The merchandising scandal of the Beatlemania era known as SeltaeB (Beatles backwards) was kept fairly hush hush certainly during this time as well as many years after. Many Beatles fans have probably never even heard of the Seltaeb scandal, as it is rarely mentioned besides in a small handful of Beatles biographies and Beatles historic efforts, and even then only a few lines noting the event are dedicated and then quickly diverted.
Seltaeb was a company set up in 1963 to look after the merchandising interests of the Beatles and Brian Epstein. Nicky Byrne was contracted by David Jacobs (Epstein’s lawyer) to head the company on behalf of NEMS Enterprises, Brian Epstein’s management company. Byrne took the contract at a 90% commission rate, leaving only 10% for the Beatles and NEMS combined. Not realizing the potential goldmine for Beatles-related products at the time, Epstein accepted the 10% rate, which has been estimated at a $100,000,000 dollar loss for NEMS and the Beatles.
Beatles related products began to pour out all over the world in 1964 after Beatlemania was in high gear, launching them up to the highest heights of stardom and beyond. Everything from Beatles chewing gum, to Beatles mop top wigs, to Beatles fudge-sickles, candy, trading cards, jewelry and more began to flood into the aisle ways of every store, and into the homes of every pre-teen and teenager in America and the world. All paying licensing fees to Seltaeb and therefore, Nicky Byrne- who was making an absolute fortune off of the Beatles image.
Being a Beatles memorabilia collector myself, when I learned of the Seltaeb “deal” I must admit that I was a bit taken back by the apparent controversy and pocketed monies taken from the Beatles. However, I began to realize that it was this scandal that ultimately made the Beatles such a worldwide phenomenon. How is that? Well obviously it wasn’t the sole reason for the Beatles success, but it was certainly a slice of the entire apple pi(e). Byrne and Seltaeb licensed out the rights to use the Beatles likeness for pennies on the dollar, making hundreds of outside interests companies salivate over the sale potential of any product marketed with the Beatles likeness adorning it. The Beatles image was marketed worldwide, on thousands of products. People all over the world who may have never heard a Beatles record, saw the Beatles and their mop-top haircuts and smiling faces on their beauty products, their food, their household items, their clothing, their toys etc. etc. It was really a genius marketing ploy, one that worked very very well for the sensationalized promotion of the Beatles image.
No doubt Byrne was making a HUGE chunk of Beatles-bucks, and this soon concerned Brian Epstein who was making only 10% of the profit of the entire endeavor. The rate was re-negotiated in 1964 to 49%, however this set Epstein and Byrne on a tormenting 3 year ongoing court battle for negotiations for past monies due. Companies that were once salivating for the Beatles dirt-cheap licensing rights, lost interest waiting for the legalities to finalize during this time. The Beatles sensation had died down quite a bit and by 1966, the Beatles official licensed products had all but disappeared from the public realm. Before the conclusion of the legalities, Epstein died of what was ruled as an accidental overdose in August 1967. The following year, Epstein’s lawyer David Jacobs was found hanged in his garage in December 1968, and Nicky Byrne retired in the Bahamas. Well…. hmmm.
Don’t you just love when you come to a weird Beatles blog like this and read about a real conspiracy that really did happen? You have all the markings of a real-live conspiracy fact (as opposed to theory) yet, this is rarely mentioned and even rarer still- any detailed account of the events and transactions which transpired over this deal. Why is that? The few sources of information I have gathered to be able to write this article in the first place are listed in the reference section below. They are few and far between.
We may never truly know if Epstein’s death was accidental as ruled. I certainly hope that is the case, and not for a more sinister reason. However, we do know that Epstein’s close associate, friend and lawyer David Jacobs has indeed had much controversy surrounding his claimed suicide. There have been reports of Jacobs’ association with the notorious Kray twins, and his refusal to represent them when they were tried for murder. Several attempts by Jacobs’ hiring personal security, asking for police escorts, and confessions to close friends that he was ‘in danger’ or that ‘they were all after him’. There is circumstantial evidence that Jacobs’ was operating under the motivation of blackmail as well. Jacobs’ list of clientele include The Rolling Stones, Larry Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Judy Garland, Diana Dors, Brian Epstein – and even, indirectly, the Beatles, all of which have association in one form or another with the Beatles and/or their entourage. And with the exception of Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabore were all featured on the Sgt. pepper album cover… another Beatles coincidence??
