paul sann journalism, letters, writing

  the beatles

              Post Series, September 14-20, 1964

the beatles the beatles beatles
The Intimate Portrait--By Paul Sann, Executive Editor

Tuesday, September 15, 1964

THE LAW in Britain compels the pubs to close between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., but on this particular afternoon in the Spring of 1962 there were four shaggy-haired kids in leather jackets and cowboy boots drinking beer in an oasis called The Old Dive in the heart of Liverpool.
    Dan English, the big, blustery proprietor, was having a spot of whisky at his own favorite corner table with George Harrison, columnist on the biggest provincial newspaper over there, the Liverpool Echo.
    "Ya' know, George," English suddenly said to Harrison, an old friend (the only kind you're supposed to serve in a pub over there during the off hours), "I let those blokes in here every evenin' and I'll be damned if they've ever bought a drop for me barmaid."
    "Why don't you tax the bastards with it, Danny?" said the rotund Harrison, smiling broadly.
    English pushed his chair back, stood up and advanced toward the four boys, Rock and Roll group working at the moment in The Cavern, one of the cellar clubs down Mathew Street.
    "Listen to me, lads," the pub owner said firmly. "Has it ever occurred to anyone of ya' that Sadie here might have a thirst of her own once in a while? She's supposed to be cleanin' up the bar and straightenin' out around here and instead she's waitin' hand and foot on ya'. Don't ya' think it's time you bought her one?"
    There was a whispered conference. Then someone asked Sadie what she'd like and the aging silver-haired barmaid said a bottle of stout would be just fine. Dan English, gleaming, stood by as the boys on the bar stools dug into their skin-tight jeans.
    All the stout cost was a quarter, but those four kids--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, who would soon make way for Ringo Starr--had to chip in to scrape it together.

  *       *       *
before a song called "Love Me Do," which Paul and John dashed off in an idle hour one afternoon, before Ringo's pounding drum beat, before Brian Epstein dug them out of The Cavern--and before they let their neck-length Teddy Boy hairdos grow all the way down to their eyebrows and over the collars of their new four-button Edwardian jackets.
    It's quite different with those blokes now.
    Mr. Epstein's Beatles, filthy rich and picking up another fast million on a month's sweep through 23 American cities and three one-nighters in Canada, don't have to chip in to buy drinks for barmaids anymore. That's why Charles Finley of the Kansas City Athletics had to shake $150,000 out of his jeans to get them to give up a day off this week and sing 10 or 11 songs in his ballyard.
    Finley's first offer, $50,000, wasn't even juicy enough to earn him the courtesy of an answer from the London office of Beatles Ltd. The second, $100,000, did produce enough conversation to get the deal going. The $150,000 price tag--for 30 minutes of toil--is an all-time record for this sort of thing; until now, on their present tour, the rugheads had contented themselves with a flat $25,000 guarantee or 60 per cent of the gate, whichever is higher.
    Even with teen-age girls fainting all over the place before they can get to the arenas, the Beatles have been pocketing the higher figure clear across the country. When they wind up their odyssey here at the Paramount next Sunday night with their $100-top benefit for United Cerebral Palsy and the Retarded Infants' Services, Inc., the gross figures on the tour--counting the gate receipts, concessions, souvenir and record sales--may well look like a quarterly statement from a Liverpool shipping trust.
    And, of course, it won't include all the money spent by the various police departments and the promoters to keep the frenzied fans from either, smothering the Beatles or tearing them apart (there is no existing estimate to tell us what a live Beatle would be worth as a keepsake).
    Now if you're one of those people who are offended when four kids with some electric guitars and a set of drums create this kind of lushly rewarding panic, there are two culprits to look for: John Lennon, who started it, and the aforementioned Brian Epstein, the elegant Briton who got it off the ground.

