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Brian Epstein in the Army

THE STORY OF GRAHAM WEBB

I was a conscript at the time and was in Aldershot in a training battalion, in different squads. I had an old school friend with me at the time, in the same squad as me. We used to meet up in the evenings in the canteen (because they wouldn’t let you out for 3 or 4 months until you’d completed basic training). You know how you intermingle with people, and some other people came up and said, “We know some other guys from Merseyside, Liverpool,” and they introduced us. There were two guys from Southport and there was this other chap from Liverpool – that was Brian Epstein. After that, we used to bump into each other in the daytime and in the NAAFI canteen. It was getting close to Christmas, and after 2 or 3 months of basic training we were all getting ready for Christmas leave. It leaked out that we going to go on Christmas leave and we had a day we were all going to go. We had to march to Aldershot Station. We were all gathered in the canteen at night and we were all talking about what a bit of a bugger this was – marching to Aldershot Station with kit, and then get on the train to Waterloo and then to get to Euston to Liverpool.

Brian Epstein – ‘Eppy’ – he was a very thoughtful guy. There were things ticking over in his head, and he said, “Maybe there’s another way. We could get a cab, a limousine, a private hire car.” We thought that was going to be a bit of a cash problem. He said, “No, we could have a kitty, and put money in it, and it would be OK.” We thought well it would save us a bit of an effort!

Anyway, we progressed through November, putting money in the kitty. It was an austerity programme in the canteen. We weren’t great drinkers then – we were just lads. The canteen had biscuits and chocolate and so on. We got to the magic day when we were going to be ‘released’ back home for leave – great! We were all a bit cagey about all of this – what about the NCOs – they were going to check on what we were going to do. We weren’t very sure about this, so we had a meeting in the canteen and we asked how we were going to get around that. He said, “I may have a little scheme of dealing with that…” We all looked round and wondered what kind of scheme. We thought we wouldn’t say anything as he had his own mythology and wheeler-dealer methods, so we’d let it lie. He looked very confident. He said, “I think we’ll fix it.” So when the magic day came, he said, “What we’ll do is we’ll all assemble in the barrack room and there’s a massive chaos – we’ve got to get kit together and all that. So we’ll go down the fire escape during this to the back of the barracks and onto the side road, and there would be this car – this limousine.”

We did this, and there was this chaos. We thought well maybe he may have had his methods of dealing with the NCOs and authorities and so on. We got to the back road and there was this big limousine with this driver in it – terrific! We bring on our kit, get in. We’ve all got our uniforms on and our civvies in the knapsacks. We said, “We’re just going to the station, aren’t we?” He said, “No. I think it’s a good idea if we go on this high road and we’ll go all the way to Euston.” So we travelled in this car all the way to Euston Station, though the Home Counties and so on. We got to Euston, piled out of the car – we got a few peculiar stares as we were still in our uniforms. We got on the train. I’m not sure if we had rations or anything – maybe a few cheese and sardine sandwiches or something. We were all dead hungry and thought that maybe we could go to the buffet car and get a sandwich or something. He said, “Well maybe we could go to the restaurant car and have a meal.” Bloody hell – did we have the necessary cash to do it? We had our leave pay and the odd postal order our folks had sent from home. We all trooped into the restaurant car, still in our uniforms and boots – everybody looks up. This is 1952/1953, just before the Coronation. We sat down and had this marvellous Christmas lunch. We managed to pay for it – don’t know how we did it but we did it. We sailed into Lime Street Station, got off the train, all shook hands. That was the best prelude to Christmas you could think of.

[Spencer Leigh - Brian Epstein would have been about 18 then – clearly a born organiser]

We had the impression even then in a way what would happen later on. You could see it in the back of his eyes.

[SL – Did you keep in touch with him?]

We used to see him – we were posted to London. I was a tactical sketcher. We were attached to the War Office and he was stationed at Regents Park Barracks, where we were billeted, but then we’d go back into town in the day time. But he was there permanently in the Transport Section. So we used to see him occasionally.

When we finished the service, we used to bump into him occasionally in Liverpool. At that time he didn’t seem to be too sure of what direction he was taking. I think he was quite friendly with people in the Playhouse. He said he was going to RADA.

[SL – Wasn’t he dismissed from the Army for impersonating an officer?]

I’m not sure about that. I don’t think it was that – I think he finished early because of medical grounds. I’m not quite sure what it was – something to do with his feet.

But I remember seeing him in Trafalgar Square and he said he was being invalided out. That’s the last time I saw him in the army. I occasionally saw him once or twice in town when he was working at NEMS.