Alistair Taylor was Brian Epstein’s personal assistant at NEMS. He accompanied Brian to the Cavern Club when he met the Beatles for the first time. He then became an integral part of ‘NEMS Enterprises’ and after Brian’s death, General Manager of Apple. His time with the Beatles was only ended when he became one of the victims of Allen Klein. In this interview from 1995, Richard Porter talked to the Beatles ‘Mr Fixit’ at the Heroes of Alma pub, just around he corner from Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles used to drink after recording sessions. Before the interview, Alistair had gone to Abbey Road to be reunited with George Martin for the first time in many years.
What do you remember of your first meeting with the Beatles?
It was on November 9th 1961. He had imported the record by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (really the Beatles) and it had sold like crazy. One day, Brian came in and said ‘Do you remember that record we sold by the Beatles?’ I said ‘Of Course’ and he said, ‘Well, they are playing at the Cavern Club today, at lunchtime, let’s go to lunch and call at the Cavern’.
So we went to the Cavern. Ghastly place. We went in suits, like I’m wearing today, and there were these four ghastly youths up on stage, wearing black leather jeans, black jackets, smoking and drinking, and so loud. Brian and I sat at the back, we only heard 4 or 5 numbers, and they were so charismatic and so exciting. What really struck us was the final number, which Paul announced that they had written. It was ‘Hello Little Girl’. It was a damn good number.
We went to lunch, and Brian asked my what I thought of them, and I said, ‘I thought they were bloody awful but absolutely incredible.’ We talked a bit more, and Brian said ‘I’m thinking of managing them’. I said ‘My god, you’re kidding!’ He said, If I do manage them, would you come in with me? Who do you work for, me or NEMS?’ I said, ‘I work for you’. So he said, ‘If you come with me, I’ll give you two and a half per cent of the Beatles’ earnings’. I replied, ‘I couldn’t possibly accept that Brian’. I had no money to put up and I knew it would be very expensive. I said all I wanted was a better salary and that’s all.
That was my intro into the boys.
In the early days Brian wanted to clean up the Beatles act and put them in suits. Do you remember any friction about this?
Not at all – although it has often been said. I was surprised when John Lennon said about this in his ‘Rolling Stone’ interview. However, at that point, if Brian had said jump off the Liver Building into a bucket of custard, and you will have a hit record, they would have done it. It’s all very well resenting it in hindsight, but at the time they were more than happy.
You went to work for Pye for about a year and came back to your first taste of ‘Beatlemania’. What do remember about that day?
I had been back with Brian for about a week, and Brian said, ‘I’ve just spoken to the boys, and they’re thrilled you’re back with us. They’re playing at the East Ham Granada on Saturday night and will you go along because they’d love to see you again.
At the end of the show, they asked me back with them. They had a flat in Green Street at the time. I didn’t know what was going on, and when they closed with ‘Twist and Shout’ they had the limo by the stage door. I got in the front of the car, and Ringo got his foot stuck in the door. There were about 3,000 people lining the route and I could see the line of policeman breaking. Finally, we got Ringo in the car and it shot off and I saw the line had broken, and wondered what I’d let myself into. It was quite a terrifying experience and we hurtled into Green Street with a police car in front, and another behind. I got used to it very quickly though.
Tell us how you one deputised for John Lennon at an awards ceremony.
Brian had forgotten about it and it was about 10 o’clock in the morning of the ceremony. I rang John, but he refused to go, so then I rang Paul. He was living with the Asher’s and Mrs Asher answered the phone and said they’d been out late the night before, and she could not disturb him. So I rang back a while later and she said she wouldn’t wake Paul. I said it was urgent and I’d take the blame if Paul made a fuss. Paul was the PR man, and I explained the situation, and he asked what time we were due, and I said 5 minutes ago. He told me to pick him up about 20 minutes later. When I arrived he was waiting and looking totally immaculate, shaved, great suit etc. We hurtles down to the Savoy Hotel and took him to the door and said I would arrange to pick him up afterwards. However, he said I was to come in with him, and if I didn’t, he wouldn’t go in either. So I agreed. Everyone in pop was there. There were three empty seats at the top table. I saw Dick James at another table and said I would sit there. But Paul insisted I sit at the top table. I walked up and sat down and everyone was wondering who I was. David Frost gave us a life home in his Merc.
How did you get the nickname ‘Mr Fixit’?
The boys by now could not walk down the street like you and I can. So I became the person who went to get them a packet of fags or whatever. I got the reputation for doing the impossible, things that the Beatles or Brian thought could not be done.
Was Apple really set up for tax reasons?
Brian Epstein didn’t want to know about Apple. The Beatles had vast bank accounts and were advised to reduce the tax burden. We had to submit plans of how to invest this money so we could save three of four shillings in the pound – which of course with their money was a substantial amount. So we set up what was laughingly called ‘the executive board’ to plan how to invest this money. I was on the board along with Neil Aspinall and Pete Shotton, and we just kicked around plans and ideas. The first real idea was to open a chain of greetings card shops. They are now on every street corner, but they were unheard of in those days. So we finally thought this was a good idea and we put it to the Beatles. They just sat there for a moment, and then John said, ‘What a f****g boring idea. We had been weeks on this so one of us asked them to come up with something better. So that’s how ‘Apple’ as it became, evolved from that meeting. Really the whole thing was crazy, but it was their money.
