The Founders' Story

Bill & Virginia Harry  

Bill Harry presents the Beatles with awardThey hired a tiny attic room above a wine merchant's shop for £5 a week, with Virginia as the only full time member of staff on £2.10s per week. Bill had been awarded a Senior City Art Scholarship and took no salary, supporting himself for the first year on his scholarship allowance.

Their friend Dick Matthews initially took their photographs. Bill then made a deal with several local photographers including Peter Kaye, Graham Spencer and Harry Watmough. he would commission them to take photographs for his new publication in exchange for display and classified advertisements, promotion in the paper and by sending groups and artists to them for paid sessions.

As he had to design and lay out each page, write virtually all of the material, commission photographs, create artwork, design and sell advertising, arrange distribution and circulation and spend days at the printers putting each issue to bed, he often worked up to 100 hours a week.

Initially, he had to find a name for the new publication and it came to him at around 2p.m. one morning. Struggling to come up with a title to accurately describe what the paper was about, he considered the area he was covering. It would be the entire Merseyside area, including 'over-the-water'; the Wirral, Birkenhead, New Brighton, plus the towns surrounding Liverpool - Widness, Warrington, Runcorn, St Helens, Crosby, Formy, Southport.

In his mind he formed a visual image of a map of the area to be covered, then the picture of a policeman walking over it popped into his mind - a policeman's beat.

Then he coined the phrase 'Mersey Beat', based on a policeman's beat and not that of the music!

Due to the endless hours and pressure of work he often had a writers block when writing copy overnight. When working on the first issue he was writing about a local singer, Priscilla White and couldn't think of her last name. He remembered it was a colour and wrote 'Cilla Black is a Liverpool girl who is starting on the road to fame...'

Rather than berating him, Cilla said she liked the new name and decided to keep it.

For the first issue Bill ordered 5000 copies and managed to distribute the entire edition.

Apart from placing them with the three major distributors: W.H.Smith, Blackburn's and Conlan's, he personally delivered to 28 newsagents and to all the clubs, music venues and record stores in the city centre.

When he went to Nems (North End Music Stores) in Whitechapel, he asked to see the manager. It was Brian Epstein. Bill told him what the paper was about and he agreed to take 12 copies. He then phoned the Mersey Beat office to ask for more - and more copies. For issue no. 2 he placed an order for 144 copies.

This was the issue which sported a front cover devoted to the Beatles recordings in Hamburg. Epstein invited Bill to his office to discuss the local music scene, fascinated by what he had read in the paper. He asked if he could review records for the publication.

His column 'Stop the World I Want To Get Off - By Brian Epstein Of NEMS', made its debut in Issue no. 3. Brian also took out advertising in the paper and his advt is the only other item on the full page devoted to the Beatles which Bob Wooler wrote for an August 1961 issue. Epstein than asked Bill if he could arrange for him to visit the Cavern, which he did - and Brian saw the Beatles for the first time.

John was delighted that Bill had published his Beatles story in the first issue, word for word, unedited, although he had devised a title. He brought a huge collection of stories and drawings, giving them to Bill and saying he could do with them what he wished.

Bill decided on using the stories as a regular column. He decided to use a pseudonym for John and devised the name Beatcomber. The stories were the basis of John's future books.

Mersey Beat was innovative for its time and introduced many ideas which were later adopted by the standard music press. The photographs were taken from live performances or on local locations in contrast to the studio bound shots in the national music press.

The material, both photographic and written, which Bill commissioned during those early years has proved an invaluable contribution to posterity. The photos and chronicling of their career from early 1961 through to 1964 has provided an unique record of early Beatles history.

Bill was later to manage the Four Pennies, a British group who reached No. 1 in the charts with 'Juliet.'

After Bill and Virginia were married they moved down to London and Virginia worked for a show business agency while Bill had a music column in Weekend magazine, columns in two weekly Fleetway magazines, Marilyn and Valentine, was a feature writer for Music Now, columnist for Record Retailer and news editor and columnist for Record Mirror.

He was asked to take over as personal press agent to the Kinks and the Hollies, then the Pink Floyd - and for 18 years represented more than 30 major artists including David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Suzi Quatro, Hot Chocolate and Kim Wilde.

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