Obituary: Derek Taylor

Chris Welch
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:41

Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press officer, brought calm, authority and a sense of dignity to the chaos of the Sixties. As spokesman for the band during their heyday and later with their Apple organisation, he coped with the daily madness with a charm that disarmed the most frenzied Beatle hunter. Besieged each day by reporters, hippies, musicians and hangers- on, his muttered asides and gentle sarcasm contained a relentless barrage of inquiry.

Seated in his famous peacock chair and holding court at Apple's Savile Row headquarters, he dealt with such fraught situations as John Lennon's decision to return his OBE, John and Yoko's Bed-Ins and the ultimate break- up of the Beatles. Even in the most pressured situations he maintained a legendary politeness. When the American cartoonist Al Capp decided to launch an abusive attack on John and Yoko during a Bed Peace protest in Canada, it was Taylor who stepped in, moustache bristling, to contain the outburst. Much loved by the Beatles and particularly close to George Harrison, Derek Taylor retained the manners of an English gentleman, while embracing the hippie ideology of the flower power era.

He was far more than a publicist, he acted as a bridge between the often warring factions of artists, record companies and media and was loved for his pains. Sir Paul McCartney said of him: "He was a beautiful man."

The Liverpool-born Taylor began his career as a journalist and joined the Hoylake and West Kirby Advertiser at the age of 17. He later worked for the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo and then in 1952 joined the Daily Express as their northern theatre critic. In May 1963 he was sent to cover a Beatles show at the Manchester Odeon. His glowing review described them as "fresh, cheeky, sharp, young entertainers".

The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein was so pleased that in May 1964 he made Taylor his personal assistant and scriptwriter. Taylor ghost-wrote Epstein's autobiography A Cellar Full of Noise (1964) and went on tour with the Beatles in Australia and America. On the last night of their 1964 US tour, Epstein and Taylor fell out in a row over a car. Taylor had taken Epstein's limousine, leaving the furious manager stranded at the Paramount Theatre. After a heated row, Taylor resigned. He was later offered a job with a Los Angeles radio station and he became a Hollywood celebrity in his own right. While his radio show didn't last long, he used the opportunity to set up his own publicity company and among his clients were the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead and Captain Beefheart.

In 1967 he helped organise the Monterey Pop Festival together with Lou Adler and John Philips. The British journalist Keith Altham recalls Taylor's attempts to deal with the huge influx of visitors demanding press passes. "He had a kiosk set up and there was a long line of people waiting for their passes. He was very tolerant and patient but he gave out so many passes the whole press area was jam- packed.

"He made an announcement from the stage: `The day of the purple pass is over, please return to the kiosk.' He sat there for hours trying to be civil to angry photographers, and then he suddenly disappeared, leaving a note which said: `I can no longer relate to your problem. D. Taylor.' He had real style. Les Perrin, who handled the Stones, was called the doyen of PRs, but Derek Taylor was the aristocrat."

After the death of Brian Epstein, Taylor returned to London in 1968 to help the Beatles set up Apple Corps, their altruistic organisation intended to develop new talent. As "head of communications" Taylor supported their aims for the next two years, but even his charm and wit were sorely tried. At the Montreal Bed-In when John and Yoko faced the press, and Al Capp began to insult the pair, Taylor snapped and told him to get out. At this point John Lennon reminded him that Capp was their guest, forcing Taylor to apologise.

He continued to work for the Beatles until they broke up in 1970 and then became a director of special projects and managing director at WEA records. He moved back to California with his family to work for Warner Brothers International. Returning once more to England, he concentrated on writing. He helped with George Harrison's autobiography I, Me, Mine (1980) and also wrote his own books including As Time Goes By (1973) and Fifty Years Adrift - In An Open Necked Shirt (1984), a limited edition autobiography signed by himself and Harrison.

He also wrote It Was Twenty Years Ago Today (1987) on the 20th anniversary of the Sergeant Pepper album, by the band he always fondly called "The Fabs". In recent years he returned to Apple Corps to help launch the Beatles Anthology trilogy and also appeared in the Beatles television documentary. He was working on a proposed book based on transcripts from the series, due to be published next year.

Chris Welch

Derek Taylor, publicist and author: born Liverpool 7 May 1932; married 1958 Joan Doughty (three sons, three daughters); died Sudbury, Suffolk 8 September 1997.

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