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Episode
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The Tragic Life Of Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles

Feb 22, 2022
Arts & Culture
-
19
minutes

He was called "The Fifth Beatle", and was credited by many for turning four boys from Liverpool into a global sensation.

Yet behind the scenes, his life was filled with internal conflict and resulted in his death at only 32 years old.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles.

[00:00:31] If I asked you to name the members of The Beatles, I imagine you could do it. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star.

[00:00:41] But there was another member, a man Paul McCartney called “the fifth Beatle”, and his name was Brian Epstein.

[00:00:51] The reason you may not have heard of him is because he didn’t play guitar or sing. 

[00:00:56] He wasn’t up there on stage with them. And when you see any pictures of The Beatles, there are four of them, not five.

[00:01:06] But Brian Epstein played a hugely important role in the most famous rock & roll band in history, and we are going to tell that story today. 

[00:01:16] From his early life to how he discovered the Beatles, how he changed their image and set them on course for success, but how his life was mired in tragedy, and how it all came to a crashing end when he was only 32 years old.

[00:01:34] It is a sad but amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:40] OK then, The Tragic Life Of Brian Epstein.

[00:01:45] Brian Samuel Epstein was born in 1934, the first-born son of a middle-class Jewish family in Liverpool, in the north-west of England.

[00:01:57] Epstein had a relatively privileged childhood, attending good schools and living in a good area of the city. His father wanted him to take on the family business, a furniture business that his grandfather had founded, which his father had expanded later into a record store.

[00:02:18] And Brian Epstein might well have lived a happy, semi-anonymous life, had he not been working in his family’s record store at 3pm on Saturday, October the 28th of 1961.

[00:02:33] An eighteen-year-old boy walked into the store and came up to Epstein. 

[00:02:39] He said “There’s a record I want. It’s “My Bonnie” and it was made in Germany. Have you got it?”

[00:02:48] The record store Epstein was managing was one of the most popular in Liverpool. They had thousands of records, and people flocked to the store from all over the north of England to buy music.

[00:03:01] But the store didn’t have “My Bonnie”, or at least Epstein didn’t think they had it.

[00:03:08] “Who is the record by?”, he asked the boy.

[00:03:12] “You won’t have heard of them. It’s by a group called ‘The Beatles’”.

[00:03:16] But Epstein had heard of The Beatles. 

[00:03:19] He wasn’t just the manager of a family record store. He was starting to make a name for himself in the music business, and had recently started writing a music column in a local magazine.

[00:03:33] So he had his ear to the ground when it came to up and coming groups, and he had heard mentions of a group of young men called The Beatles.

[00:03:44] The Beatles had formed a year earlier, in 1960, but had not seen great success. They had toured clubs in Liverpool, and spent three and a half months playing clubs in Hamburg, in Germany.

[00:04:00] But they were far from the Beatles that you might think of. 

[00:04:05] They tended to wear black leather, and their hair was long and messy. They played cover songs, they played other bands' music, and they didn’t have any songs of their own.

[00:04:18] But they were starting to get better known, and the fact that a young man came into the store and asked Epstein for that record specifically, well, it piqued his interest, he wanted to find out more.

[00:04:34] He saw that the band was scheduled to play a concert the following Thursday. It was a lunchtime concert at a club within walking distance from the record store, so Epstein decided to use his lunch break to go along and check it out for himself.

[00:04:53] What he saw was the scruffy, untidy group of young men dressed in leather. But he sensed that there was something there, there was star potential.

[00:05:05] He later said, "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".

[00:05:24] He decided that he wanted to become their manager, and spent the next couple of months trying to convince the band to accept.

[00:05:34] The first time that Epstein actually proposed managing the band, all four of them were late.

[00:05:42] John Lennon, George Harrison and the previous drummer, Pete Best were at the pub. When they finally arrived Epstein was there, but Paul McCartney wasn’t. 

[00:05:55] George Harrison told Epstein that McCartney was late because he was in the bath, explaining that “he may be late but he’ll be very clean”.

[00:06:06] It took another month for everything to be finalised, but on January 24th of 1962 Brian Epstein officially became The Beatles’ manager, entitling himself to 10 to 15% of their income.

[00:06:22] The thing was though, that Epstein had no experience managing a band, he had never done this before.

[00:06:30] He impressed The Beatles because he was a bit older than them - he was 27 and the oldest member of The Beatles, John Lennon, was only 21. 

[00:06:40] What's more, he drove a nice car, he wore nice suits, and he was the manager of one of the biggest and most prestigious record stores in Liverpool, the band’s home city.

[00:06:53] The Beatles, on the other hand, came from a very different background, they came from a working class background.

