The Sound And The Fury

Hip replacement - Billy Fury was Liverpool's answer to Elvis Presley - and courted the same sort of controversy with his highly charged on-stage hip swinging antics
Bob Edwards is the author of the book Liverpool in the 1950s and created www.LiverpoolPicturebook.com website which currently has in excess of 2.3 million viewers worldwide. In this column Bob aims to bring you some of the wonderful history of our great city along with some photographs that illustrate our past, we hope you enjoy it!
Bob Edwards is the author of the book Liverpool in the 1950s and created www.LiverpoolPicturebook.com website which currently has in excess of 2.3 million viewers worldwide. In this column Bob aims to bring you some of the wonderful history of our great city along with some photographs that illustrate our past, we hope you enjoy it!
THE singer and songwriter Billy Fury, (Ronald Wycherley) 1940–1983, was born on 17th April 1940 at the Smithdown Road Infirmary, (later Sefton General Hospital) Smithdown Road. He was the eldest son of Albert Edward Wycherley, a shoe repairer, and his wife, Sarah Jane (known as Jean), née Homer. He attended St Silas’s infant school and then Wellington Road secondary modern school. Like many young men at the time he left school at the age of fifteen and worked as a rivet thrower in an engineering factory and as a deckhand on a tugboat in the Mersey estuary. Billy suffered from health problems as a child and had rheumatic fever which left his heart weak but that did not stop him from becoming a consummate performer. When Billy was 14 his father bought him a guitar and he taught himself to play, he may not have been the best guitarist but he was good at writing songs. When he saw the 1956 film ‘Girl can’t help it’ and a friend told him he looked like Eddie Cochrane, he was sold on a career as a rock‘n’roller. He initially took the name Stean Wade and played mostly skiffle and some Country and Western numbers as part of the “Formby Sniffle Gloup.” (the name reflecting Ron´s teenage humour). In 1958 he decided to take his career one step further and entered the Percy F. Phillips´ recording studio at 38 Kensington, Liverpool and cut a 78 r.p.m. acetate. Accompanied only by his guitar he recorded four Elvis Presley numbers and one of his own self-penned compositions, entitled “Love´s A Callin´.” Following the recording a session a tape of the songs and a photograph of the young Billy was sent to impresario Larry Parnes, the big man of British pop, who already had in his stable such names as Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde. Larry asked him to meet him at the Essoldo Theatre, in Birkenhead, where his current presentation, the Extravaganza Show, was headlining. Parnes was so impressed with the young scouser he pushed him on stage to perform two of his own songs and the audience just loved them. Larry signed him immediately and Stean Wade became Billy Fury. Within days the new teen sensation had a record contract with Decca Records, and in 1959 Maybe Tomorrow was released and became a hit record. In 1960 Colette was released while he was on tour with Parnes’ and charted at number 22 and peaked at number 9. Colette became his biggest success, so far. Billy’s records continued to sell well and his tours were very popular. Billy could hold an audience in the palm of his hand, he had animal magnetism and his live shows were popular with the youngsters of the day. He was well aware of the importance of screaming fans and practiced his stage craft for hours. His hip swinging did not always meet with approval though, and some moral guardians who feared the effect Rock and Roll was having on youngsters began a campaign to ban the singer.
School of rock -Billy's old school St Silas
School of rock -Billy’s old school St Silas
The television producer Jack Good realised the potential impact of Fury’s “Elvis Presley” style hip-swivelling, and at times highly suggestive stage act featured him on his shows, Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls, and Wham!  In 1959 he made his acting debut, playing a teddy boy in “Strictly For Sparrows,” a television play by Ted Willis. Fury also undertook concert tours frequently in the early 1960’s, but was forced to tone down his stage act after the curtain was dropped, during his performance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in October 1959. It was in 1960 that Decca decided that Fury should record versions of American hits rather than his own compositions. Among these were ‘One Thousand Stars’ ‘Halfway to Paradise’ ‘Jealousy’ and ‘It’s Only Make Believe,’ with musical arrangements by Ivor Raymonde, both ‘Halfway to Paradise’ and ‘Jealousy’ earned silver discs for sales of 250,000 copies. His last major hit was the romantic ballad ‘In Thoughts of You’ in 1965, the same year he made his only appearance on American television and his only appearance in pantomime, ‘Aladdin’ at the New Theatre, Oxford. Billy starred in two light comedy musical films, Play it Cool (1962, directed by Michael Winner) and I Gotta Horse (1965, directed by Kenneth Hume.) The music scene in Liverpool was rapidly changing and his popularity was affected by the arrival of a new generation of Liverpool musicians led by The Beatles. However, on December 7th, 1963. John, Paul, George and Ringo appeared on BBC TV’s Juke Box Jury”, voting Billy´s latest single, “Do You Really Love Me Too” a hit and it spent 10 weeks in the charts eventually reaching number13. At the end of that year Billy and the Tornados toured Europe; France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Holland. In 1971 Billy formed his own record company ‘Fury’ to release his own work, and that of rock’n’roll singer Shane Fenton (later Alvin Stardust) and others. Billy underwent surgery for heart problems in 1972 and 1976 which led to him abandoning touring. Billy, Fury never achieved a number one single, in spite of spending many weeks in the charts, but he remained popular even after his hits stopped. “I Will” became a US hit for Dean Martin (1965) and for Ruby Winters (1977). In 1974 he took part in a rock’n’roll revival tour with Marty Wilde and others. In 1978 Billy re-recorded his early hits for the K-Tel company in order to raise money, having been declared bankrupt and the victim of unscrupulous management. He returned to recording in 1981 and his final album, The One and Only, was released posthumously. Billy spent the majority of the latter part of his life on his farm on the Surrey – Sussex border, and in the 1970’s he purchased a 100-acre farm near Llandovery in Carmarthenshire, where he bred horses and sheep and indulged his interest in Ornithology. Billy had an eight-year relationship with Audrey Valentine (Lee) Middleton that ended in 1967, she later married the disc jockey Kenny Everett. Billy then married Lee’s friend, Judith Hall, a fashion model, but this was short-lived and the last twelve years of his life were shared with Lisa Rosen, a music publisher. On his return home from a recording session in the early hours of 28 January 1983, Billy collapsed at his home in London. His personal manager, Tony Read, found him unconscious the next morning. He was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, but died later in the afternoon, aged 42. Billy’s funeral was held a week later at the St John’s Wood church in London. Among the mourners were Larry Parnes, Marty Wilde, Jess Conrad, Eden Kane, Tony Read, Hal Carter and Mick Green in addition to family members, friends and fans. The choir sang a special version of Billy’s Decca hit “I’m Lost Without You”. After the service Billy was buried at Mill Hill cemetery. A track issued posthumously, “Forget Him”, became his final single chart hit. The world lost a great performer and Liverpool lost another son, but his memory lives on. His backing band from 1970 until 1976, when he stopped touring due to ill heath, were Fury’s Tornados, named by Billy and his then manager Hal Carter. They continue to tour in the theatre show “Halfway to Paradise: The Billy Fury Story.”