When Brian Epstein became manager of the Beatles, his motivation was not dissimilar to that of earlier rock and roll managers such as Larry Parnes or Joe Meek: as a gay businessman, he recognized attractive young men when he saw them, and he reasonably calculated that others too would fall under their spell.
The key difference was that where Parnes and Meek had concentrated on solo acts – Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Heinz – Epstein found himself with a group, and the changed dynamic that resulted was one of the key factors in the subsequent evolution of pop. For where a single impressionable eighteen-year-old could be moulded and shaped by an older father figure, a group, and particularly one containing such wilful characters as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, proved much more resistant to managerial influence, having already established their own peer group relationship over several years of gigging.
So while the Beatles were prepared initially to go along with Epstein’s attempts to conform to existing standards – abandoning their black leather in favour of matching suits, for example – their ability to dig their heels in became rapidly apparent, as in their early rejection of pantomime. By 1966, their attitudes strengthened by mixing with like-minded non-conformists, they were straying still further.
‘We’re more popular than Jesus now,’ announced Lennon; ‘I don’t know which will go first – rock and roll or Christianity.’ The response to his comment was, in some quarters, one of absolute outrage. ‘The Beatles are not welcome in Memphis,’ said the city commission, as public burnings of the band’s records were staged in various southern states, and Epstein hurried to issue a humble apology: ‘the Beatles will not, by word, action or otherwise, in any way offend or ridicule the religious beliefs of anyone throughout their forthcoming concert tour,’ he insisted. ‘John Lennon deeply and sincerely regrets any offence that he might have caused.’
Lennon’s own display of contrition was less convincing; on that final American tour the band was asked about the Vietnam war, and he didn’t seem concerned about causing further controversy: ‘We think of it every day. We don’t like it. We don’t agree with it. We think it’s wrong.’ And again Epstein was distressed by the failure of his charges to follow showbiz etiquette...