[00:07:01] John Lennon, who actually had the most middle-class upbringing of the four of them, later said, “Epstein looked efficient and rich,” while McCartney admitted “we were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car.”

[00:07:17] He was also Jewish. 

[00:07:19] Although Jewish people still faced significant anti-Semitism in most aspects of life, and Epstein had been regularly bullied as a child for his Jewish faith, reportedly the fact that Epstein was Jewish was helpful with winning over the Beatles.

[00:07:37] This was because of a stereotype Paul McCartney’s father had told his son that Jewish people were good with money, and therefore they should trust Epstein.

[00:07:48] So, because of all of this, Epstein was made manager.

[00:07:52] His first move as the band's manager was to tidy up their image. 

[00:07:58] Gone were the leather jackets, replaced by smart suits and ties.

[00:08:04] Gone was the long hair, with the young men all now cleanly shaven and with tidy, short haircuts.

[00:08:12] They now bowed on stage, and they stopped smoking, eating and drinking during performances.

[00:08:19] They became a respectable, tidy group of polite young men.

[00:08:25] The group’s fortunes soon started to change. 

[00:08:29] Epstein’s reputation as a manager of an important record store opened doors for them, and he got them meetings with record labels.

[00:08:38] They were signed to the record label Parlophone in June of 1962, they started recording their first album in early 1963, from which almost immediate national, then global, success followed.

[00:08:53] Now, this episode isn’t about The Beatles per se, it’s about Epstein, so we will skip over the ins and outs of The Beatles’ career. Much of it, I’m sure, is already familiar to you.

[00:09:07] They toured Europe, North America, Australia and East Asia. The band was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere they went, so much so that there was even a word for this: Beatlemania.

[00:09:21] To state the obvious, they were the biggest, most famous, most influential and best known band in the world.

[00:09:29] And Epstein was the glue that kept them together, the man behind the scenes, organising tours, TV appearances, negotiating business arrangements, and so on.

[00:09:41] He was known as incredibly efficient, hard-working, trustworthy, and he made everything run smoothly.

[00:09:49] But Epstein had a secret, or at least a secret that the band knew about but was something that was closely guarded and hidden to the outside world. He was gay, which was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom until 1967. 

[00:10:08] And Epstein throughout his life had, like no doubt the majority of gay men at the time, suffered terribly with trying to live a double life, trying to pretend that he was something that he was not.

[00:10:22] His sexual orientation had got him in trouble from an early age. In 1952, at the age of 18, he had been conscripted into military service, and stationed in a base in London.

[00:10:37] He had always taken great pride in his appearance, he liked to dress well, and the clothes provided by the army were, well, they didn’t quite meet his standards.

[00:10:50] So, he got his own suit made, which looked much more like an officer’s suit than a private’s. 

[00:10:57] And when he had a free evening, an evening off, he would wear this fancy suit and go to bars to meet men.

[00:11:07] One evening, though, he was stopped by the police when he was returning back to his barracks. He was wearing what appeared to be an officer’s uniform but he wasn’t an officer. 

[00:11:20] It was actually a crime to impersonate an officer, to pretend to be an officer, and he was almost kicked out of the army. 

[00:11:29] He only managed to avoid this by agreeing to see a psychiatrist, after which he was kicked out of the army for being “emotionally and mentally unfit”, which was code for “gay”.

[00:11:44] Now, none of this mattered to The Beatles, as of course it shouldn’t have.

[00:11:49] They joked about Epstein’s sexuality, joking that he fancied them and he wanted to be their manager as a way of getting closer to them. But they were all incredibly fond of him.

[00:12:02] And there were actually persistent rumours that Epstein had some sort of sexual relationship with John Lennon during a holiday they went on to Barcelona, but Lennon denied this, saying "Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated... but we did have a pretty intense relationship."

[00:12:25] Epstein’s double life continued to weigh on him

[00:12:29] He started taking more and more drugs, and became more out of control than the boys six years his junior that he was supposed to be in charge of.

[00:12:40] He took stimulants, smoked marijuana, and took cocaine and heroin. 

[00:12:46] While The Beatles were experimenting with drugs and drinking heavily, they seemed to know when to stop, but Epstein didn’t. 

[00:12:55] He was spiraling out of control.

[00:12:58] He was also a voracious gambler. He had been growing rich off the Beatles’ success, but he was known to lose money as fast as he made it, and was known to lose tens of thousands of pounds in a single evening. 

[00:13:15] When the Beatles famously met Elvis Presley in 1965, Elvis’s manager, another unusual character called Colonel Tom Parker, reportedly set up a roulette wheel and Epstein immediately started gambling.

