This article concerns two points. First, when did Brian Epstein discover the existence of The Beatles? Second, who is Raymond Jones?
Concerning the first point, it is almost certain that, well before October 28, 1961, the date that Raymond Jones legendarily came to Brian Epstein’s NEMS record shop in Whitechapel, Liverpool, inquiring on the availability of the “My Bonnie” single, Brian had already heard about The Beatles. This supposition is inextricably interwoven with the history of Mersey Beat, the biweekly Liverpool music newspaper, published by Bill Harry, that was dedicated to the local beat scene. The first issue of Mersey Beat contained an article by John Lennon, “Being a Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles”1. The second issue featured The Beatles on the cover and, most importantly, a report on their recording session with Tony Sheridan in Germany2. Brian at this exact moment ordered 144 copies of Mersey Beat for his shop, and simultaneously began to write record reviews for that publication, beginning with issue #3 on August 3, 1961, a column entitled “Stop the World – And Listen to Everything In It: Brian Epstein of NEMS”3. Miles wrote, "Brian knew perfectly well who the Beatles were - they were on the front page of the second issue of Mersey Beat, the local music paper. Brian sold twelve dozen copies of this issue, so many that he invited the editor, Bill Harry, into his office for a drink to discuss why it was selling so well and to ask if he could write a record review column for it. He is unlikely to have missed the 'Beatles sign recording contract' banner headline, reporting their session with Tony Sheridan for Bert Kaempfert”4.
Concerning Raymond Jones, there are varying reports on this individual. Let us right off the bat, however, clear the air and say that Raymond Jones was an actual person who really did come to the NEMS record shop to request “My Bonnie”5. However, it would seem to be the case that Jones was enshrined in Brian’s book, A Cellarful of Noise, as a consequence of being memorable in Brian’s mind (for whatever reason) rather than being the first in line at NEMS to inquire after The Beatles6. And though Derek Taylor was ghost-writer for this book7, Brian actually interviewed Jones for that section8.
This brings us to a grave contradiction. For many, including Jones, and Brian in his own book, say that Brian knew nothing of The Beatles until that meeting with Jones, but, knowing the history of Mersey Beat, this seems highly unlikely9. The best extrication from this mess is to say that, sometime in the summer of 1961, Brian first heard about The Beatles when excited fans came to his shop to order a single that was being trumpeted in Mersey Beat #2. Having assured himself that such fans were anomalies, he failed to order “My Bonnie” for his inventory until Raymond Jones became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, that is, caused Brian to finally see in person this band which was making so many waves. For we can assume that mild-mannered and clean-cut Brian was not interested in the beat scene for its aesthetics, but only for its financial potential, and had no desire to be among the scruffy underbelly of club life until he believed that his future lay in that direction.
But, regarding any statements made by Alistair Taylor that he posed as “Raymond Jones” in order to further sales of Beatles records10, these are to be ignored as Taylor grasping at fifteen minutes (or years) of fame, an accusation with which Bob Wooler (who ought to know) concurred11.
Therefore, let us say that at 3pm (per Hunter Davies) on October 28, 1961, Raymond Jones, a 20-year-old printer’s apprentice from Huyton, and a country-and-western buff who Brian knew as an avid Carl Perkins fan12, requested “My Bonnie” from the NEMS record shop, and spurred a bored businessman to follow his destiny, for the rest of the story appears to be true; that is, Brian visited the Cavern on November 9, had his first business meeting with the band on December 3, and made the informal contract between them on December 10.
1 Reported as early as 1968 by Davies, The Beatles, p.105. Mersey Beat article reprinted: here.
2 Fully supported by Bill Harry: here, viz., "The story of this record covered the entire front page of issue No. 2 of Mersey Beat on July 20 1961."
3 Reported as early as 1994 by Wiener, The Ultimate Recording Guide, pp.6-7. Wiener duly noted that not only must we expect Brian to have been aware of The Beatles by this time, but keenly aware due to his ties with Mersey Beat. Wiener added that Bill Harry claimed to have briefed Brian on The Beatles during the summer of 1961, and (citing Lewisohn, 1986) that Brian was selling tickets to Sam Leach’s Operation Big Beat (October 27), tickets which bore prominently the name of the headliner, The Beatles. Bill Harry discusses Brian's column: here, here, and here.
4 Many Years From Now, p.85
6 Supported by Bill Harry: here, viz., “He was just one of several people, including a lot of girls, who asked about the Beatles record in NEMS. There are probably people who came into NEMS asking for the record before Jones did, but their names either weren't taken down, or Brian just picked one of the names to include in his book.”
Quoted from A Cellarful of Noise: “Raymond Jones was one of any average dozen customers who called in daily for unknown discs and there seems now no valid reason why, beyond my normal efforts to satisfy a customer, I should have gone to such lengths to trace the actual recording artistes. But I did and I wonder sometimes whether there is not something mystically magnetic about the name 'Beatle'?... On October 28, Raymond Jones left the store after I had taken a note of his request. I wrote on a pad: ‘My Bonnie. The Beatles. Check on Monday.’”
7 Taylor made this known in Apple to the Core, McCabe & Schonfeld, p.38.
8 Raymond Jones interview: here, viz., “When the Beatles had had a couple of recording under their belt, Brian Epstein was telling his story in a national newspaper. I was livid when he described me in the article as a "scruffy" 18-year-old leather-jacketed youth. I wrote to NEMS to show him my disgust about his remark. In the letter I said not everyone wore suits and that some people had to work for a living. Shortly after that, someone from NEMS wrote to me and asked me to contact Mr. Epstein at his office, which at that time was in Moorfields off Dale Street. When I contacted him, he asked me to call to his office and said he would like to apologise in person. After his somewhat poor apology we both went to Rigby's pub in Dale Street and had a couple of drinks. He was asking me all sorts of questions and taking notes at the same time. He didn't say so but I think he must have been planning the book, A Cellarful Of Noise.”
9 Supported by Bill Harry: here, viz., “Because, in his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise, Epstein came up with the story about Raymond Jones coming into his shop on October 28 1961, this has caused a dilemma for writers trying to explain it. His reviews appeared months before the Raymond Jones incident... The Raymond Jones story is a good punchy 'anecdotal' tale to introduce the book. Yes, without Mersey Beat, Brian would probably have not known or become interested in the Beatles. Back to the dilemma of writers who always put the Jones story as if it was a fact. The only relevance to Raymond Jones in the Beatles story would be if it were true that Brian hadn't heard of the Beatles until the lad asked for the record. As this isn't the fact, what can writers do? They can ignore the factual Mersey Beat story outright or they can make out that although Brian wrote for Mersey Beat, although his NEMS adverts appeared on the same pages as major Beatles articles, he didn't actually read the paper or notice their photograph on the front covers, which is totally ridiculous.”
10 Taylor told The Beatles Book in 1997, “The truth is that we were being asked for ‘My Bonnie’ but no one actually ordered it. Brian would order any record once we had a firm order for it. I thought that we were losing sales and I wrote an order in the book under the name Raymond Jones; and, from that moment, the legend grew.”
11 Raymond Jones interview: here, particularly, “Bob (Wooler) and I were both disgusted with Taylor's claims.”
12 Shout!, pp.140
Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise.