages, travel, telephone costs, and entertaining expenses.[104] Before his death, Epstein knew that the renegotiation of his management contract (up for renewal on 30 September 1967), would reduce his management fee from 25 to 10 per cent, and would also mean a larger drop in NEMS income, as The Beatles' concert fees would be taken out of the equation.[105]


The Beatles entered into a publishing agreement with Dick James Music (DJM) who set up a company called Northern Songs. Epstein agreed that James should receive 25 per cent of the shares, and Charles Silver, his financial partner and accountant, should also receive 25%. Lennon and McCartney received 20 per cent each, and Epstein held the remaining 10 per cent.[106] The Beatles' PRS income increased rapidly, and Epstein asked Isherwood to work out a way of avoiding the tax that Lennon and McCartney would have to pay. Isherwood suggested a Stock-market flotation for Northern Songs, and further advised Epstein that Lennon and McCartney should move to houses near his [Isherwood's] in Esher during the flotation, which Lennon, Harrison, and Starr did. Only Epstein and McCartney remained in London.[107]

Promoter and presenter

After moving to London, Epstein rented an office in Monmouth Street in 1965, and later bought the lease of the Saville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.[108][109] He promoted new works by writers such as Arnold Wesker in productions that occasionally fell foul of the Lord Chamberlain by including "obscene" content or nudity. Epstein changed the programme to that of a music venue in 1966, presenting various US acts.[110] On 20 February 1967, Epstein sacked the manager of the theatre, one Michael Bullock, for lowering the safety curtain shortly before the end of a Chuck Berry concert the previous day, which Epstein was watching with Lennon and Starr. Two fans climbed on stage to dance, the curtain came down and they were pushed from the stage. Although Bullock had not given the order, he was held responsible.[111] Epstein was asked to appear on several music-based TV programmes in Britain after the success of The Beatles, and also hosted a regular part of the US TV show Hullabaloo, by filming his appearances in the UK.[52]

Personal life

Throughout Epstein's life he was known to be kind and caring to his family, friends of his family, and business colleagues. When Lennon married Cynthia Powell, on 23 August 1962, Epstein attended the wedding as the best man and paid for their celebration lunch afterwards.[112][113] During Cynthia's pregnancy, Epstein paid for a private room in a hospital and offered the Lennons the sole use of his flat on Falkner Street when they needed somewhere to live. He also agreed to be the godfather to Lennon's son Julian.[114][115]

Sexual orientation

Epstein's homosexuality was not publicly known for some years after his death, although it had been an open secret among his friends and business associates.[29] While Epstein was in the Army, he had a tailor make an officer's uniform for him that he wore when cruising the bars of London, but was arrested one night (for impersonating an officer) at the Army and Navy Club in Piccadilly by the Military Police. Epstein managed to avoid a court martial by agreeing to see an army psychiatrist, who uncovered Epstein's sexuality.[116] He was discharged from the army after 10 months on the medical grounds of being "emotionally and mentally unfit", although Epstein later stated that his first homosexual experience was after he returned to Liverpool.[20][117]

Epstein spent a year studying acting at RADA, but dropped out shortly after his arrest for "persistent importuning" outside a men's public toilet in Swiss Cottage, London.[118] When Epstein first saw The Beatles perform he noticed their stage attire first, saying: "They were rather scruffily dressed, in the nicest possible way, or I should say in the most attractive way: black leather jackets, jeans, long hair of course."[119] McCartney said that when Epstein started to manage The Beatles, they knew that Epstein was homosexual, but did not care, because Epstein encouraged them professionally and offered them access to previously off-limits social circles.[29]

Although Lennon often made sarcastic comments about Epstein's homosexuality to friends and to Epstein personally, nobody outside their closed circle was allowed to comment on it. Ian Sharp, one of Lennon's art school friends, once made a sarcastic remark about Epstein, saying, "Which one of you [The Beatles] does he fancy?" Sharp was sent a letter by Epstein's office within 48 hours that demanded a complete apology.[62] Sharp apologised but was then completely ostracised, and was told by McCartney in a letter to have no contact at all with any of them in the future.[120] Epstein used to go on holiday to places such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, or Manchester at weekends, as the attitude to homosexuals was not as unforgiving as in Liverpool, although there were several gay bars in Liverpool.[118]