[00:13:32] To anyone who didn’t know what was going on in Epstein’s life, it might have seemed like he was on top of the world

[00:13:39] There he was, the thirty-something manager of the most famous band in the world, immaculately dressed, always on time, looking the part, and arranging for his band to fly all over the world and be mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:13:56] Yet beneath the surface, he was in great emotional pain.

[00:14:01] It got even worse when The Beatles stopped touring, when they stopped going on tour, in 1966. 

[00:14:10] Epstein’s talent and strength had been to keep things together when the band was on the road, and when they paused to focus on writing new material and recording, well he didn’t have so much to do.

[00:14:25] Epstein’s destructive cycle continued, and it only ended when he was found dead in his flat on August 27th of 1967, aged just 32 years old.

[00:14:40] He had accidentally overdosed on a drug called Carbrital, which he had been taking to help him get to sleep. There were suicide notes found in his room, but they had been dated from several weeks before, and were hidden inside a book. 

[00:14:57] It seems like Epstein had considered killing himself at least twice, and had gone so far as to write two different suicide letters, but had decided against it. And his death was ruled accidental.

[00:15:13] The Beatles were, as you would expect, rocked by the news of his death, and the group officially broke up three years later.

[00:15:22] Although there were plenty of reasons for the group to split, the unexpected death of their manager, the “fifth Beatle”, was an important one.

[00:15:32] Indeed, John Lennon later said, "I knew that we were in trouble then... I thought, 'We've f****** had it now.'"

[00:15:41] Epstein had lived in the Beatles’ shadow, he had managed all of their affairs, negotiated all of their commercial contracts and done all of the management so that John, Paul, George and Ringo were able to focus on what they did best: the music. 

[00:15:58] With Epstein no longer there, there was this gaping hole

[00:16:03] The group did, of course, end up getting another manager, Allen Klein, but it was not a happy relationship, it was nothing compared to the bond that they had had with Brian Epstein, a man they affectionately referred to as “Mr Epstein”.

[00:16:20] He was, by all accounts, a kind, generous, and loving man. 

[00:16:26] But he was driven to despair by the cruel laws of the time, which prohibited him from being the man he really was.

[00:16:35] And although he had never done it before, he was clearly a talented band manager. He found four untidy young men in a dark Liverpool club and turned them into the most famous band on the planet.

[00:16:51] You might think that The Beatles might have had just as much success, if not more, had they never met Brian Epstein. 

[00:16:59] You might be right.

[00:17:00] But the people who were there, who certainly know more than me and I imagine also more than you, definitely thought that the group owed a considerable part of their success to him.

[00:17:13] Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife, said that they wouldn’t have got anywhere without Brian.

[00:17:20] And when Paul McCartney was asked about him in a 1997 documentary, he summed up Epstein’s importance for the group, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian."

[00:17:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles

[00:17:42] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:46] If you’re a Beatles fan, then perhaps you knew about the importance of Epstein already. 

[00:17:51] And if you had never heard of him before today, well, then you'll know about the man behind The Beatles.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:01] How important do you think Brian Epstein was in the success of The Beatles? 

[00:18:06] What would have happened if they hadn’t changed their image? 

[00:18:10] How would their music have changed, if at all?

[00:18:13] Without Brian Epstein, would The Beatles as we know them even have existed?

[00:18:18] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:22] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles.

[00:00:31] If I asked you to name the members of The Beatles, I imagine you could do it. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star.

[00:00:41] But there was another member, a man Paul McCartney called “the fifth Beatle”, and his name was Brian Epstein.

[00:00:51] The reason you may not have heard of him is because he didn’t play guitar or sing. 

[00:00:56] He wasn’t up there on stage with them. And when you see any pictures of The Beatles, there are four of them, not five.

[00:01:06] But Brian Epstein played a hugely important role in the most famous rock & roll band in history, and we are going to tell that story today. 

[00:01:16] From his early life to how he discovered the Beatles, how he changed their image and set them on course for success, but how his life was mired in tragedy, and how it all came to a crashing end when he was only 32 years old.

[00:01:34] It is a sad but amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:40] OK then, The Tragic Life Of Brian Epstein.

[00:01:45] Brian Samuel Epstein was born in 1934, the first-born son of a middle-class Jewish family in Liverpool, in the north-west of England.

[00:01:57] Epstein had a relatively privileged childhood, attending good schools and living in a good area of the city. His father wanted him to take on the family business, a furniture business that his grandfather had founded, which his father had expanded later into a record store.

[00:02:18] And Brian Epstein might well have lived a happy, semi-anonymous life, had he not been working in his family’s record store at 3pm on Saturday, October the 28th of 1961.