How did Brian Epstein die?
Accidental overdose. He was on two particular tablets, and one was building up in his stomach and one passing through, and that particular night, he took two tablets instead of one.The number of times I’ve had to say to people, no, he did not commit suicide. Apart from me, the only people that we there were the doctor and Joanne Newfield, Brian’s PA. I was with the doctor when we smashed the door down. On the bed was a plate of chocolate digestive biscuits and by the side of the bed was a half empty bottle of bitter lemon. There was no booze around and one the side table were about six of seven bottles of tablets, all had plenty of pills in them and had their lids screwed on. My argument is that if you are going to commit suicide, you don’t take a few pills and take the trouble to screw the lids back on. I’ve read stories ’til I’m blue in the face about how a suicide note was found. I’m the guy that was in the room, and there wasn’t one.
How did the ‘This Man has Talent’ ad come about?
Paul stopped by my flat in Montagu Place, which was an ‘Apple’ flat. He said, ‘I’ve got this great idea. We are going to put an ad in NME to get some tapes of music into Apple’. Finally we hit on this idea of a one man band. We wanted a straight guy in a bowler hat. Paul looked at me and said ‘Well, we’ve got a straight guy, do you have a bowler hat?’ It just so happened I did. We went down to Soho to hire a one man band and did the photo session. I was miming and it wasn’t working, so Paul said, ‘Sing a Beatles song’ So I tried that and he said ‘Forget that!’ – it was a disaster area. So in the end, that picture is of me singing ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ – badly.
Was ‘Apple’ really as chaotic as people said it was – was it ‘The Longest Cocktail Party?
Yes, that was a wonderful book, incredible. I had nothing to do with music, and certainly not the Beatles, for years, and I went to America, and someone showed the book to me. I just flipped through it and read bits, and just laughed and laughed. It was brilliant.
Tell us about your adventures at High Park, Paul’s farm.
No-one in the office knew that Paul had bought the farm. Then one day he came in and asked if I would go up for the weekend. I It had a clapped out old farmhouse that Paul wanted to knock down and wanted me to find a suitable spot to build a new one. So I went up and plodded around and realised the Scots aren’t stupid because the current location was the only place to build a farmhouse. It was windy even on a calm day. I took some photos and came back and told Paul it was the only place. Paul asked what it was like and after I showed him the photos he thought it was great and said let’s go up. So myself, Jane and Paul flew up. He said he wanted it to be spartan and asked me to organise some second hand furniture. We then built furniture ourselves, and found some potato boxes and asked me to go into town and buy some nails and things and we built a settee and some bedside cabinets.
We flew Martha up, and she was as good as gold. A car met us at the airport and we were driving along. Martha is an old English Sheep Dog, but had lived in London, never been in the country, and never seen a sheep. We turned up the lane to the farm and into a field of sheep, and Martha went spare. We had the window half open and she had her head half way out the window.
What is your abiding memory of Apple?
I was trying to run a sensible business and in a way I shpt myself in the foot again, after turning down the 2.5%. I was getting exasperated as money was flowing out like there was no tomorrow. I managed to get the four lads together and said we need a top business man here. So off they went and three of them got Allen Klein and I was sacked – end of Beatle career. For about 15 years after I was sacked I didn’t want to know about pop music and sold more of my Beatles records.
I believe you had a reunion with Paul McCartney recently?
I went to the ‘Let it Be Liverpool’ concert, which was a bit sensational. To hear 25,000 people on the banks of the Mersey singing ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was an unbelievable memory.
I know Geoff Baker, Paul’s publicist, and he said I should come back and meet him. However, it was too late to organise passes and all the business and so I just went up to the gate and asked for Geoff Baker. The girl came back and said here are two tickets. I asked whether they would get me backstage and she said they were just for the concert. I told her that Geoff Baker was going to organise it for me to meet Paul. I had to explain who I was, and she went off again. There were other people trying to do the same and she came back and out these badges on us. I had a gold one and they got red ones. There were two marquees, one saying ‘press and VIPs and one for family. I just followed the others to the press tent and the girl said ‘No, Mr, Taylor, you go to the other one.’ By now time was running out and there was no sign of Paul but I saw Linda and followed her and there was Paul surrounded by a big circle of people with chains on, like Mayors. I stood at the back and I saw Paul’s eyes flick around, he’s always done that, and he suddenly say me and everybody stopped. I didn’t know what to expect and just walked forward and put out my hand and said ‘Hi fella’. He said ‘Come here’ and there were big hugs and commented on our grey hair, who had the most. It was nice. He said to one of his aides to get hold of my address, but I haven’t heard from him from that day. It is very sad. But it was nice while it lasted.
Note from Richard Porter: I got to know Alistair very well during the 80s and 90s. I even guided some Beatles tours of London with him. One day we went to 24 Chapel Street, where Brian Epstein lived, and died. It was the first time Alistair had been back since that sad day in August 1967, and Alistair was very moved.
Alistair passed away in 2004, and is much missed by all Beatles fans.
Abbey Road, Apple, Beatles, Brian Epstein, George Harrison, John Lennon, London, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr