Tony Barrow

Tony Barrow outside The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool.

Anthony Frederick James “Tony” Barrow (11 May 1936 – 14 May 2016) worked as The Beatles’ “press officer” between 1962 and 1968. He invented the phrase “the Fab Four”, first using it in an early press release.

Before The Beatles

In the late 1950s, when teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney were putting together their earliest group in one part of Liverpool, Tony Barrow was presenting jazz bands and skiffle/folk groups at local dance halls and clubs across town in the south Lancashire suburb of Crosby. Educated locally at Merchant Taylors School, he later studied languages at Durham University. In 1954, when he was still a 17-year-old sixth form schoolboy, he landed his first regular freelance writing job as pop/rock record reviewer for the Liverpool Echo, the largest-selling provincial evening newspaper in the UK. The column was written under the pseudonym “Disker”.


At the beginning of the 1960s, while the Beatles paid their dues in the Hamburg clubs, Barrow moved from Crosby to London to work for the Decca Record Company where he wrote the liner notes that appeared on the back of LP album covers. From his new London base he continued to contribute his weekly record column to the Liverpool Echo, and when Liverpool record retailer Brian Epstein signed the Beatles to a management deal at the end of 1961 he contacted Barrow for professional advice. In a 1968 interview, Barrow recounted that Epstein asked him to write a column about the band, as “Disker”. Barrow’s reply was that as he was mainly writing record reviews, The Beatles first had to make a record.

As “Disker”, Barrow started writing about The Beatles in Liverpool Echo.

Working behind the scenes, Barrow then arranged to get the Beatles an audition with Decca, who in turn rejected them.

A privately pressed single record from the Decca audition led to a publishing deal.

But the Decca audition resulted in Epstein making a single record to bring with him to meetings with A&R men from other record companies, and the record was crucial in getting Lennon & McCartney a publishing deal, which again led to The Beatles getting a record contract with EMI’s subsidiary, Parlophone Records. Barrow’s involvement led to an informal arrangement whereby Barrow became the Beatles’ part-time press/publicity consultant, which involved promoting the launch of the new EMI band from behind a desk at rival London record company Decca. His earliest task for Epstein was to co-ordinate a media publicity campaign to surround the release of the group’s first UK single, “Love Me Do”, on EMI’s Parlophone label in October 1962. He was paid a one-off freelance fee of £20 to compile the Beatles’ initial press kit.


Epstein was looking for someone to handle the press on behalf of The Beatles. Again asking Barrow’s advice, he was introduced to a 19 year old Andrew Loog Oldham, and for a short while Oldham functioned as their London publicist. But Oldham happened upon The Rolling Stones and became their manager, so Epstein looked to Barrow again. When Epstein promised to double his weekly Decca salary of £16 to £32, Barrow left the record company to join Epstein’s new artists’ management company, NEMS Enterprises, on a full-time basis in May 1963. Barrow opened Epstein’s first London office and as head of the Press and Public Relations Division, began to promote the careers of not only the Fab Four but also Epstein’s other artists, from Cilla Black to Gerry & The Pacemakers, from Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas to The Fourmost. In view of his previous employment as a liner-note writer with Decca, it was taken for granted that he would do the same job for the Beatles and Epstein’s other acts.

Barrow wrote the liner notes on the back of the Please Please Me album.

Barrow saw Beatlemania as beginning with the band’s appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium on 13 October 1963, at which point he no longer had to contact the press but had the press contacting him instead.

Getting Beatles headlines was soon to be no problem at all for Barrow.

Barrow also went to great lengths to keep John Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia a secret, after the couple became parents to their son, Julian Lennon. Around this time Lennon took a 10-day holiday in Spain with Epstein – who was homosexual and had designs on his protégé. Epstein spent the trip picking up boys to make Lennon jealous. Barrow dealt with the fallout, which was triggered by a drunken remark at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party a few weeks later by Bob Wooler, the DJ at the Cavern Club, who announced that Lennon and Epstein had just returned from “their honeymoon in Spain”. Immediately Lennon leaped on Wooler, raining blows on him with his fists and, in Lennon’s own words, “beating the shit out of him”.

When the Daily Mirror got wind of the punch-up, Barrow sought to close the story down by spinning a line about an abject apology to Wooler from Lennon, headlined BEATLE IN BRAWL — SORRY I SOCKED YOU in the paper of June 22 1963, the first national press article on the Beatles, in which Barrow manufactured all the quotes from both participants.

The flexi discs

It was Barrow’s idea to give out Beatles Christmas greetings to their fan club members. Barrow thought this goodwill gesture might limit the damage done to the group’s reputation by delays in replying to an ever-increasing volume of fan mail. The Beatles were three weeks behind in answering membership applications. At the time he said facetiously that he thought of how the Queen always sent out yuletide greetings to her subjects every year on UK radio and TV, and he decided that the Beatles should “follow her fine example but in their own way”. All members of the group’s official fan club would receive an exclusive flexi-disc carrying messages from John, Paul, George and Ringo. What started as a one-off damage limitation job grew into an eagerly anticipated annual event. Barrow scripted the banter on the discs himself initially, but the boys also ad-libbed a bit, eventually taking over the reign completely by 1966 – on the “Pantomime! Everywhere it’s Christmas” disc.

The third annual Beatles Christmas flexi disc.