[00:02:33] An eighteen-year-old boy walked into the store and came up to Epstein. 

[00:02:39] He said “There’s a record I want. It’s “My Bonnie” and it was made in Germany. Have you got it?”

[00:02:48] The record store Epstein was managing was one of the most popular in Liverpool. They had thousands of records, and people flocked to the store from all over the north of England to buy music.

[00:03:01] But the store didn’t have “My Bonnie”, or at least Epstein didn’t think they had it.

[00:03:08] “Who is the record by?”, he asked the boy.

[00:03:12] “You won’t have heard of them. It’s by a group called ‘The Beatles’”.

[00:03:16] But Epstein had heard of The Beatles. 

[00:03:19] He wasn’t just the manager of a family record store. He was starting to make a name for himself in the music business, and had recently started writing a music column in a local magazine.

[00:03:33] So he had his ear to the ground when it came to up and coming groups, and he had heard mentions of a group of young men called The Beatles.

[00:03:44] The Beatles had formed a year earlier, in 1960, but had not seen great success. They had toured clubs in Liverpool, and spent three and a half months playing clubs in Hamburg, in Germany.

[00:04:00] But they were far from the Beatles that you might think of. 

[00:04:05] They tended to wear black leather, and their hair was long and messy. They played cover songs, they played other bands' music, and they didn’t have any songs of their own.

[00:04:18] But they were starting to get better known, and the fact that a young man came into the store and asked Epstein for that record specifically, well, it piqued his interest, he wanted to find out more.

[00:04:34] He saw that the band was scheduled to play a concert the following Thursday. It was a lunchtime concert at a club within walking distance from the record store, so Epstein decided to use his lunch break to go along and check it out for himself.

[00:04:53] What he saw was the scruffy, untidy group of young men dressed in leather. But he sensed that there was something there, there was star potential.

[00:05:05] He later said, "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".

[00:05:24] He decided that he wanted to become their manager, and spent the next couple of months trying to convince the band to accept.

[00:05:34] The first time that Epstein actually proposed managing the band, all four of them were late.

[00:05:42] John Lennon, George Harrison and the previous drummer, Pete Best were at the pub. When they finally arrived Epstein was there, but Paul McCartney wasn’t. 

[00:05:55] George Harrison told Epstein that McCartney was late because he was in the bath, explaining that “he may be late but he’ll be very clean”.

[00:06:06] It took another month for everything to be finalised, but on January 24th of 1962 Brian Epstein officially became The Beatles’ manager, entitling himself to 10 to 15% of their income.

[00:06:22] The thing was though, that Epstein had no experience managing a band, he had never done this before.

[00:06:30] He impressed The Beatles because he was a bit older than them - he was 27 and the oldest member of The Beatles, John Lennon, was only 21. 

[00:06:40] What's more, he drove a nice car, he wore nice suits, and he was the manager of one of the biggest and most prestigious record stores in Liverpool, the band’s home city.

[00:06:53] The Beatles, on the other hand, came from a very different background, they came from a working class background.

[00:07:01] John Lennon, who actually had the most middle-class upbringing of the four of them, later said, “Epstein looked efficient and rich,” while McCartney admitted “we were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car.”

[00:07:17] He was also Jewish. 

[00:07:19] Although Jewish people still faced significant anti-Semitism in most aspects of life, and Epstein had been regularly bullied as a child for his Jewish faith, reportedly the fact that Epstein was Jewish was helpful with winning over the Beatles.

[00:07:37] This was because of a stereotype Paul McCartney’s father had told his son that Jewish people were good with money, and therefore they should trust Epstein.

[00:07:48] So, because of all of this, Epstein was made manager.

[00:07:52] His first move as the band's manager was to tidy up their image. 

[00:07:58] Gone were the leather jackets, replaced by smart suits and ties.

[00:08:04] Gone was the long hair, with the young men all now cleanly shaven and with tidy, short haircuts.

[00:08:12] They now bowed on stage, and they stopped smoking, eating and drinking during performances.

[00:08:19] They became a respectable, tidy group of polite young men.

[00:08:25] The group’s fortunes soon started to change. 

[00:08:29] Epstein’s reputation as a manager of an important record store opened doors for them, and he got them meetings with record labels.

[00:08:38] They were signed to the record label Parlophone in June of 1962, they started recording their first album in early 1963, from which almost immediate national, then global, success followed.

[00:08:53] Now, this episode isn’t about The Beatles per se, it’s about Epstein, so we will skip over the ins and outs of The Beatles’ career. Much of it, I’m sure, is already familiar to you.

[00:09:07] They toured Europe, North America, Australia and East Asia. The band was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere they went, so much so that there was even a word for this: Beatlemania.

