It was on July 6, 1961, that a newspaper modestly named Mersey Beat made its debut in Liverpool. Bill Harry was the editor and founder of the publication, which has since become a landmark and an institution because of how it chronicled the rise of the music scene in Liverpool and especially that of a group called the Beatles.
In answer to a couple of questions we sent him about how the paper came into being and what putting out the paper was like in those early days, Harry generously sent us this detailed and historic story of the paper’s birth. Happy 50th anniversary to Bill Harry and Mersey Beat and thanks for all you’ve done:
It was a developing process. When I was in my early teens I published my own sci-fi fan magazine Biped, printed for me by my pen pal Mike Moorock. When I went to Junior Art School, I published a duplicated magazine called Premier. When I entered the Art College I produced a duplicated magazine Jazz. For Liverpool University I edited Pantosphinx. For Frank Hessy’s Music Store I did Frank Comments. I had intended doing another jazz magazine Storyville & 52nd Street but decided to produce a newspaper about the Mersey rock and roll scene instead, because it was like an underground scene that few people were aware of and it received no media attention whatsoever.
As you see, I’d always been interested in producing magazines. Through Frank Hessy I’d worked with a professional printing company James E. James, so when I launched Mersey Beat, it was a professionally printed newspaper.
Part of it’s origin may lay in the vow made with John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe and Rod Murray when we called ourselves the Dissenters and vowed to make Liverpool famous: John with his music, Stu and Rod with their painting and me with my writing.
I borrowed £50 and the only member of staff was my girlfriend Virginia. I didn’t take any salary as I lived on a Senior City Art Scholarship I’d won.
At the art college I was close with John, Stuart and Rod. Stu and I were on the Student’s Union and proposed and seconded that we use Students Union funds to pay for P.A. equipment which John’s group could use. We booked them for our art college dances. Paul and George were next door at Liverpool Institute and used to spend their spare time in our college canteen or rehearsing in our Life rooms.
John and I used to sit together for drinks at Ye Cracke, to discuss many things. I insisted he show me his poetry. I loved it and encouraged him to write. When I launched Mersey Beat I commissioned him to write me a piece about the Beatles. He was embarrassed when he gave me two scraps of paper. I loved what he’d written, even though it had no title, so I called it ‘Being A Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles, Translated from the John Lennon’ and published it
on page 2 of the first issue.
John was so thrilled at seeing his work in print for the first time that he came into the office with a huge bundle of stories, poems and drawings and said they were mine to do with as I wished – he was obviously hoping that I would then publish them. I did, deciding to use the stories under a pseudonym I’d made up called Beatcomber.
The idea of the newspaper had come up in 1960 while Virginia and I were at the Jacaranda. Virginia was 16 at the time, the lads played in the coal hole there and we were friends with the groups who hung around there including Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, Cass & the Cassanovas and Gerry Marsden. Virginia and I also used to spend time at Gambier Terrace with John (he put us up in the bath one night!). The two of us decided on launching a newspaper and Dick Matthews (who died this year) had a friend of his lend us the £50.
Virginia ran the office. I did all the writing, interviewing, getting the advertising, designing the lay-outs, arranging for photos and the distribution and so on, sometimes working 100 hours a week, even collapsing in the office and being taken to hospital.
Prior to publication, I had to come up with a name. I was sitting in the office at around 2 o clock in the morning trying to think. I was deciding which area I’d cover – Liverpool, over the water at Birkenhead and New Brighton, all the nearby Merseyside areas such as Crosby, Southport, Widnes, St Helens, Warrington.
And as I was working that out, suddenly an image came into my mind of the entire Merseyside conurbation, the area I’d cover. I usually think visually. Then, into the image popped a policeman walking over the area – a policeman’s beat.
Merseyside was my beat, so I named the paper Mersey Beat. It had nothing to do with ‘beat’ in music.
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