On the road

Barrow was briefly joined by Derek Taylor in the Beatles’ PR department, and it was Taylor who conducted The Beatles’ press conferences in 1964. After a dispute with Epstein, Taylor left for California, and started to manage The Byrds. Barrow took over the task of conducting The Beatles’ massive daily press conferences in 1965 and 1966, around the globe. He accompanied them on their private meeting with Elvis Presley at his home in Bel Air, California, and he was the guy setting up the Fab Four’s media interviews and photo shoots when they returned home. Barrow also wrote articles about The Beatles for their fan club magazine, “The Beatles Book Monthly”. It was Barrow who helped organise The Beatles’ swift exit from the Philippines after their failure to attend lunch at the presidential palace was perceived as a snub.

Tony Barrow conducting a Beatles press conference in 1965.

Barrow continued to calm down waters after Lennon’s interview with Maureen Cleave where he let fall the remark that the Beatles were now more popular than Jesus made it to U.S. teenage magazines and made headlines in the mainstream media. Later in 1966, Paul McCartney asked Barrow to record The Beatles’ final concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park to have a souvenir of The Beatles in concert. Barrow duly recorded the concert on his portable cassette player, but ran out of tape just as they started their final number, “Long Tall Sally”. Somehow, the cassette tape fell into the hands of bootleggers and has been circulating among collectors ever since.

After the Beatles

One of Barrow’s final tasks as the Beatles’ Press Officer was to compile and edit the strip-cartoon story booklet which was part of the “Magical Mystery Tour” recording package at the end of 1967. When the Beatles set up their own self-management operation, Apple Corps, in 1968, the year after Brian Epstein’s death, Barrow as the Fab Four’s publicist quite naturally became redundant. He left NEMS Enterprises to set up his own independent show business PR consultancy, Tony Barrow International. Headquartered in London’s Mayfair district, TBI and its sister company, Tony Barrow Management, represented many of Britain’s entertainers and recording artists in the 1970s, including the Kinks, the Bay City Rollers, the New Seekers, Bob Monkhouse, and Hello, and American artists, including David Cassidy, Gladys Knight, David Soul, the Monkees, Tony Bennett, the Jackson Five, Andy Williams, and Neil Sedaka, for their European tours.

Barrow’s first Beatles related book was just 56 pages.

In 1980, partly because he disliked the unsavory images portrayed by the era’s new wave of punk bands, Tony Barrow quit the PR business to return to freelance journalism, writing various books including a highly successful career guide, Inside The Music Business (co-authored with Julian Newby). He wrote two books about The Beatles: 1999s “The Making of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour“, and in 2006 “John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me: The Real Beatles Story“. The latter is highly recommended, and as it was released in Australia in 2011, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

Tony Barrow’s second and final book about The Beatles.

As Barrow had become the last surviving professional writer from the Fab Four’s original inner circle of business aides and associates, he continued to take on selected writing and broadcasting assignments, including some directly linked to his uniquely memorable years with the Beatles. He appears as one of the talking heads in several independent Beatles documentaries, including Freda Kelly’s film, “Good Ol’ Freda“. As late as in 2015, Barrow participated in a discussion over at The Beatles Bible website, sharing a memory about The Beatles’ autograph signing sessions at a couple of music shops in Widnes on October 6th, 1962. He seemed to still have vivid memories of the day even at this late stage. We can only hope that Mark Lewisohn was able to mine that mind as much as possible for his upcoming volume of “All These Years”.

Barrow fell ill and was hospitalised on Friday 13 May and died Saturday 14 May 2016, three days after his eightieth birthday. In a statement, Paul McCartney said: “Tony Barrow was a lovely guy who helped us in the early years of The Beatles. He was super professional but always ready for a laugh. He will be missed but remembered by many of us.” The Beatles also put out a statement on Twitter, saying “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Tony Barrow, who passed away at the weekend. Tony was the Beatles’ first press officer and he played an invaluable role in their early career. At a time when the band had a schedule of uninterrupted touring and countless appearances, Tony managed the ceaseless press activity. He also fulfilled a multitude of other jobs, from writing album sleeve notes to editing the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ strip cartoon book. With love from all at Apple.”

From that London based inner circle of The Beatles during their heyday, apart from Paul and Ringo the survivors are now limited to Tony Bramwell, Peter Brown, Jane Asher and Patti Boyd.



The Beatles Bible

4 Responses

  1. James Percival says:

    This is a lovely tribute to Tony, and I thought his book was one of the more interesting ones from insiders. That last bit about how few are left from the inner circle made me blink. But I think we can add a few more names. What about Pete Shotton who worked for Apple for a while and certainly was part of the inner circle. And Brian's secretary Joanna Petersen (Newfield), or Geoffrey Ellis Brian's friend and later Nems employee; I think these two are still alive. But it really is the end of an era. I am sure Lewisohn managed to get what he needed from Tony.

  2. Robby Blupartel says:

    Great post. thanks was share. visit also about Beatles here.

  3. Unknown says:

    It's quite sad to think they are slowly all going. When I saw that list I thought of George Martin, Cynthia, Neil but then remembered they've recently left us…

  4. Martin says:

    Great tribute to a man who knew his stuff… The Beatles staff (Tony Barrow, Derek Taylor, the late George Martin and Mr. Epstein of course) did their jobs so well. A far cry from today: when a multitude of stylists, 'gurus' and pillocks like Simon Cowell, will style, market and 'look after' an artist and still get it wrong…

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