Alistair Taylor

'Mr Fix-It' to the Beatles

Both the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein called Alistair Taylor "Mr Fix-It" as he would go out of his way to solve their problems. No matter was too big or small for him and he would mastermind their getaways from a theatre or buy property on their behalf. "Alistair Taylor was a wonderful no 2," recalls Tony Barrow, who was the Beatles' press officer:

James Alistair Taylor, businessman: born Runcorn, Cheshire 21 June 1935; married 1959 Lesley Gillibrand; died Chesterfield, Derbyshire 9 June 2004.

Both the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein called Alistair Taylor "Mr Fix-It" as he would go out of his way to solve their problems. No matter was too big or small for him and he would mastermind their getaways from a theatre or buy property on their behalf. "Alistair Taylor was a wonderful no 2," recalls Tony Barrow, who was the Beatles' press officer:

I don't think he ever had ambitions to be a no 1, but he was meticulous, reliable and very, very loyal. Brian Epstein made great use of him in all sorts of ways and Alistair didn't mind that. He was regularly fired by Brian Epstein, as we all were, but he was happy to be rehired the following day.

Alistair Taylor was born in Runcorn, Cheshire, in 1934 and had a succession of jobs on leaving school. He moved to London to work for John Lewis but he lifted a heavy package and slipped a disc. He was in plaster for eight months and lost his job without compensation. Whilst living in Battersea, he met his wife, Lesley, and they were married on Christmas Eve 1959.

Taylor returned to Liverpool to work for a timber importer. He considered it a dead-end job and wanted to get back into retailing. He answered an advertisement for NEMS record store in the centre of Liverpool. Brian Epstein was impressed by his enthusiasm and his knowledge of jazz (which he would put to good use) and made him a personal assistant for £10 a week. Taylor recalled,

When he predicted that Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" was going to be a monster hit, I said, "Brian, it's wonderful but that sort of record doesn't sell here." He ordered 200 and he bet me a gin and tonic that we would sell them in a couple of weeks. I ended up buying that gin and tonic, and pop management's gain was record retailing's greatest loss.

Unlike other retailers, Epstein would order any record for his customers. When a lad called Raymond Jones asked him for "My Bonnie" by the Beatles, Taylor imported copies from Germany. Epstein was intrigued to find that the Beatles were a local group and he and Taylor set off to see them at the Cavern on 9 November 1961. Taylor told me,

It was a lunchtime session and we looked out of place in our white shirts and dark business suits. I recognised the Beatles from their visits to NEMS, although I don't remember them buying many records. The Beatles were playing rock'n'roll songs, but we were particularly impressed that they included some originals. The one that sticks in my mind is "Hello Little Girl".

Despite parental opposition, Brian Epstein set up NEMS Enterprises. The lawyers drew up a management contract for the Beatles and, even though Alistair Taylor supposedly witnessed the signatures, Epstein did not sign the document. Taylor wanted to stay with Epstein but his wife's asthma was aggravated by living in Liverpool, so he took up a position with Pye Records. He attended to Sammy Davis Jnr's needs when he came to London and organised his recording sessions. Meanwhile, the Beatles were making their mark and Epstein told Taylor he was moving to London and offered him the post of general manager of NEMS Enterprises at £1,000 a year.

Taylor enjoyed working with the Beatles and all the other artists in NEMS Enterprises, but he was a puritanical figure when it came to their habits. "I had seen what drugs had done to a lot of the jazz musicians I loved," he said,

so I was never keen when the Beatles were indulging themselves. John Lennon spent months trying to persuade me to go on an LSD trip with him. He would say, "Al, it's marvellous and we will be with you, so don't worry about it" but I wasn't even tempted.

He did, however, accede to Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees's request to go to a strip club in Soho:

He wanted to go and I kept hoping that no one would recognise him. Someone did come up and say, "Aren't you Maurice Gibb?" but he replied, "Everybody says so. I wish I didn't look like him."

At Taylor's instigation, NEMS signed up the folk group the Silkie. He asked the Beatles to assist with their single "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" which was a Top Ten hit in America. He also managed the Moody Blues, albeit in their most unproductive period. Epstein thought Taylor would be a good tour manager for the new supergroup Cream.

I took Cream on their first trip to America. It was the most amazing week I have ever spent because they hated each other's guts and would spark one another off all the time. Eric Clapton would play a great break and you could see Jack Bruce thinking, "OK, I can top that", and then Ginger Baker would be knocking 10 tons out of his drum-kit. Although I had seen friction in the Beatles, I never witnessed a direct row between John and Paul, so this was mind-blowing.

In 1967 Mr Fix-It had his biggest challenge when he resolved the various copyrights for the photographs of famous faces on Peter Blake's cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In that year, Epstein died and Taylor was convinced it was accidental as they had just been planning a UK tour for the Four Tops.

When the Beatles set up their Apple organisation in 1968, Taylor was invited to be the general manager. Paul McCartney arranged for him to be photographed as a one-man band and this was used in the advertising campaign to encourage audition tapes. Taylor enjoyed the good life with the Beatles, going to Greece with them, and often found himself in the group's inner sanctum:

Paul sat me at his old hand-carved harmonium. He told me to hit any note on the keyboard and he'd do the same. Whenever he said a word, I was to say the opposite, and, from all this, he would compose a melody. The words were things like black and white, and stop and start. A short while later he arrived at the office with a demo of their latest single, "Hello Goodbye".

Largely because there was no control on spending and almost any crazy scheme was financed, Apple ran into difficulties. Allen Klein came over from America to sort things out. One day Taylor was recalled from lunch to find he was at the top of a list of people to be sacked.

Taylor did not remain in the business and he and his wife managed a tea-room in Derbyshire. He then worked in a factory and in the hotel trade and he used to joke, "I started at the top and worked my way down." He contributed to a biography of the Beatles by another NEMS employee, Peter Brown, but was horrified by the scurrilous result, The Love You Make (1983). He determined to set the record straight although his own book, Yesterday: the Beatles remembered (1988), was written as a series of letters to an imaginary fan, Michelle, and was irritating to read. He appeared to bear no malice towards the Beatles over his dismissal.

In later years, Alistair Taylor became a favourite speaker at Beatle conventions and his stage show, From Cavern to Rooftop, was the first Beatle-related event to be staged in the Paul McCartney Auditorium at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. He wrote a further book, A Secret History (2001), as well as making several spoken-word tapes and CDs, and also contributed to an official biography, Hello Goodbye: the story of Mr Fixit by George Gunby (2002).

Spencer Leigh


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