In his biography, Best claims that Epstein drove them both to Blackpool one evening, and Epstein declared to Best his "very fond admiration" for him. Epstein is then supposed to have said, "Would you find it embarrassing if I ask you to stay in a hotel overnight?" Best replied that he was not interested, and the two never mentioned it again.[62] There were rumours of a brief sexual encounter between Lennon and Epstein when they both went on a four-day holiday together to Barcelona in April 1963. Lennon always denied the claims, telling Playboy in 1980: "It was never consummated, but we had a pretty intense relationship". Lennon's first wife Cynthia also maintains that Lennon's relationship with Epstein was platonic.[121] A fictionalised account of the Spanish holiday was portrayed in the 1991 film The Hours and Times.[122] Epstein's sexual preferences contrasted sharply with the individual Beatles' tastes, as when they were on tour they would indulge themselves with varied drugs and "sexual orgies", with fans or prostitutes.[123]

In October 1964, Epstein's autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, was published in the UK and later in the US. It was ghost-written by journalist Derek Taylor, who had served as Epstein's assistant that year, then later as the publicist for NEMS from 1968–1970.[52] (Lennon reportedly once quipped that the memoir should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys.)[124] Male homosexual activity was illegal in England and Wales until September 1967 (one month after Epstein's death) when it was decriminalised.[125]

Drug use

Starr, McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Epstein at the preview of A Hard Day’s Night in 1964

After the start of his management career, Epstein started taking stimulants—usually preludin, which was legal at the time—which Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr also took, and had previously taken in Hamburg. He explained his use of the drug as the only way of staying awake at night during numerous concert tours.[126] In 1964, Brown started to notice that Epstein was taking too many pills, because Epstein often had a cough at parties, which Brown knew was Epstein's way of secretly putting pills into his mouth without anyone noticing.[127] McCartney often met Epstein at late-night clubs in London, and remembered that Epstein would often grind his jaws, once saying, "Ugghhh, the pills" to McCartney.[128]

In 1964, after having been introduced to cannabis by Bob Dylan in New York, McCartney remembered Epstein standing in front of a mirror, pointing at himself and repeatedly saying "Jew!", and laughing loudly, which McCartney found hilarious and "very liberating".[129] Epstein later became heavily involved in the 1960s drug scene, and during the four months when the Sgt. Pepper album was being recorded, Epstein spent his time on holiday, or at the Priory Clinic in Putney, where he tried unsuccessfully to curb his drug use. He left the Priory for the party to launch Sgt. Pepper to selected journalists at his house at 24 Chapel Street, but went straight back to the Priory afterwards.[130][131]

Epstein added his name to an advertisement that appeared in The Times on 24 July 1967, which asked for the legalisation of cannabis, the release of all prisoners imprisoned because of possession, and research into marijuana's medical uses. The advertisement was sponsored by a group called Soma and was signed by 65 people, including The Beatles, Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing, 16 doctors, and two members of parliament.[132] Epstein responded to questions about the advertisement by saying, "My opinion is that pot smoking is definitely less harmful than drinking alcohol ... I am not addicted to either, but I have been very drunk and very 'high'."[81] After McCartney's admission on 19 June 1967, of his use of LSD, Epstein defended McCartney to the media, admitting that he had also taken it himself.[133]


On 27 August 1965, The Beatles and Epstein visited Elvis Presley at his house Perugia Way in Los Angeles, California, where Colonel Tom Parker and Joe Esposito set up a roulette wheel and several packs of playing cards. Epstein immediately wanted to play, as he was known for his love of gambling for high stakes.[134] McCartney frequently visited gambling clubs in London, such as Curzon House, Epstein's favourite club,[135] and often saw Epstein gambling there.[128] He once saw Epstein put a Dunhill lighter on the table that was worth £100 (worth approximately £1,300, or $2,500 as of 2009) and then lose it during a game of cards.[136] Epstein would often lose thousands of pounds by playing baccarat or chemin de fer, but would stay at Curzon House the whole evening, eating an expensive meal and drinking fine wines. The club never presented Epstein with a bill, as they knew that he lost so much in their casino.[128]


The Daily Mirror Headline: "EPSTEIN (The Beatle-Making Prince of Pop) DIES AT 32"

A few weeks before his own death, Epstein attended a traditional shiva in Liverpool after his father died, having just come out of the Priory clinic where he had been trying to cure his acute insomnia and his addiction to amphetamines.[137] Epstein made his last visit to a Beatles' recording session on 23 August 1967, at the Chappell Recording Studios on Maddox Street, London.[138]

