The lawyer behind the worst deal in pop music
This year marks the 60th anniversary of what was probably the worst deal in the history of rock-and-roll.
It is estimated to have cost The Beatles – then just an up-and-coming Liverpool beat group – $100 million in lost earnings.
The lost revenue would be about £1 billion today.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney both blamed their manager Brian Epstein for this devastating error of judgment. But the real culprit was The Beatles’ high-flying showbiz solicitor David Jacobs (not to be confused with the disc jockey of the same name who presented “Juke Box Jury”).
In 1963, Epstein asked Jacobs to find someone to handle the growing number of requests from businesses anxious to cash in on Beatlemania by selling souvenirs, memorabilia and tat endorsed by the band of the moment.
The lawyer handed the Beatles merchandising rights to a Chelsea playboy, the Eton-educated former guards officer and racing driver Nicky Byrne.
Byrne set up a company called Seltaeb (Beatles backwards) and secured a deal with Jacobs in which The Beatles received just 10 per cent of the merchandising proceeds – the rest, 90 per cent, went to Seltaeb.
The Beatles became so popular, companies were cashing in with anything they could plaster pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo on – pyjamas, plastic guitars, wallpaper, bubble gum, even cans purporting to contain the musicians’ breath.
After it became clear how much money The Beatles missed out on, Epstein and Jacobs were involved in a prolonged series of legal disputes on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time The Beatles won back control over merchandising, the mania had abated.
Now a new short novel by Nigel Hastilow called “Dead Groovy” pulls together the wide-ranging strands of David Jacobs’ career. It includes his involvement with the notorious gangster Kray twins and his role in the Profumo affair which brought down Harold Macmillan’s Government.
And it asks the question, did David Jacobs commit suicide at his house in Hove or was he murdered?
Jacobs was the go-to showbusiness solicitor of the era. Clients included the rich socialite Lady Docker, the singer Dorothy Squires, the composer Lionel Bart, who wrote the musical “Oliver”, theatre director Peter Hall, pop singer Gene Vincent, actor Laurence Olivier, film star Judy Garland, even the spy John Vassall.
In 1959, Jacobs masterminded the libel case which left the entertainer Liberace “laughing all the way to the bank” having defended himself from the implication he might be homosexual. He was, according to “The Daily Mirror” a “luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother-love”. Liberace won £8,000 damages.
In May 1968, the Kray twins were arrested for murder. Jacobs refused to handle the case even though he had worked for them in the past and the gangsters’ request might be an offer you can’t refuse.
Jacobs’ troubles included the strange business of an attempted coup d’etat in Panama involving Tito Arias, husband of the prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn not to mention the bizarre case of a crucifixion on London’s Hampstead Heath.
Then on December 15, 1968, he was found dead at his house in Hove, where Ringo and Maureen Starr honeymooned three years earlier. He was 56.
The inquest verdict was suicide. Yet his goddaughter, actress Suzanna Leigh – who starred with Elvis Presley in “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” – refused to believe Jacobs killed himself.
“Dead Groovy” looks at the career of David Jacobs and at who might have wanted him dead.
“Dead Groovy”, a novella, was published on July 16. Kindle £1.99; paperback £5.00.
About the Author
Nigel Hastilow was editor of The Birmingham Post in the 1990s and a columnist for the Wolverhampton Express & Star. He has worked for the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and ran his own publishing company. He also had a short political career.
He has published several books, including The Man Who Invented The News, about Marchamont Nedham, the leading journalist of the English Civil War; The Trials of Eldred Pottinger, an historical romance set during the First Afghan War; Close of Play about village cricket; and How To Become Prime Minister, a guide for ambitious teenagers.
He lives in Wickhamford, near Evesham, Worcestershire.
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