[00:09:21] To state the obvious, they were the biggest, most famous, most influential and best known band in the world.

[00:09:29] And Epstein was the glue that kept them together, the man behind the scenes, organising tours, TV appearances, negotiating business arrangements, and so on.

[00:09:41] He was known as incredibly efficient, hard-working, trustworthy, and he made everything run smoothly.

[00:09:49] But Epstein had a secret, or at least a secret that the band knew about but was something that was closely guarded and hidden to the outside world. He was gay, which was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom until 1967. 

[00:10:08] And Epstein throughout his life had, like no doubt the majority of gay men at the time, suffered terribly with trying to live a double life, trying to pretend that he was something that he was not.

[00:10:22] His sexual orientation had got him in trouble from an early age. In 1952, at the age of 18, he had been conscripted into military service, and stationed in a base in London.

[00:10:37] He had always taken great pride in his appearance, he liked to dress well, and the clothes provided by the army were, well, they didn’t quite meet his standards.

[00:10:50] So, he got his own suit made, which looked much more like an officer’s suit than a private’s. 

[00:10:57] And when he had a free evening, an evening off, he would wear this fancy suit and go to bars to meet men.

[00:11:07] One evening, though, he was stopped by the police when he was returning back to his barracks. He was wearing what appeared to be an officer’s uniform but he wasn’t an officer. 

[00:11:20] It was actually a crime to impersonate an officer, to pretend to be an officer, and he was almost kicked out of the army. 

[00:11:29] He only managed to avoid this by agreeing to see a psychiatrist, after which he was kicked out of the army for being “emotionally and mentally unfit”, which was code for “gay”.

[00:11:44] Now, none of this mattered to The Beatles, as of course it shouldn’t have.

[00:11:49] They joked about Epstein’s sexuality, joking that he fancied them and he wanted to be their manager as a way of getting closer to them. But they were all incredibly fond of him.

[00:12:02] And there were actually persistent rumours that Epstein had some sort of sexual relationship with John Lennon during a holiday they went on to Barcelona, but Lennon denied this, saying "Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated... but we did have a pretty intense relationship."

[00:12:25] Epstein’s double life continued to weigh on him

[00:12:29] He started taking more and more drugs, and became more out of control than the boys six years his junior that he was supposed to be in charge of.

[00:12:40] He took stimulants, smoked marijuana, and took cocaine and heroin. 

[00:12:46] While The Beatles were experimenting with drugs and drinking heavily, they seemed to know when to stop, but Epstein didn’t. 

[00:12:55] He was spiraling out of control.

[00:12:58] He was also a voracious gambler. He had been growing rich off the Beatles’ success, but he was known to lose money as fast as he made it, and was known to lose tens of thousands of pounds in a single evening. 

[00:13:15] When the Beatles famously met Elvis Presley in 1965, Elvis’s manager, another unusual character called Colonel Tom Parker, reportedly set up a roulette wheel and Epstein immediately started gambling.

[00:13:32] To anyone who didn’t know what was going on in Epstein’s life, it might have seemed like he was on top of the world

[00:13:39] There he was, the thirty-something manager of the most famous band in the world, immaculately dressed, always on time, looking the part, and arranging for his band to fly all over the world and be mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:13:56] Yet beneath the surface, he was in great emotional pain.

[00:14:01] It got even worse when The Beatles stopped touring, when they stopped going on tour, in 1966. 

[00:14:10] Epstein’s talent and strength had been to keep things together when the band was on the road, and when they paused to focus on writing new material and recording, well he didn’t have so much to do.

[00:14:25] Epstein’s destructive cycle continued, and it only ended when he was found dead in his flat on August 27th of 1967, aged just 32 years old.

[00:14:40] He had accidentally overdosed on a drug called Carbrital, which he had been taking to help him get to sleep. There were suicide notes found in his room, but they had been dated from several weeks before, and were hidden inside a book. 

[00:14:57] It seems like Epstein had considered killing himself at least twice, and had gone so far as to write two different suicide letters, but had decided against it. And his death was ruled accidental.

[00:15:13] The Beatles were, as you would expect, rocked by the news of his death, and the group officially broke up three years later.

[00:15:22] Although there were plenty of reasons for the group to split, the unexpected death of their manager, the “fifth Beatle”, was an important one.

[00:15:32] Indeed, John Lennon later said, "I knew that we were in trouble then... I thought, 'We've f****** had it now.'"

[00:15:41] Epstein had lived in the Beatles’ shadow, he had managed all of their affairs, negotiated all of their commercial contracts and done all of the management so that John, Paul, George and Ringo were able to focus on what they did best: the music. 

[00:15:58] With Epstein no longer there, there was this gaping hole

[00:16:03] The group did, of course, end up getting another manager, Allen Klein, but it was not a happy relationship, it was nothing compared to the bond that they had had with Brian Epstein, a man they affectionately referred to as “Mr Epstein”.

[00:16:20] He was, by all accounts, a kind, generous, and loving man. 

[00:16:26] But he was driven to despair by the cruel laws of the time, which prohibited him from being the man he really was.

[00:16:35] And although he had never done it before, he was clearly a talented band manager. He found four untidy young men in a dark Liverpool club and turned them into the most famous band on the planet.

[00:16:51] You might think that The Beatles might have had just as much success, if not more, had they never met Brian Epstein. 

[00:16:59] You might be right.

[00:17:00] But the people who were there, who certainly know more than me and I imagine also more than you, definitely thought that the group owed a considerable part of their success to him.

[00:17:13] Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife, said that they wouldn’t have got anywhere without Brian.

[00:17:20] And when Paul McCartney was asked about him in a 1997 documentary, he summed up Epstein’s importance for the group, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian."

[00:17:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles

[00:17:42] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:46] If you’re a Beatles fan, then perhaps you knew about the importance of Epstein already. 

[00:17:51] And if you had never heard of him before today, well, then you'll know about the man behind The Beatles.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:01] How important do you think Brian Epstein was in the success of The Beatles? 

[00:18:06] What would have happened if they hadn’t changed their image? 

[00:18:10] How would their music have changed, if at all?

[00:18:13] Without Brian Epstein, would The Beatles as we know them even have existed?

[00:18:18] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:22] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles.

[00:00:31] If I asked you to name the members of The Beatles, I imagine you could do it. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star.

[00:00:41] But there was another member, a man Paul McCartney called “the fifth Beatle”, and his name was Brian Epstein.

[00:00:51] The reason you may not have heard of him is because he didn’t play guitar or sing. 

[00:00:56] He wasn’t up there on stage with them. And when you see any pictures of The Beatles, there are four of them, not five.

[00:01:06] But Brian Epstein played a hugely important role in the most famous rock & roll band in history, and we are going to tell that story today. 

[00:01:16] From his early life to how he discovered the Beatles, how he changed their image and set them on course for success, but how his life was mired in tragedy, and how it all came to a crashing end when he was only 32 years old.

[00:01:34] It is a sad but amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:40] OK then, The Tragic Life Of Brian Epstein.

[00:01:45] Brian Samuel Epstein was born in 1934, the first-born son of a middle-class Jewish family in Liverpool, in the north-west of England.

[00:01:57] Epstein had a relatively privileged childhood, attending good schools and living in a good area of the city. His father wanted him to take on the family business, a furniture business that his grandfather had founded, which his father had expanded later into a record store.

[00:02:18] And Brian Epstein might well have lived a happy, semi-anonymous life, had he not been working in his family’s record store at 3pm on Saturday, October the 28th of 1961.

[00:02:33] An eighteen-year-old boy walked into the store and came up to Epstein. 

[00:02:39] He said “There’s a record I want. It’s “My Bonnie” and it was made in Germany. Have you got it?”

[00:02:48] The record store Epstein was managing was one of the most popular in Liverpool. They had thousands of records, and people flocked to the store from all over the north of England to buy music.

[00:03:01] But the store didn’t have “My Bonnie”, or at least Epstein didn’t think they had it.

[00:03:08] “Who is the record by?”, he asked the boy.

[00:03:12] “You won’t have heard of them. It’s by a group called ‘The Beatles’”.

[00:03:16] But Epstein had heard of The Beatles. 

[00:03:19] He wasn’t just the manager of a family record store. He was starting to make a name for himself in the music business, and had recently started writing a music column in a local magazine.

[00:03:33] So he had his ear to the ground when it came to up and coming groups, and he had heard mentions of a group of young men called The Beatles.

[00:03:44] The Beatles had formed a year earlier, in 1960, but had not seen great success. They had toured clubs in Liverpool, and spent three and a half months playing clubs in Hamburg, in Germany.

[00:04:00] But they were far from the Beatles that you might think of. 

[00:04:05] They tended to wear black leather, and their hair was long and messy. They played cover songs, they played other bands' music, and they didn’t have any songs of their own.

[00:04:18] But they were starting to get better known, and the fact that a young man came into the store and asked Epstein for that record specifically, well, it piqued his interest, he wanted to find out more.

[00:04:34] He saw that the band was scheduled to play a concert the following Thursday. It was a lunchtime concert at a club within walking distance from the record store, so Epstein decided to use his lunch break to go along and check it out for himself.

