Brian Epstein: The Man Behind the Beatles

By | Feb 08, 2013
2006 July-August, Arts & Culture

While Epstein had no experience as a band manager, he had the intuition of a natural businessman. He sensed that the appeal the boys possessed had enormous potential. The Beatles were thrilled when he offered his services. He promised to secure higher performance fees for their shows, extricate them from their German record contract and sign them with a British label. The Beatles were particularly impressed when Epstein assured them that he would not interfere with their music. Impatient for success outside Liverpool, it was Lennon who was the first to commit: “Right then, Brian, manage us. Where’s the contract? I’ll sign it.”

Epstein was only six years older than Lennon, the band’s self-styled leader, but to the Beatles, young men from the working class, Epstein was from a different world. The Epstein family was one of the most prominent Jewish families in Liverpool, residing in the genteel suburb of Childwall where, it’s been said, “doors had silver letterboxes and a ding-dong bell would chime and an aproned maid would answer it.” Elegant with his swank accent, Epstein wore pinstriped suits with silk cravats and drove a luxury Zephyr Zodiac. “We thought he was some very posh rich fellow,” Harrison said in the 1995 documentary The Beatles Anthology. To Lennon, “He looked efficient and rich,” and, McCartney: “We were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car.”

Some of their parents weren’t so easily won over. “Olive Johnson, the McCartney family’s close friend, received a call from [Jim] McCartney in a state of some anxiety over his son’s proposed association with a “Jewboy,” according to Philip Norman’s 1981 biography, SHOUT! The Beatles in Their Generation.
Epstein met with each family individually, and soon the parents were as pleased as their sons. “My Dad, when he heard about Brian wanting to manage us, said, ‘This could be a very good thing,’” McCartney said in an interview with producer Debbie Geller for a 1998 BBC documentary called The Brian Epstein Story. “He thought Jewish people were very good with money. This was the common wisdom. Dad thought Brian would be very good for us. He thought Brian was very sensible, very charming. He was right.”

Brian Samuel Epstein was born on September 19, 1934, on Yom Kippur to Harry Epstein and Malkah “Queenie” Hyman. (Malkah means queen in Hebrew.) Two years later, Queenie gave birth to another son, Clive. By all accounts, the Epsteins had a loving home. “It looked in those days that the Epsteins were a golden family, quite like a fairy story,” Harry’s sister Stella Carter once mused.

Harry and Queenie were both children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Harry worked with his father, Isaac, in the family’s I. Epstein & Son. It was a lucrative business and the Epstein house at 197 Queens Drive in Childwall was spacious and comfortable, with a front lawn, a back garden and a garage. Inside there was rich wood paneling, stained glass, two bathrooms and five bedrooms, each with a mezuzah on the doorpost.

Although Harry kept the store open on Saturdays, the Epstein family was observant. “On Friday nights she [Queenie] lit the Sabbath candles and Harry said prayers,” wrote the late Ray Coleman, author of the 1989 biography Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made the Beatles, who interviewed Queenie before her death in 1997. “In the kitchen, the milk and meat dishes were separated, as were the cutlery and crockery. Jewish dietary rules were observed.”

The Epsteins were members of an Orthodox shul—Greenbank Drive Hebrew Congregation—where Brian and Clive attended cheder on Sundays for religious studies and to learn Hebrew. When it was discovered that Epstein had been taught the wrong parsha for his bar mitzvah, he quickly mastered the new one. “He was obviously well educated in Hebrew and Hebrew liturgy,” an uncle told Debbie Geller, who, in 2000, also published In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story, a collection of interviews about Epstein. After the bar mitzvah a reception was held at the house with over 100 guests. As a gift, Harry enrolled Brian as a synagogue member in his own right, and later did the same for Clive.

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