On 24 August, Epstein asked Brown and Geoffrey Ellis down to Kingsley Hill (approximately 50 miles from his home in Chapel Street) which was Epstein's country home in Warbleton, East Sussex, for the Bank Holiday weekend. After they got there, Epstein decided to drive back to London by himself because an expected group of rent boys he had invited failed to arrive, although they did turn up after Epstein left.[105] Epstein phoned Brown the next day at 5 o'clock in the afternoon from his Chapel Street house in London. Brown thought that Epstein sounded "very groggy", and suggested that Epstein take a train back down to the nearest train station, in Uckfield, instead of driving under the influence of Tuinals. Epstein replied that he would eat something, read his mail and watch Juke Box Jury before phoning Brown to tell him which train to meet. He never called again.[105]

Epstein died of an overdose of Carbitral, a form of barbiturate, or sleeping pill,[105] in his locked bedroom, on 27 August 1967. He was discovered after his butler had knocked on the door, and hearing no response,[139] he asked the housekeeper to call the police.[81] Epstein was found on a single bed, dressed in pajamas, with various correspondence spread over a second single bed close by.[139] At the statutory inquest, his death was officially ruled as accidental, and was probably caused by a gradual buildup of Carbitral in his system, mixed with alcohol.[139] It was revealed that he had taken six Carbitral pills in order to sleep, which was probably usual, but meant that his tolerance was very close to becoming lethal.[105]

The Beatles were in Bangor at the time with the Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor after the August Bank Holiday.[140][141] The stunned Beatles asked the Maharishi for his advice, but he firmly told them that Epstein's death, "being within the direct realm of the physical world, is not important".[142] A concert by Jimi Hendrix at Epstein's Saville Theatre was cancelled out of respect on the evening that he died.[140]

Brown wrote in his memoir, The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles, that he had once found a suicide note written by Epstein and spoke with him directly about it. According to Brown, the note read in part, "This is all too much and I can't take it anymore". Brown had also found a will, in which Epstein left his house and money to his mother and his brother (Brown himself being a small beneficiary). When confronted with the notes, Epstein told Brown that he was grateful Brown had not told anyone, and said that he was sorry he had made Brown worry. He explained that he had simply taken one pill too many and that he had not intended to overdose; promising to be more careful from then on. Brown later wrote that he wondered if he was really doing Epstein a favour by not showing the note to Epstein's doctor, Norman Cowan, who would have stopped prescribing drugs.[143] The coroner, Gavin Thurston, told the Westminster inquest that Epstein's death was caused by an overdose of Carbitral, ruling it an accidental death. The pathologist, Dr. Donald Teare, stated that Epstein had been taking bromide in the form of Carbitral for some time, and that the barbiturate level in Epstein's blood was a "low fatal level".[144]

The Beatles did not attend Epstein's funeral, wishing to give his family privacy by not attracting the media and fans.[62] Epstein was buried in section A grave H12, in the Long Lane Jewish Cemetery, Aintree, Liverpool.[145] The service at the graveside was held by Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, who said, disparagingly, that Epstein was, "a symbol of the malaise of our generation".[146] A few weeks later, on 17 October, all four Beatles attended a memorial service for Epstein at the New London Synagogue in St John's Wood (near Abbey Road studios), which was officiated by Rabbi Louis Jacobs.[62]


Epstein was overlooked when Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr were honoured with the MBE in 1965—Harrison once said that the MBE stood for "Mister Brian Epstein".[147] The Beatles were among the earliest entrants into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Epstein is not in the Hall's "Non-Performer's Section". Martin Lewis—previously Taylor's assistant—created The Official Brian Epstein Website, which includes a petition that Epstein be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[11] Lewis also organised the 1998 re-publication (in the US) of Epstein's 1964 autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise.[11]

McCartney summarised the importance of Epstein when he was interviewed, in 1997, for a BBC documentary about Epstein by stating: "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian".[1][148] In his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Lennon commented that Epstein's death marked the beginning of the end for the group: "I knew that we were in trouble then ... I thought, 'We've fuckin' had it now'".[37][149] Thirty years after Epstein's death, McCartney said, "Brian would really be happy to hear how much we loved him".[62] The first contract between The Beatles and Epstein was auctioned in London in 2008, and was sold for £240,000.[150]

Epstein was asked about the future of The Beatles and, as he termed it, their "fresh, honesty", which the interviewer thought could be "corrupted by time". He replied by saying, "I think they will go in the reverse direction, and become more honest."[151]


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