From Beatbird to Beat-boss: A Personal Beatles Story

We chat with Bernie Byrne - co-founder of The Beatles Story and former girlfriend of George Harrison - about memorabilia, her famous former-boyfriends, and what it was like to live in Liverpool at the height of Beatlemania.

14 min read

There’s an air of excitement around The Beatles Story exhibition when any new items of memorabilia are going on display, but what is always more interesting is when we uncover the unique and personal stories behind them, and there aren’t many more interesting than the story of one of the founders of our award-winning attraction, Bernie Byrne.

Formerly Bernadette Farrell, Bernie was a Cavern regular who went on to date both George and Paul. She not only witnessed music history being made but, along with her husband Mike, went on to build The Beatles Story, which has now become the most successful Beatles’ exhibition in the world.

They are the authors of a new book ‘The Birth of the Beatles Story,’ which recounts the journey of the development of the attraction and their personal relationship with The Beatles. We chatted to Bernie about her famous former boyfriends, her items of personal memorabilia and what it was like to live in Liverpool at the height of Beatlemania.


bernie byrne and her memorabilia on display at the beatles story, liverpool

Bernie Byrne and her personal memorabilia, now proudly on display at The Beatles Story.


Can you remember the first time that you saw The Beatles?

It was at Hambleton Hall, a place out in Huyton near Liverpool. We were only 15 and my friend and I had been forbidden to go by our parents because it was a rough area where fights would break out. Anyway, we’d told them we were going somewhere else and went. We’d actually gone to see Faron’s Flamingos, he was an Elvis lookalike who wore a white suit and did Elvis songs, and The Beatles were on the same bill and had just come back from Germany. As soon as we saw them we thought ‘Wow! these are different…’ leather jackets, cowboy boots… and we were fans of Eddie Cochran in those days, and thought John looked like Eddie with his hair brushed back (not a Beatle cut). There was another strange guy stood at the back with sunglasses on and his back to the audience who didn’t look like he was really playing and that was Stuart. That was the first time and then we started to read the local paper, the Echo, and found out which groups were playing around different clubs and started to follow them round.


What kind of music were you listening to back then?

We were Cliff Richard fans actually, my friend and I. A lot of people liked Elvis, but Elvis didn’t do a lot for us. And Eddie Cochran too as he was sort of the rock and roll one. You didn’t have phones or publicity like you have today, so you had to wait and read the Echo in those days to see which bands were playing at the Empire or the Philharmonic. We started to watch Cliff on ‘Oh Boy’ which was the pop show at the time, and we thought he was really good looking, and he came to the Philharmonic. We queued all night and my friends’ parents were very understanding, and her father would come down with sandwiches so we could stay all night to get tickets. We always tried to get on the front row and along with a few other thousand fans we were there screaming at the front. It was such a different world at that time and so exciting when you were only 15.


Which Beatle did you fancy the most back then?

Well, I thought Stuart was a bit strange, he was at the back you couldn’t see him and had his head down and sunglasses on and didn’t make a big impression at all. When we used to go to The Cavern, Paul was our favourite. They all had sort of equivalent fans at the time, Pete Best had his own fans in those days and probably had the biggest following, but I used to love Paul singing ‘Long Tall Sally’, he had a very high voice, and we liked that Rock ‘n’ Roll music as Cliff had been doing it. He went from one extreme to another, into slow songs such as ‘Bésame Mucho’ and we thought he had a great voice and was really good looking. Then I started to look at George and he was friendly and had a bit of wry smile and it sort of went from there.


One of your personal items of memorabilia going on display is a note from George, can you tell us the story behind it?

I’d been working at the local hairdressers every day, but I was still going to The Cavern every lunchtime and obviously all the fans, me and my friends included, wanted to get to know The Beatles and got as near to the front as we could to enjoy their music. I loved dancing but I never got up and danced when The Beatles were on because we wanted to watch them. A couple of times I’d been waiting at the bus stop after a Cavern session and George had pulled up and offered me a lift home as I knew him from saying hello after their shows at the coffee bar at the back of The Cavern, and he knew I was a fan. One night I came home from work and this note was pushed through the door asking me to ring him. He wrote it on a bit of tissue paper – I rang him and that’s how it started.  I was always a bit of a hoarder and occasionally it worked out well which is why I’ve still got it –  It’s in a bit of a sorry state though.


a note to bernadette from george harrison, on pink card, which reads: "bernadette, will you phone me [GAT 3714] as soon as possible after you arrive home, please?... george harrison"

The note from George Harrison to Bernie is now on display at The Beatles Story.


You went out with Paul before George though, didn’t you?

