Summary and Info
It was the brilliant, troubled Beatles manager Brian Epstein (1934-1967) who plucked Geoffrey Ellis - a boyhood friend from Liverpool - from his job as Assistant Underwriting Manager for an insurance company in New York to become a personal assistant to him and The Beatles at NEMS Enterprises in October 1964. Assisting the supergroup in their administrative affairs (drawing up contracts, doing accountancy work, advising on tax law), Ellis was made Chief Executive in 1965, becoming Co-Director of Dick James Music Ltd after Epstein's tragically premature death.
You would think, given his proximity to The Beatles (and other stars such as Cilla Black and Elton John), that Ellis would be spoilt for choice in terms of what to tell. But instead we get a 250-page narrative that is low on insight and insider news, and big on a rather snobbish attention to who has been made a Lord and who hasn't, and whether the stretch limousine which picked him up from the airport had a TV and a well-stocked minibar (yes, really). Such is Ellis's concentration on conservatism and moral values, that it is hard to imagine on the basis of his account that the swinging sixties saw any sex, drugs and rock n' roll at all. Take, for example the wild, druggy Sergeant Pepper release party attended amongst others by three Beatles, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull ("I was invited of course", Ellis tells us proudly, like a peacock spreading its feathers). Ellis's only anecdote for this evening is: "I went to bed and to sleep quite early...There were twin beds in the bedroom, and I woke to find the late comedian, Kenny Everett, in the other bed. We had no conversation as, by the time I left the house, he had not yet surfaced." It was scenes such as this that led The Times' music journalist Caitlin Moran to call the book "so bad it's good" when it came out in 2004.
Curiously, the only time Ellis seems to allow his narrative to become at all passionate is when he engages in a long vitriol against John Lennon. He seems to hate everything about the man, from "his scorn of the fans, his sharp tongue and his conscious nurturing of his 'working-class hero' image", to his general manner ("too clever for his own good"), and his treatment of his first wife Cynthia ("unkind and eventually beyond a doubt ungenerous"). Even the drawings Lennon did in his art college days when he was still a teenager incur his censure: "His simple line drawings are the work of a very minor talent indeed". Labouring the point, Ellis concludes: "I cannot overcome my distaste for his memory." More problematically, Ellis states that Brian Epstein - who experienced a painful sense of alienation growing up as a Jewish homosexual in upper middle class surroundings in the Liverpool of the 1940s and 1950s - "made problems for himself by his homosexuality", as if his sexual orientation was something he could or should have repressed. Aside from this apparent heterosexism, let us not forget that when Brian was alive, homosexuality was still illegal in England and Wales and was punishable by law. It was only in July 1967 - merely weeks before Epstein died aged 32 of an accidental overdose - that sex between consenting male adults over the age of 21 was decriminalised. Hardly an easy situation for the public Epstein to be in.
On a more affirmative note, Ellis admits that he likes the song 'Yesterday' (finally something positive!). It gets better: "I always found Paul very agreeable, and he can indeed be charming and co-operative". But - and with Geoffrey, there almost always seems to be a 'but' - "he can be waspish, too". Indeed "he had displayed his wilful side when he left the country on holiday when he was needed...".
Over the years some great memoirs and monographs have been written on The Beatles, as individuals, a group and as a phenomenon - Ray Coleman's biographies of John Lennon (1984) and Brian Epstein (1989), for example, or Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head (1994) - but, in my experience at least, this wasn't one of them.
More About the Author
Jeff Ellis (born 1953) is an Australian plant scientist.
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