[00:04:53] What he saw was the scruffy, untidy group of young men dressed in leather. But he sensed that there was something there, there was star potential.

[00:05:05] He later said, "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".

[00:05:24] He decided that he wanted to become their manager, and spent the next couple of months trying to convince the band to accept.

[00:05:34] The first time that Epstein actually proposed managing the band, all four of them were late.

[00:05:42] John Lennon, George Harrison and the previous drummer, Pete Best were at the pub. When they finally arrived Epstein was there, but Paul McCartney wasn’t. 

[00:05:55] George Harrison told Epstein that McCartney was late because he was in the bath, explaining that “he may be late but he’ll be very clean”.

[00:06:06] It took another month for everything to be finalised, but on January 24th of 1962 Brian Epstein officially became The Beatles’ manager, entitling himself to 10 to 15% of their income.

[00:06:22] The thing was though, that Epstein had no experience managing a band, he had never done this before.

[00:06:30] He impressed The Beatles because he was a bit older than them - he was 27 and the oldest member of The Beatles, John Lennon, was only 21. 

[00:06:40] What's more, he drove a nice car, he wore nice suits, and he was the manager of one of the biggest and most prestigious record stores in Liverpool, the band’s home city.

[00:06:53] The Beatles, on the other hand, came from a very different background, they came from a working class background.

[00:07:01] John Lennon, who actually had the most middle-class upbringing of the four of them, later said, “Epstein looked efficient and rich,” while McCartney admitted “we were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car.”

[00:07:17] He was also Jewish. 

[00:07:19] Although Jewish people still faced significant anti-Semitism in most aspects of life, and Epstein had been regularly bullied as a child for his Jewish faith, reportedly the fact that Epstein was Jewish was helpful with winning over the Beatles.

[00:07:37] This was because of a stereotype Paul McCartney’s father had told his son that Jewish people were good with money, and therefore they should trust Epstein.

[00:07:48] So, because of all of this, Epstein was made manager.

[00:07:52] His first move as the band's manager was to tidy up their image. 

[00:07:58] Gone were the leather jackets, replaced by smart suits and ties.

[00:08:04] Gone was the long hair, with the young men all now cleanly shaven and with tidy, short haircuts.

[00:08:12] They now bowed on stage, and they stopped smoking, eating and drinking during performances.

[00:08:19] They became a respectable, tidy group of polite young men.

[00:08:25] The group’s fortunes soon started to change. 

[00:08:29] Epstein’s reputation as a manager of an important record store opened doors for them, and he got them meetings with record labels.

[00:08:38] They were signed to the record label Parlophone in June of 1962, they started recording their first album in early 1963, from which almost immediate national, then global, success followed.

[00:08:53] Now, this episode isn’t about The Beatles per se, it’s about Epstein, so we will skip over the ins and outs of The Beatles’ career. Much of it, I’m sure, is already familiar to you.

[00:09:07] They toured Europe, North America, Australia and East Asia. The band was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere they went, so much so that there was even a word for this: Beatlemania.

[00:09:21] To state the obvious, they were the biggest, most famous, most influential and best known band in the world.

[00:09:29] And Epstein was the glue that kept them together, the man behind the scenes, organising tours, TV appearances, negotiating business arrangements, and so on.

[00:09:41] He was known as incredibly efficient, hard-working, trustworthy, and he made everything run smoothly.

[00:09:49] But Epstein had a secret, or at least a secret that the band knew about but was something that was closely guarded and hidden to the outside world. He was gay, which was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom until 1967. 

[00:10:08] And Epstein throughout his life had, like no doubt the majority of gay men at the time, suffered terribly with trying to live a double life, trying to pretend that he was something that he was not.

[00:10:22] His sexual orientation had got him in trouble from an early age. In 1952, at the age of 18, he had been conscripted into military service, and stationed in a base in London.

[00:10:37] He had always taken great pride in his appearance, he liked to dress well, and the clothes provided by the army were, well, they didn’t quite meet his standards.

[00:10:50] So, he got his own suit made, which looked much more like an officer’s suit than a private’s. 

[00:10:57] And when he had a free evening, an evening off, he would wear this fancy suit and go to bars to meet men.

[00:11:07] One evening, though, he was stopped by the police when he was returning back to his barracks. He was wearing what appeared to be an officer’s uniform but he wasn’t an officer. 

[00:11:20] It was actually a crime to impersonate an officer, to pretend to be an officer, and he was almost kicked out of the army. 

[00:11:29] He only managed to avoid this by agreeing to see a psychiatrist, after which he was kicked out of the army for being “emotionally and mentally unfit”, which was code for “gay”.

[00:11:44] Now, none of this mattered to The Beatles, as of course it shouldn’t have.