Epstein on the other hand, is much more secretive and hush hush. Not much has been said about Brian Epstein’s background or daily life besides his deals and interactions with the Beatles and NEMS enterprises. However it has been speculated that he had found himself in some pretty hot water around the time of his death. Not just with the Seltaeb scandal and his fear of the Beatles finding out what a horrible deal he had agreed to, but allegedly he had racked up some significant gambling debts and was part of an underground circle of well-to-do persons who lurked in the shadows of taboo and illegal activities in the early 60s. Epstein was a homosexual at a time in Britain when such a lifestyle was illegal, and heavily frowned upon by society. He was sure to keep most of his private encounters away from the prying eyes of the public. Imagine the difficulties of keeping anything private or away from the public eye when you are the manager of the biggest band in the world, followed by thousands of fans and paparazzi everywhere you went. There are several claims of compromising pictures taken of Epstein during Beatles world tours which were used as blackmail against the famed Beatles manager. There are also rumors that Epstein may have used the illegal connections of the Kray twins, soliciting call boys from the notorious mafia-styled gangsters who ran an organized pedophilia ring out of a house in a Suffolk village (Tattington) owned by Ronnie Kray. The Kray twins had major influence upon the casinos that the likes of David Jacobs and Brian Epstein frequented and possibly owed a significant amount of gambling debt to. Combine that with the underground dealings of call-boys supplied by the Kray twins, bad financial decisions on behalf of the Beatles interests, drug addiction, and possible threats against his life, and you have a very serious dark cloud of speculation and concern storming the manager of the band who made it to the toppermost of the poppermost in a frenzy.
Before you send me your hate mail, it is not my intention to tarnish the reputation or image of Brian Epstein. Not in the slightest. As with all the articles here on thenumbernine, my goal is to simply shed some light on the strange happenings surrounding the Beatles and their legacy. Such strange happenings are not widely discussed in biographies or historical records. It is not my business nor really do I even care about the lifestyle Brian Epstein chose, as it was his to choose. However, if this chosen lifestyle placed Epstein in some compromising positions, rife with illegal activities via dealings with the mafia (as was complacent with the times) which escalated exponentially into ultimately a very untimely death, followed by other untimely, suspicious deaths of some of his close business associates- one has to wonder how this has NOT been discussed far and wide by Beatles historians and biographers. Perhaps it is my conspiratorial mindset, or my passion for all things Beatles, but… come on!!! It sure does seem like there could very well be more to this story than what we have been led to believe the past 50+ years, doesn’t it?
Speaking of 50+ years of all-things Beatles- this past June marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album. The occasion was celebrated by repackaging and re-releasing the Sgt. pepper album in new “born again” fashion. Throughout mid-2017 billboards and advertisements all across Liverpool began to appear featuring Brian Epstein. ‘With A Little Help From My Friends‘ is the name of this artwork by award winning artist Jeremy Deller, which features the tagline:
“Brian Epstein died for you”
When asked about the inspiration for his art, Deller explained;
“The phrase, ‘Brian Epstein Died for You’, though short, carries with it ideas of belief and self-sacrifice, two strong aspects of Christianity and indeed most mainstream religions. It could be argued that popular music itself is a belief system, and the phrase ‘Brian Epstein Died for You’, has great meaning to its devotees, as he was such a key figure in its development.” Source
Well now, that sounds a lot like many of the concepts discussed on the numbernine in one little neat and tidy quote! Imagine that. He even used a ‘Brian Epstein Died For You’ piece using the Lord Kitchener motif discussed in a previous numbernine article, I Was Lord Kitchener! That’s pretty fab if you ask me. It begs the question (at least for me) did Epstein die for me/us/the fans? Or for the Beatles well-being? If for the Beatles- did it work?
By perusing over some of Jeremy Deller’s other artworks, I would have to assume (you know what they say about assuming…) that Deller is very much ‘in the game’. Here you will find a link to some of his work if interested, do be sure to check it out.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my strange Beatles musings. I appreciate your thoughts on this article as well as every article on thenumbernine. Comments, criticisms and ideas are always welcome, so do not hesitate to let me know you were here. What did I miss? Where else could this walrus hole lead? Until next time…
…to be continued
References used in this article:
Norman, Philip (1993). Shout!. Pan Books. ISBN 978-0-330-48768-9.
Spitz, Bob (2005). The Beatles: The Biography. Little, Brown and Company (New York). ISBN 978-0-316-80352-6.