Brian Samuel Epstein (19 September 1934 – 27 August 1967) was the manager of The Beatles. Through his family's company, NEMS (North End Music Stores) he also managed several other musical artists such as Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and Cilla Black.
The Beatles recorded a demo in Decca's studios—paid for by Epstein—which he later persuaded George Martin to listen to, as Decca were not interested in signing The Beatles. Epstein was then offered a contract (after Martin had auditioned the group) by EMI's small Parlophone label, even though they had previously been rejected by almost every other British record company.
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. Paul McCartney said of Epstein: "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian."
Epstein was born into a Jewish family in Rodney Street, Liverpool, England. Epstein's grandfather, Isaac Epstein, was from Hodan, Lithuania (which was part of Russia at that time) and arrived in England in the 1890s, at the age of eighteen. His grandmother, Dinah, was the daughter of Joseph and Esther Hyman, who emigirated (from either Poland or Russia) to England (circa 1870) with their eldest son, Jacob. The Hymans had six more children.
Isaac Epstein married Dinah Hyman in Manchester, in 1900. 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. Dinah and Isaac's third son was Harry Epstein; the father of Brian Epstein. 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. 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.
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. Harry and Queenie also had another son, Clive, who was born 22 months after Epstein's birth. During WWII the Epsteins moved to Southport to escape The Blitz—where two schools expelled Epstein for laziness and poor performance—but returned to Liverpool in 1945. The Epsteins lived at 197 Queens Drive, Childwall, in Liverpool, and stayed there for 30 years. After his parents had moved him from one boarding school to another, the 14-year-old Epstein spent two years at Wrekin College, in Shropshire. Shortly before his sixteenth birthday in 1950, 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. On a £5 per week wage, selling furniture was not what Epstein wanted, but he was congratulated by his family on the first day of work after selling a £12 dining room table to a woman who originally wanted to buy a mirror.
In December 1951, Epstein was drafted—as a 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. After returning to Liverpool Epstein was put in charge of Clarendon Furnishing shop in Hoylake, and in 1955, at the age of twenty-one, was made a director of NEMS. In September of 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 department store clerk until he had earned enough money to buy a train ticket back to Liverpool. Back in Liverpool, he confessed "everything" (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. 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. Back in Liverpool, Harry Epstein put his son in charge of the record department of the newly-opened NEMS music store on Great Charlotte Street. 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. 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. On 3 August 1961, Epstein started a regular music column in the Mersey Beat magazine, called, 'Record Releases, by Brian Epstein of NEMS'.
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 Mersey Beat magazine at NEMS). (The Beatles were featured on the front page of Mersey Beat's second issue). 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. Epstein's version of the story was that a customer, Raymond Jones, walked into the NEMS shop and asked Epstein for the "My Bonnie" single, which made Epstein curious about the group. Taylor later claimed that he used the name of Jones (a regular customer) to order the single and and paid the deposit himself, knowing that Epstein would notice it, and order further copies.
The Beatles were due to perform a lunchtime concert in the Cavern Club (a dark, damp, and dirty basement) on 9 November 1961, not far from the NEMS store. Epstein asked Bill Harry to arrange for Epstein and his assistant Taylor to watch The Beatles perform, and 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. Epstein later talked about the performance: After the performance, Epstein and Taylor went into the dressing room—which was "as big as a broom cupboard"—to talk to them. The Beatles immediately recognised Epstein—as they were regular customers at NEMS—but before Epstein could congratulate them on their performance, George Harrison said, "And what brings Mr. Epstein here?"
The Beatles played at the Cavern over the next three weeks, and Epstein was always there to watch them. Epstein contacted their previous manager, Allan Williams, to confirm that Williams no longer had any ties to them, but Williams advised Epstein "not to touch them with a barge pole". In a meeting with the group at NEMS on 10 December 1961, he proposed the idea of managing them. The Beatles signed a five-year contract with Epstein on 24 January 1962. Epstein had told his mother and father that managing The Beatles was only a part-time occupation, and would never interfere with the family business.
Although Epstein had had no prior experience of artist management, he had a strong influence on their early dress-code and attitude on stage. 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. McCartney was the first to agree with Epstein's ideas, believing it was—in part—due to Epstein's RADA training. Lennon was against the idea of suits and ties, but later said, "Yeah, man, all right, I'll wear a suit. I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me". 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]. The Beatles later found out that Epstein had paid Decca producer Tony Meehan (ex-drummer of the Shadows) to produce the studio recordings. 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. White could not contact EMI's fourth staff producer (George Martin) as he was on holiday.