[00:11:49] They joked about Epstein’s sexuality, joking that he fancied them and he wanted to be their manager as a way of getting closer to them. But they were all incredibly fond of him.

[00:12:02] And there were actually persistent rumours that Epstein had some sort of sexual relationship with John Lennon during a holiday they went on to Barcelona, but Lennon denied this, saying "Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated... but we did have a pretty intense relationship."

[00:12:25] Epstein’s double life continued to weigh on him

[00:12:29] He started taking more and more drugs, and became more out of control than the boys six years his junior that he was supposed to be in charge of.

[00:12:40] He took stimulants, smoked marijuana, and took cocaine and heroin. 

[00:12:46] While The Beatles were experimenting with drugs and drinking heavily, they seemed to know when to stop, but Epstein didn’t. 

[00:12:55] He was spiraling out of control.

[00:12:58] He was also a voracious gambler. He had been growing rich off the Beatles’ success, but he was known to lose money as fast as he made it, and was known to lose tens of thousands of pounds in a single evening. 

[00:13:15] When the Beatles famously met Elvis Presley in 1965, Elvis’s manager, another unusual character called Colonel Tom Parker, reportedly set up a roulette wheel and Epstein immediately started gambling.

[00:13:32] To anyone who didn’t know what was going on in Epstein’s life, it might have seemed like he was on top of the world

[00:13:39] There he was, the thirty-something manager of the most famous band in the world, immaculately dressed, always on time, looking the part, and arranging for his band to fly all over the world and be mobbed by adoring fans.

[00:13:56] Yet beneath the surface, he was in great emotional pain.

[00:14:01] It got even worse when The Beatles stopped touring, when they stopped going on tour, in 1966. 

[00:14:10] Epstein’s talent and strength had been to keep things together when the band was on the road, and when they paused to focus on writing new material and recording, well he didn’t have so much to do.

[00:14:25] Epstein’s destructive cycle continued, and it only ended when he was found dead in his flat on August 27th of 1967, aged just 32 years old.

[00:14:40] He had accidentally overdosed on a drug called Carbrital, which he had been taking to help him get to sleep. There were suicide notes found in his room, but they had been dated from several weeks before, and were hidden inside a book. 

[00:14:57] It seems like Epstein had considered killing himself at least twice, and had gone so far as to write two different suicide letters, but had decided against it. And his death was ruled accidental.

[00:15:13] The Beatles were, as you would expect, rocked by the news of his death, and the group officially broke up three years later.

[00:15:22] Although there were plenty of reasons for the group to split, the unexpected death of their manager, the “fifth Beatle”, was an important one.

[00:15:32] Indeed, John Lennon later said, "I knew that we were in trouble then... I thought, 'We've f****** had it now.'"

[00:15:41] Epstein had lived in the Beatles’ shadow, he had managed all of their affairs, negotiated all of their commercial contracts and done all of the management so that John, Paul, George and Ringo were able to focus on what they did best: the music. 

[00:15:58] With Epstein no longer there, there was this gaping hole

[00:16:03] The group did, of course, end up getting another manager, Allen Klein, but it was not a happy relationship, it was nothing compared to the bond that they had had with Brian Epstein, a man they affectionately referred to as “Mr Epstein”.

[00:16:20] He was, by all accounts, a kind, generous, and loving man. 

[00:16:26] But he was driven to despair by the cruel laws of the time, which prohibited him from being the man he really was.

[00:16:35] And although he had never done it before, he was clearly a talented band manager. He found four untidy young men in a dark Liverpool club and turned them into the most famous band on the planet.

[00:16:51] You might think that The Beatles might have had just as much success, if not more, had they never met Brian Epstein. 

[00:16:59] You might be right.

[00:17:00] But the people who were there, who certainly know more than me and I imagine also more than you, definitely thought that the group owed a considerable part of their success to him.

[00:17:13] Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife, said that they wouldn’t have got anywhere without Brian.

[00:17:20] And when Paul McCartney was asked about him in a 1997 documentary, he summed up Epstein’s importance for the group, "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian."

[00:17:35] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Brian Epstein - The Man Who Discovered The Beatles

[00:17:42] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:46] If you’re a Beatles fan, then perhaps you knew about the importance of Epstein already. 

[00:17:51] And if you had never heard of him before today, well, then you'll know about the man behind The Beatles.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:01] How important do you think Brian Epstein was in the success of The Beatles? 

[00:18:06] What would have happened if they hadn’t changed their image? 

[00:18:10] How would their music have changed, if at all?

[00:18:13] Without Brian Epstein, would The Beatles as we know them even have existed?

[00:18:18] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:22] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]