Failing at the name game. What I told Brian Epstein


In journalism, the opportunities to screw up are legion enough. But when you are young, keen, bubbling over with self-belief and working for Variety amid hype and hoopla, additional tripwires abound.

My first booboo, I recall, happened in about 1962, some six months or so after joining Variety’s London office as a reporter. My beat included a faded and feeble music industry much given to emulation of the US scene and peopled with artists whose names were more powerful than their voices.

There was Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Duffy Power, Tommy Steel and a dozen other acts bearing macho monikers. Such beefcake labelling seemed to be the requirement of publicists and songpluggers who figured their jobs would be made easier if people could actually remember the names of the talent they were touting.

Sadly, I bought into this notion that superhero-style surnames actually mattered. So when the telephone rang one day and Brian Epstein (who?) was calling from Liverpool (where?) to ask for some advice, I felt ready to give it.

Epstein wanted to know if I, as Variety’s London music correspondent, had any ideas on how he could break in the U.S. an act he was managing. He was looking for a recording contract for a four-man group who sung close harmony in rock ‘n roll style.

“What are they called?” I asked.

“The Silver Beetles,” Epstein replied.

Pointing out that the most popular British singer of the time was called Cliff Richard, and he like all the other charting artists of the day was a solo act, I knowingly advised: “You gotta change that! They will never make it with a name like Beetles!”

If I had known they spelled it Beatles, I doubt I would have approved – being 23 years old and oh-so-showbizwise!