  *       *       *
Beatlemania were planted, for better or worse, was 1958. It was then that the stripling John, 18 and attending the Liverpool College of Art, met Paul McCartney, who was 16 and specializing in English literature at Liverpool Institute. Both hung up on the guitar, the boys traded their scant musical knowledge and played some small dates as the Nurk Twins (Nurk is slang for the lowest form of life in the Royal Air Force)
    The next year, George Harrison, who had gone to John's primary school (Dovedale) and Paul's high school (Liverpool Institute), but didn't know them because he was younger and behind them in class, was encountered on a bus.
    George also happened to be torturing a guitar, so he was brought in, followed by Pete Best, who had the beginnings of a set of drums. The boys called themselves the Quarrymen Skittle Group, then the Moondogs and then the Moonshiners, shook the creaky stages in some of the Liverpool cellar joints, and finally wangled an engagement in Hamburg, Germany. By then, Stuart Sutcliffe, who played the bass guitar, had joined the group.
    In Hamburg, working in the Kaiserkeller, equally known for its big Rock and Roll beat and its flesh trade, the boys managed to boost themselves all the way up to $45-a week apiece, much more than anybody in Liverpool had ever paid them. "But," Paul remembers, "we couldn't live on it--a cup of foul tea cost a quarter--and our digs, back of a cinema which had no heat and not much of anything else, were shocking."
    There were other problems, naturally. The kids in the leather jackets weren't above such things as taking to the streets to mimic the departed Adolf Hitler (who really wasn't much musically) and otherwise irritating their German hosts. Once George was sent home because he was under age; another time the rest of the boys were ordered out just because somebody set fire to a hotel room they were in.
    Even so, the long Hamburg run established their name and they were able to go back to Liverpool--Sutcliffe, in love with a German girl and more interested in art than music, stayed behind in Germany and died there of a brain ailment--and command a price which amounted to about $10 a night apiece. The money didn't go far because they were usually in hock for their instruments.

  *       *       *
and sweaty cellar battlegrounds as The Cavern, went to see the Beatles in October of 1961 after a record called "My Bonnie," in which they sang the background for a pop singer named Tony Sheridan, had sold a fast 200 copies in the record department he ran in the family's prosperous furniture chain.
    Neither the Beatle sound nor the Beatle look figured to appeal to Epstein, who had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and who really wanted to be a dress designer before finding himself mired down at 26 in the family business, but--
    "They were dead scruffly and untidy in those days and actually it was an environment I wasn't used to, because I was always more interested in classical music, but I liked them enormously. I sensed that something was happening, something terribly exciting . . . there was this amazing 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 theater attractions in the world ...
    "Everything about the Beatles was right for me. They represented the direct uninhibited relationship which I had never felt and felt deprived of. And my own sense of inferiority and frustration vanished because I knew I could help them and they wanted me to and trusted me to."

    And so, in return for 25 percent of everything he could make them, Epstein signed the Beatles. He took them out of their "dead scruffly" clothes and dressed them in that fancy Edwardian gear. He got them to let Pete Best go and find another drummer. He got them a recording contract in London after Decca turned them down ("groups are out," someone had said.) and finally in 1963, such Beatle numbers as "Love Me Do," "Please, Please Me," "She Loves You (Yeh, Yeh, Yeh)" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" were assailing the human ear not only in the Mother Country but even in such far away places as Hong Kong, Cairo, Bangkok, Karachi, Manila and Sydney.
    And, of course, in the colonies across the Atlantic.
    Whether it could have been done without Brian Epstein or without all that hair--or, for that matter, without that sad-faced, lovable drummer boy, little Ringo Starr--may have to be left to history.

TOMORROW: The story of Ringo Starr.


Crime | Culture | Middle East | Sports | The Literary Scene

*       *       *

Home | Birdye | Books | Books Online | Dolly | Galley-Proof | Hamill on Sann | Letters | Memos | Page One
Photographs | Reporting | Sann on Sann | -30- | Tribute | Acknowledgements | Links | Copyright | Contact