Paul was giving me and some friends a lift home one night and we were also in the car with John as he couldn’t drive. It was Paul’s green classic car and as we got to the house John said, ‘Paul will be round to pick you up tomorrow night around 6pm’ and I said ‘that’s no good I work ‘til 7pm’ and John said ‘He’s not asking you to marry him.’ I didn’t know what to say and was all flummoxed then and fortunately Paul walked me to the front door and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow night’ so I said, ‘fine yeah’ and it was a nice night. We went out we went to the Forum Cinema, I can’t remember the film that was on, and he said, ‘come on we’ll go and get something to eat’. We ended up back at Rory Storm’s house and when we got there George was sitting in front of the fire having supper. Rory’s mum was like a mother to all of them as Paul had lost his mum, and it was a place they’d all hang out. Rory knew all the bands as he was a big name himself in those days. Paul wandered around looking for something to eat and I was sat in front of the fire with George just chatting away. It was snowing outside, and Paul said, ‘come on we’d better go’ and walked ahead of us and got into the car and George, for whatever reason I don’t know, ran up behind me and lifted me up and we both fell flat on our back in the snow laughing. Paul had this very disapproving look as if to say ‘you pair of kids.’ George thought it was funny and I thought it was funny. It was after that they started touring so I did see Paul occasionally at various venues when they got back but it was George who I started to see regularly.


How well did the fans get to know the Beatles before they were famous?

You did get to know them at the time, and I don’t think at that stage people were even asking for autographs, it was just a friendly place. It was so hot in The Cavern and a lot of the girls would go and chat when they came off stage and were in the coffee bar at the back, so you did get to talk to them. We’d seen them at other places first like the Aintree Institute, New Brighton and sometimes they were supporting other stars like Little Richard, and we’d make the effort to go over and come back on the ferry. We started to get the Merseybeat newspaper and when we heard there were rock groups playing at The Cavern we started to go to see what it was like because it used to be a jazz club and I wasn’t that interested in jazz. It was just a growing thing in Liverpool there was a whole fan groups thing and I got to know a few of the girls who sat near the front, but it could be just anyone who came in off the street. Until you got to the back of The Cavern where the bar was that’s where everyone would congregate, and The Beatles would come out occasionally and chat to us.


What did you enjoy most about your dates with George?

We were going out for about 6 months. We went to various places such as the Philharmonic, the pictures, the Cabaret Club and the Abbey. We’d see Tessie O’Shea and she used to play ukulele at the Cabaret Club and of course later George got into the ukulele. One occasion I remember was he asked me what I wanted to drink, and I asked for a gin and lime as I was around 17 and had started to drink then. I used to wear a perfume called ‘Blue Grass’ and he said it smelled like gin and I thought ‘he must think I smell like an alcoholic!’ We enjoyed going to other clubs to listen to music such as The Odd Spot, The Sink and The Blue Angel, which was owned by Allan Williams who also owned the Jacaranda, and he was a bit of an entrepreneur so lots of bands and famous stars visited there. The first time I went there was with George and we knew Allan and his wife very well as my father and Beryl, his wife’s mother, were ballroom dancing partners and we used to spend our Christmases with them. My Dad actually helped paint the Jacaranda too!


an aged black and white photo of bernie and george harrisonBernie and George.


Did you see George as ‘The Quiet Beatle’?

He wasn’t that quiet, no! He didn’t like fans pestering him. I remember him at the Abbey saying ‘let’s get out of here quick’ as the fans had started to recognise him and he used to bring albums with him on our dates so we could go home after and listen to music together away from the fans.


Did you ever experience Beatlemania?

Oh yes, I had a taste of Beatlemania when they were getting more famous. George said if I could get a lift to the Floral Hall in Southport to watch a show there, I could meet his mum who was also going. My sister and brother-in-law took me to watch the show and afterwards I went to meet his mum round the back. Tony Bramwell ushered us out and drove George’s blue Anglia car up so he could leave the engine running and get past the fans, and we were in the car waiting for him. It was like all hell broke loose! George came running out and he slammed the door, banging his arm on it, and I think it was his guitar arm which he was very unhappy about so his language was a bit blue on the way home. It was frightening because I’d never experienced anything like these faces screaming at the car window and that’s what they had to put up with all the time.


What do you think caused Beatlemania?

I think it was that teenage kids just suddenly got freedom, whereas years ago they were treated like children and kept down. ‘Oh Boy’ was the first pop music programme on TV and agents started to bring these artists and groups from the TV screens to theatres, and it was just over-exuberance, like kids today at football grounds. They get carried away and when there’s a mass of them, they feel safe to do that. It’s cheering now but it used to be screaming in those days and the noise was just awful. Although there were boys amongst them, they didn’t seem to be screaming. Earlier music such as jazz didn’t provoke that kind of reaction, but pop music did. When ‘Rock Around the Clock’ came to England, the film with Bill Haley, they were tearing up the cinema seats when he came over to make an appearance and they got so excited, and it was so frightening for the staff.


a postcard sent to bernadette from geortge harrison in tenerife, in nineteen sixty threea postcard for bernie from george harrison which reads: "Dear Bernydet, Hi. ‘Tis rainy and bananas here In Tenapenny but the natures are [?] too. We have see many gull frights and onions but not a senorita anywhere. It feels quite healthy with the wind and the rain, but apart from that it’s great. Don’t believe the picture on the card, I haven’t seen such a thing here, it looks good [?]. Tara Love from George [A BAND]"

A postcard sent to Bernie from George on 6th May 1963, whilst on holiday with Paul and Ringo in Tenerife.

