Melody Maker | Info Freako | 22 October 1994
TICKET TO RIDE
The recent Info Freako article about daft promotional gimmicks reminded me that there were some really bizarre merchandising items for The Beatles around when I was a kid. My cousin, for example, had a Beatles toy guitar. What other items were produced?
Doug Lyon, Brighton
By late 1963, with the world firmly in the grip of Beatlemania, The Beatles were swamped with requests from businessmen wanting to produce merchandising goods for the band. Their manager, Brian Epstein, was initially wary of these proposals and vowed that he wouldn't allow their name to be used to sell tacky items. But he did agree to the newly launched Beatles Monthly magazine advertising Beatles jumpers and badges on mail order. The public reaction took everyone by surprise. Over 20,000 jumpers and 50,000 badges were sold within a matter of days.
The appearance of these goods initiated a fresh wave of offers from merchandising companies. Unable to handle the deluge, Epstein asked his lawyer, David Jacobs, to find somebody to organise the distribution of merchandising licences in the UK. At Jacobs' suggestion, the job was given to Nicky Byrne, a young entrepreneur who had set up a company called Stramsact with the financial backing of four of his friends. A few months later, Byrne was also given control of the American licences through a second company, Seltaeb, the name being Beatles backwards.
Stramsact and Seltaeb granted licences to pretty much anybody and everybody who asked, instigating the manufacture of an incredible range of merchandising goods throughout 1964 and 1965. As well as the toy guitars, around 200,000 of which were produced, there were Beatles dolls, wigs, trays, coathangers, wallets, toothbrushes, towels, clocks, stationary, sweets, plates, keyrings and wallpaper. There were Beatles clothes, from John Lennon caps to Ringo Starr socks, and Beatles furniture, from ottomans to filing cabinets. If it moved, it had the band's name on it. If it didn't move, it had their name on it faster.
The sales figures for some of these products were quite extraordinary. One American clothes company sold over one million T-shirts in a mere three days. Another shifted in excess of two million shirts in two weeks. A Liverpool bakery sold 100,000 so-called Ringo Rolls in a couple of days, while a Blackpool firm took an order for 10 million sticks of rock with The Beatles' name running through the middle. Around 100 million small photographs of the group were inserted into packets of Beatles chewing gum during a six-month period.
Whatever Epstein's feelings about some of the tackier products on the market, he was horrified when, towards the end of 1964, David Jacobs told him the full details of the agreement with Nicky Byrne. The royalty split between Seltaeb and The Beatles, for example, was an unbelievable 90/10 in Byrne's favour. And although Epstein re-negotiated the terms to 55/45, Byrne subsequently accused him of selling licences behind his back and sued for $5 million. Epstein counter-sued for the alleged witholding of royalties.
The legal wrangle dragged on for the best part of two years and involved an estimated loss of $100 million of merchandising in the US alone. It was finally settled in 1967, when Epstein paid Byrne $100,000, in return for which Stramsact and Seltaeb withdrew from the picture. The Beatles then formed their own merchandising company called Maximum Enterprises. By this point, though, the demand for Beatles toy guitars was nowhere what it had been.