On 8 February 1962, Epstein visited a HMV store in Oxford Street, London, to have the Decca audition tape transferred to disc. A HMV technician named Jim Foy liked the recordings, and suggested that Epstein should contact Parlophone's George Martin. 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. Martin later explained that Epstein's enthusiasm and conviction that one day The Beatles would become internationally famous convinced him to sign them. 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 Pete Best. When the news came that Martin wanted to replace Best on their recordings with a session drummer, John Lennon, McCartney and Harrison asked Epstein to fire Best from the band. Epstein agonised about the decision, and asked Bob Wooler if it was a good idea, to which Wooler replied that Best was very popular with the fans and they wouldn't like it at all. Ringo 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.
The Beatles toured the Philippines in July 1966, but Epstein unintentionally snubbed the nation's first lady, Imelda Marcos, when presented with an invitation to a breakfast party. Epstein politely declined on behalf of the group, as it had been their policy never to accept such official invitations. The Beatles and their entourage were ejected from their hotel the same day and were given a police escort to the airport. They boarded the plane to fly home, but Epstein and Mal Evans were ordered off, with both believing they would not be allowed back on the plane. Epstein was forced to give back most of the money that they had earned in the Philippines before being allowed back on the plane.
Before Epstein's death, McCartney had been taking a much more active interest in NEMS' finances, and the group was 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, Stigwood wanted to take over the management of NEMS—believing that he was the "natural successor"—but Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr all vehemently opposed him, with Lennon saying, "We don't know you. Why would we do this?"
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"—although many other interviews with Lennon report him as being very loyal to Epstein, and even saying, "We had complete faith in him when he was running us. To us, he was the expert".
The Beatles all signed Epstein's first management contract, but Epstein did not sign it himself, thereby giving himself the option of withdrawing at any time, although he told his Taylor the opposite by saying, "Well, if they ever want to tear it up, they can hold me but I can't hold them". The contract was not legally binding on McCartney and Harrison in any case, as they were both still minors (the age of majority at that time was 21) and lacked the legal capacity to sign a binding contract. The contract stated that Epstein would receive a management commission of 25 percent of their gross income after a certain threshold had been reached. 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. Epstein once offered the individual Beatles a fixed wage of £50-a-week for life, instead of receiving money from record sales. Harrison commented 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 as a whole declined Epstein's offer, as they thought that they were worth much more than £50-a-week. After the release of Love Me Do in 1962, Epstein signed a second (and legally binding) contract.
The Beatles' recording contract that EMI offered Epstein gave them one penny for each record sold, which was split amongst 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. Martin said later that EMI had "nothing to lose" by signing a contract with them.
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. 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. 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 other artists.
During the first Beatles' flight to America Epstein was offered numerous samples of products by merchandisers—who required a licence from Epstein to be allowed to sell them—including clocks, pens, plastic wigs, bracelets, and games, but Epstein rejected all of them. David Jacobs, the lawyer for NEMS, had already given away 90% of merchandising rights to Nicky Byrne in England, which later turned out to be a financial disaster, as that left only 10% for Epstein, NEMS and The Beatles. Byrne took over Epstein's Stramsact merchandising in the UK and set up Seltaeb (Beatles spelt backwards) in the USA. 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. Mindful of the number of records the group were selling in America, Capitol records sent a well-spoken Yorkshire girl, Wendy Hanson, to the Plaza hotel to act as Epstein's secretary, and to filter his calls. Hanson later worked solely with Epstein in his Albemarle Street office, which was separate from the NEMS office.
Epstein asked James Trevor Isherwood (a Chartered Accountant) 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% of the gross income, and not what he thought was the usual 10% that other managers received at that time. 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. 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 per cent 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.
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 per cent. Lennon and McCartney received 20 per cent each, and Epstein held the remaining 10 per cent. 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—with only Epstein and McCartney remaining in London.
After moving to London Epstein rented an office in Monmouth Street—close to Seven Dials—in 1965, and later leased the Saville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. He promoted new works by writers such as Arnold Wesker in productions that occasionally fell afoul of the Lord Chamberlain by including "obscene" content or nudity. Epstein changed the programme to that of a music venue in 1966, presenting various U.S. acts. 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. Lennon later said: "On the business end he [Epstein] ripped us off on the Seltaeb thing." 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."
Epstein was gay, which was not publicly known until a long time after his death, although it was an open secret among his friends and business associates.
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 on Piccadilly by the Military Police. Epstein managed to avoid a court martial by agreeing to see an army psychiatrist, who uncovered Epstein's homosexuality. He was discharged from the army after ten 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.
