Friday, June 27, 2008

John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story

by Tony Barrow
Press Officer to the Fab Four

A career-long professional writer and PR consultant, Tony Barrow was The Beatles' Press Officer between 1962 when they issued their first single, 'Love Me Do', and 1968 when they set up their own management company, Apple Corps, in the wake of manager Brian Epstein's death.

Barrow coined The Beatles' nickname of the Fab Four, wrote the sleeve notes for a number of the group's album covers, set up their huge international press conferences, selected their media interviews and fixed up their photo shoots at home and abroad during the touring years, and finally collaborated with Paul McCartney in 1967 to compile the strip-cartoon story booklet that came with The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour recordings. He is one of a tiny handful of surviving eyewitnesses able to write a first-hand account of life within The Beatles' close-knit entourage and the only remaining professional writer from that circle.

Few were closer to The Beatles than Tony Barrow, and this is not merely a biography of the Fab Four, but a unique and vividly personal memoir by a Liverpool-born author who knew John, Paul, George and Ringo as friends throughout the height of their fame.


John Lennon's first words to me were: "If you're not queer and you're not Jewish, why are you coming to work with Brian Epstein?" This was not said confidentially or quietly but in loud and strident tones that rang out around the bar of the Devonshire Arms pub and turned heads at adjacent tables. I replied, weakly, that I hadn't yet agreed to join Epstein's management firm, NEMS Enterprises, which was true but totally avoided the issue of answering Lennon's original question. For the record, I was not queer, not Jewish. I was pro-actively heterosexual and passively Church of England.

This was in November 1962. The Beatles had released their first single, 'Love Me Do', on EMI's Parlophone label a month earlier and I was here in this small central London pub, just off Manchester Square, W1 -- where EMI Records had their head office -- to meet the Liverpool group that Epstein wanted me to come and work with as their PR man. Behind his invitation to meet John, along with Paul, George and the band's recently signed new drummer, Ringo Starr, was the thought that an evening with them in a social setting and plenty of booze would surely give the group an opportunity to decide if they could work with me. I think the fact that all of us came from Liverpool and shared the typical Merseysider's distinctively dry and cynical sense of humour helped to melt the ice. Liverpudlians in exile tend to stick together. Like Masons, it's a survival thing. We also shared a mutual interest in music although, having left Liverpool to live in London several years earlier, I was out of touch with the latest news on the so-called Mersey Beat scene. Our version of first-date small-talk centred on The Beatles telling me what was happening back home at the Cavern, the city's most famous music venue, and about their adventures in Hamburg's clubland where they had spent several seasons, while I talked about life in the London record industry and which acts I had seen recently in concert.

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