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20th December, 2021

Becoming The Beatles: Dick James

Dick James is a controversial figure in the story of the Fab Four; The Beatles’ business relationship with Dick James ultimately lost John Lennon and Paul McCartney possession of their own songs.

The son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Dick was born Reginald Leon Isaac Vapnick in December 1920 in London.

Following World War Two, Dick had some success as an artist with the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra and in 1955 he had several UK hits with vocal group The Stargazers. He also wrote Max Bygraves’ catchy children’s hit I’m A Pink Toothbrush, I’m A Blue Toothbrush, and in 1956 was signed by George Martin to Parlophone. George produced Dick's biggest hit, the theme for the 1950s British TV series The Adventures Of Robin Hood.

Dick entered the music publishing business, once his singing career began to decline, establishing Dick James Music in 1961. A couple of years later he was contacted by Brian Epstein, on the recommendation of George Martin, who was looking for a publisher for ‘Please Please Me’.  

Dick reacted positively to Please Please Me, but during the first meeting between Dick and Brian, the latter asked what he could do for The Beatles that EMI’s publicity department couldn’t. Dick promptly picked up the phone and called Philip Jones, producer of the hit show Thank Your Lucky Stars, who agreed to give The Beatles their first nationwide television appearance. This proved enough to seal the deal.

Dick suggested that he and Brian form a new company; Northern Songs. It was this name that appeared on The Beatles’ second single, Please Please me - and all the subsequent Lennon/McCartney hits.

The initial share capital for Northern Songs was £100 in £1 shares. Dick James received 25 per cent of the shares, as did his accountant and financial partner Charles Silver. John and Paul were each given 20 per cent, and Brian received 10 per cent. Northern Songs was administered by the company Dick James Music, with directors Brian Epstein and Dick James. 

The deal outwardly seemed fair, but Dick and Charles had one more share between them than John, Paul and Brian. This would have costly repercussions in later years.

When the Fab Four established their own company - Apple, they were quite dismissive of the work of Dick James, and when it appeared that days of The Beatles were numbered, he sold his shares in Northern Songs without consulting John Lennon or Paul McCartney, meaning the pair lost control of their own compositions.

Dick James did well financially from the sale, but it meant The Beatles never again had the rights to their own songs. 

He went on to form DJM Records in 1969 where he worked with Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Dick died in 1986.

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