Dear Bernydet,

Hi. ‘Tis rainy and bananas here in Tenapenny but the natives are growling too! We have see many bull fights and onions but not a senorita anywhere. It feels quite healthy with the wind and the rain, but apart from that it’s great. Don’t believe the picture on the card, I haven’t seen such a thing here, it looks good tho.


Love from

George [A BAND]


How long did your relationship with George last?

It was on and off probably over a year, but he was then working a lot and back and forth touring as they got more famous, and they went down to London to live. I did meet him again in the street in Church Street in Liverpool. He was walking along with Mal Evans, and we recognised each other. They’d just come back from America appearing at Shea Stadium in front of thousands of people watching him and I feel a bit silly now as I said, ‘Oh hi what are you doing now’! All I could think of later was how stupid I had looked as I had one of these bonnet hats with ears on and looked like a rabbit!


What was it like to live through that incredible music era?

Oh, it was just amazing. I’d grown up with all the classic music like Dean Martin, as my mum and dad loved Ballroom dancing and I was in a Jive and Charleston formation team. Despite my age I still love dancing today, I’d get up and jive with anyone. We were very lucky that we grew up in a very happy time, really. Everything was mainly centred in London, but we had this growing music base going on in Liverpool and it was like an explosion waiting to take off! We were watching the best groups in The Cavern every lunchtime. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were the biggest band before The Beatles took over, and Hamburg was such an important time for them learning their craft playing over 6-7 hours a night. They could sing anything after that, they could sing the telephone book. I didn’t go to Hamburg at the time only afterwards though.


You and Mike are the founders of The Beatles Story, what was Beatles Tourism in Liverpool like back then?

In the 1980s, Liverpool had started to develop a bit of tourism, and I had been training at the hairdressers at the time and saw an advert in the Liverpool Echo for Beatles’ guides and I said, ‘I can do that!’ I had two kids then, so I had to give up the hairdressing and my various other jobs, but I went along and when they found out my background they said ‘I think you’ll do fine.’ We trained as Beatles guides along with Dave and Bill who own The Cavern Club and another few guides. Then I took a qualification as a Blue Badge Guide which is a licenced certification and made sure that our customers were protected. I did a PSB license too so we could drive the bus around and it was quite difficult in those days as you were driving the bus and speaking into the microphone at the same time. It was quite niche back then but there’s lots of tour guides in the city today. We had to always be careful when taking visitors to places like John and Paul’s houses as we couldn’t stop on the double yellow lines outside. It’s quite astonishing what it’s like now, and I’m sure even George, Paul, John and Ringo didn’t quite realise how it would end up. But we were there at the beginning of Beatlemania and The Cavern Club days, and we were there at the beginning of Beatles’ tourism in the city. The difficulty back in the 80s was that not many people wanted to recognise it. The tourism boss at the time didn’t want to know at all so setting up The Beatles Story exhibition was such a challenge and there wasn’t any investment available. We struggled just like the owners of The Cavern did but when we look at how far the exhibition has come today it makes our early struggles more than worthwhile.


a photo of mike and bernie in the nineteen sixties

Mike and Bernie in the 1960s


Bernie’s collection of personal memorabilia is now proudly on display for visitors to The Beatles Story exhibition. Mike and Bernie will be hosting a free-to-attend book signing of ‘The Birth of The Beatles’ book on Monday 29th August between 12.30pm to 3pm in The Beatles Story’s Fab4 Café at the Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool.

The book, which was launched to celebrate The Beatles Story’s 32nd anniversary on 1st May 2022, is littered with never-before-told stories giving a personal insight into the world of The Beatles before they became famous and, along with stories of Bernie’s personal memories, tell the tale of an ambitious business dream inextricably linked to The Beatles, which resulted in the opening of The Beatles Story – a unique attraction and experience into the story of the world’s greatest band.


bernie and mike in present day at the beatles story

Mike and Bernie Byrne will be signing copies of ‘The Birth of The Beatles Story’ at The Beatles Story on August 29th.


If you, or someone you know, own Beatles or Merseybeat memorabilia – why not bring it down to our Memorabilia Day on the 5th October and have it valued for free by the experts from Tracks? Who knows, you may be the owner of a rare or valuable piece of history!

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