Whilst Epstein was studying acting at RADA, he was arrested for "persistent importuning", and was later blackmailed by an ex-Guardsman, Billy Connolly. Throughout the later court case against Connolly, Epstein was referred to as "Mr. X", as the law allowed anonymity at that time. McCartney said that he and the others knew that Epstein was homosexual, but they did not care, because Epstein greatly encouraged them when record companies turned them down, and used to take them to late-night drinking clubs, to which they had previously never had access. 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 forty-eight hours that demanded a complete apology. 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. 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 bars for homosexuals in Liverpool, such as the Magic Clock, which was opposite the Royal Court Theatre. The male waiters there used female singers' names and dressed in wigs, skirts, and wore makeup.
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. There were rumours of a brief sexual encounter between Lennon and Epstein when they both went on a four-day holiday together to Barcelona, Spain 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. A fictionalised account of the Spanish holiday was portrayed in the 1991 film The Hours and Times. Lennon's friend and confidant, Peter Shotton, claimed in his book, The Beatles, Lennon and Me, that under provocation from Epstein, Lennon did partly give in: "I let him toss me off, and that was it." Biographer Hunter Davies also recalled Lennon telling him he had consented to an encounter "to see what it was like". Writer Albert Goldman expanded on both claims in his The Lives of John Lennon, alleging a longtime affair between the two men. Lennon later wrote You've Got to Hide Your Love Away about Epstein.
Epstein's strongest relationship with a woman was with singer Alma Cogan, who was also Jewish and a part of the old-fashioned world of show business. Epstein always bought her presents when he was abroad, and even took her to Liverpool to meet his parents. Despite Epstein's preference for male company, some of his friends believed they would eventually get married. Cogan died of ovarian cancer on 26 October 1966, aged 34.
In October 1964, Epstein's autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise, was published in the UK and later in the U.S. It was co-written by journalist Derek Taylor, who had served as Epstein's assistant that year, then later as the publicist for NEMS from 1968-1970. (Lennon reportedly once quipped that the memoir should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys). Male homosexual relations were illegal throughout the UK until September 1967 (only one month after Epstein's death) when gay male sexuality was legalised in England and Wales (remaining illegal in Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1980 and 1982, respectively).
After the start of his management career, Epstein started taking amphetamines—usually Preludin, which was legal at that 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. 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. McCartney often met Epstein at late-night clubs in London, and remembered that Epstein would often grind his jaws, and once said, "Ugghhh, the pills..." to McCartney.
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". 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, London, 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. 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.
A few weeks before his own death, Epstein attended a traditional shiva in Liverpool after his father passed away, having just come out of the Priory clinic where he had been trying to cure his acute insomnia and his addiction to amphetamines. Epstein's last visit to a Beatles' recording session was on 23 August 1967, at the Chappell Recording Studios on Maddox Street, London.
On Thursday 24 August, Epstein asked Brown and Geoffrey Ellis down to Kingsley Hall (44.5 miles from his home in Chapel Street) which was Epstein's country home in Uckfield, 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. 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 Kingsley Hall 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.
Epstein died of a drug overdose on 27 August 1967. The Beatles were in Bangor at the time, having a meeting with the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor after the August Bank Holiday. A concert by Jimi Hendrix at the Saville Theatre (which Epstein leased) was cancelled out of respect on the same day that Epstein died. At the statutory inquest, his death was officially ruled accidental, probably caused by a gradual buildup of Carbitral in his system, mixed with alcohol. It was revealed that he had taken six Carbitral pills in order to sleep, which was probably usual for Epstein, but meant that his tolerance was very close to becoming lethal.
Peter Brown claimed 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." A short will and testament followed, in which Epstein left his house and money to his mother and his brother (Brown himself was a small beneficiary). When confronted with the note, Epstein told Brown that he was grateful Brown had not told anyone about it, and told him that he was sorry he had made Brown worry. He explained that he had simply taken one pill too many and that he did not intend to overdose and promised 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 for Epstein. The Beatles did not attend Epstein's funeral, wishing to give his family privacy by not attracting the media and fans. A few weeks later, however, all four attended a memorial service for Epstein at the New London Synagogue in St. John's Wood (near the Abbey Road studios) which was officiated by Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who said that Epstein was "a symbol of the malaise of our generation". Epstein is buried in the Kirkdale Jewish Cemetery in Liverpool (section A grave H12). The coroner, Gavin Thurston, told the Westminster inquest that Epstein's death was caused by an overdose of Carbitral, and ruled it as an Accidental Death. The pathologist, Dr. Donald Teare, said 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".
Epstein was overlooked when Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr were honoured with the MBE in 1965 (Harrison (or McCartney) once said that the MBE stood for "Mister Brian Epstein"). 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. Lewis also organized the 1998 re-publication (in the U.S.) of Epstein's 1964 autobiography, A Cellarful of Noise. 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." In his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, John 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". 30 years after Epstein's death, McCartney said, "Brian would really be happy to hear how much we loved him." The first contract between The Beatles and Epstein was auctioned in London in 2008, and was sold for £240,000.