It’s a pretty good sign that you’ve arrived on the music scene when the Beatles ask for your autograph.
The accolade happened to Liverpool singer Billy Fury at the start of the 1960s. The Fab Four were taking their first steps to fame while Fury had two hits tucked under his belt.
He’d released a debut album in 1960 too – The Sound of Fury – with up-and-coming rock star Joe Brown on lead guitar and backing vocals by the Four Jays.
The Beatles were auditioning for impresario Larry Parnes, who was putting together a new band to back Fury. Known then as the Silver Beatles, the Fab Four were given the job on £20 a week.
But John Lennon refused when Parnes insisted that he sacked bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. Instead he secured Fury’s autograph and promptly left!
The Tornados became Fury’s backing band, touring with him until August 1963. They went to Number One themselves in 1962 with the smash-hit instrumental track Telstar.
Fury, whose real name was Ronald Wycherley, was born at Smithdown Hospital (later Sefton General Hospital) in April 1940.
He worked on a tugboat and as a docker after starting his own band at the age of 15. Three years later he was entering talent competitions and composing his own songs.
Fury’s career moved into the fast lane when he met Parnes at the Essoldo Theatre, Birkenhead, with the aim of providing some songs for singer Marty Wilde.
Instead, Parnes signed up Fury in his own right, gave him his stage name, and immediately added him to his touring party.
The young Fury was an immediate sensation with moves like Elvis Presley, film star looks and a generous helping of musical talent.
His first Top 20 hit single, Maybe Tomorrow, was released in 1959. It reached No. 18. Fury’s own composition, Colette, then went to No. 9 in the UK charts in March 1960.
The debut album The Sound of Fury followed, and then came a switch away from Rock n’ Roll to ballads. Fury’s two singles Halfway to Paradise and Jealousy reached No. 3 and No. 2 in the charts in 1961.
It was the closest he ever got to the Number One spot.
Although Fury matched the Beatles’ record of 24 hits in the 1960s – spending 332 weeks in the charts – none of his singles or albums climbed to the very top.
He was plagued by another problem in October 1961 – kidney stones! Fury collapsed in a taxi in Cambridge city centre and had to recover in a nursing home.
Fury’s first film was Play It Cool, a musical released in 1962. He played struggling singer Billy Universe whose heiress girlfriend searches for him in a succession of clubs.
The impressive cast list included singer Helen Shapiro, Bobby Vee, Dennis Price, Shane Fenton and Bernie Winters. It was directed by Michael Winner.
Three years later, Fury portrayed a race-horse owner named Billy in the semi-autobiographical movie I’ve Gotta Horse. The film actually featured Fury’s own horse Anselmo as well as several of his dogs!
Starring alongside Fury were Amanda Barrie, Jon Pertwee and Prescot-born actor Fred Emney as well as popular bands the Bachelors and the Gamblers.
The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and on location at Great Yarmouth, where Fury had just finished a £10,000 Summer Spectacular at the Royal Aquarium Theatre.
Our photo shows him posing with summer season co-stars Karen Andrews and Jackie Sands.
Fury was renowned for his love of animals and was a keen birdwatcher all his life. He also championed wildlife preservation.
After his films, Fury achieved more hits (including Give Me Your Word in 1966) before undergoing surgery for heart problems in 1972 and 1976.
He toured with Marty Wilde in 1970 and played Stormy Tempest in the David Essex movie That’ll Be the Day in 1973.
Fury died at the age of 42 in January 1983. He collapsed at home from a heart attack after returning from a recording session. His heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever which he contracted as a child.
In April the same year, a tribute concert was held in Fury’s memory at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. Performers included Marty Wilde and his daughter Kim, Joe Brown, Shane Fenton (now known as Alvin Stardust), John Miles and Helen Shapiro.
A bronze statue of Fury by Merseyside sculptor Tom Murphy was unveiled at the National Museum of Liverpool Life in April 2003. It was purchased with money donated by The Sound of Fury fan club.
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