Billy Fury Biography

Chris Eley.

Early years

Billy Fury was born Ronald Wycherley on April 17th 1940, in the Wavertree area of Liverpool as the first son of Albert and Sarah Jane (Jean) Wycherley. A bout of rheumatic fever at the age of six and again at about 16 led to lengthy periods in hospital and finally resulted in a permanently damaged heart. The Dingle area where Ron grew up was tough, but despite his health problem the youngster managed to cope. After the compulsory education was completed, Ron took a job as a rivet thrower in an engineering works, then as a deckhand on one of the River Mersey tug-boats, the Formby. While working on the tug-boats his interest in music, already stimulated by the family enviroment and piano lessons at ten years of age, was further fuelled by listening to the American Country´n´Western, Rhythm´n´Blues and Rock´n´Roll discs, brought in by visiting seamen from their trips across the Ocean. Especially this new music, Rock´n´Roll, started to make an impact on young Ron.

In actual fact Billy´s parents had bought the guitar for him from Frank Hennessy´s, when he was about 14 years of age. He taught himself to play the guitar and soon entertained his friends with his music. He did the odd gig here and there calling himself Stean Wade, playing mostly skiffle and some C´n´W numbers as part of the "Formby Sniffle Gloup", the name reflecting Ron´s adolescent humour. By that time his main ambition was to become a songwriter, and whenever there was a spare moment he spent it sitting alone, composing endlessly, often on the backs of his parents domestic house bills. Ron´s last job before he struck fame and fortune was in a Liverpool department store, Joshua Reynolds, where he met the inspiration for his second single release, Margo King.

Early in 1958 Ron entered the Percy F. Phillips´ recording studio in Liverpool and cut a 78 r.p.m. acetate. Accompanied only by his guitar, he went through four Elvis Presley numbers and even one of his own self penned compositions entitled "Love´s A Callin´". A tape of the songs and a photograph of the young man was sent to impressario 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, when his current package show, the Extravaganza Show, with Marty Wilde headlining, would reach there. Prior to this Ron had undertaken a local talent contest and approached the Hughie Green of that time, Carroll Levis Discoveries, but to no effect.

Ferry across the Mersey

On Wednesday, October 1st 1958, Ronnie and a couple of his mates took the ferry across the Mersey, a trip that was to change his whole life. Ronnie was ushered into Marty´s dressing-room. With a guitar in his hand he sang two of his own numbers; "Margo" and "Maybe Tomorrow". Parnes was impressed by the youngsters talents and looks. After a rehearsal Ron walked on stage after the interval and sang two or three numbers, receiving a wonderful reception from the audience. Parnes signed him on the spot, and the next day he was heading to Manchester with the rest of the show. A star was born. But the name Ron Wycherley didn´t have the right sound for a pop star.

"I had an interview with the Daily Mirror. So, before going to see the people at the Daily Mirror Larry was going to give me a little chat about what to expect etc. Then he said; 'What do you think about having a stage name?' So I said I feel fine about it. I´d like to change it anyway. So he said; 'What´d you think about Billy Fury?' Well, I liked Billy, but I wasn´t too keen on Fury. So we tossed a coin on it and I won the toss and thought; 'Wow! The next day there´s going to be a picture of me in the Daily Mirror and it´s going to say Stean Wade.' So, the next day there was a bang-bang on my flat door and I opened it and one of my friends was there with a copy of the Daily Mirror and there they had BILLY FURY!!!"

Decca Records

Billy´s career skyrocketed right from the start; within days he signed with Decca Records, recorded his first disc, the self penned "Maybe Tomorrow", which charted in February, spending 9 weeks on the charts, peaking at No. 18. By the end of April 1959 he had already made his television debut as an actor, playing a bit part in the ARTV play "Strictly For Sparrows" (plugging his first single, naturally), appeared on the television pop show "Cool For Cats" and made his radio debut on the BBC Radio show "Saturday Club". He also established himself as a regular on Jack Good´s legendary "Oh Boy!" television show. His second single, "Margo", also his own composition, only reached No. 28 and the next two singles failed to chart completely, probably as a result of bad press which he was receiving, because of his wild and overtly sexual stage act. On October 30th at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, the curtain was dropped during his act. That sort of exhibitionism wasn´t appreciated by Britain´s Watch Committee and they tried to have Billy banned from the nation´s stages. Eventually Billy capitulated and cleaned up his act. By that time Furymania had reached such heights that he couldn´t go anywhere without being recognised. And pretty soon it reached to a point where he became a prisoner of fame; he had to be smuggled from the hotel to the theatre and back to the hotel, from one town to another.

During the last months of the decade Billy appeared several times on Jack Good´s latest pop vehicle "Boy Meets Girl", a TV show where American rock´n´rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran made their UK debuts. On January 24,1960, Larry Parnes´ latest rock spectacular "The Fast Moving Anglo-American Beat Show", a 12-week, twice nightly, UK tour, started at the Gaumont Theatre, in Ipswich, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran headlining. Also on the bill with Billy, Joe Brown, Tony Sheridan Trio, Georgie Fame and Billy Raymond. The tour ended in tragedy when Eddie Cochran got killed in a car accident while on his way to the airport and back home to the US. In March, while Billy was still on the road with the Americans, his fifth single "Colette" entered the Hit Parade, spending 10 weeks on the charts and reaching the number 9 spot - so far his biggest hit.

Encouraged enough by the sales of "Colette", Decca planned for a 10 inch LP, "The Sound Of Fury", recorded in April 1960, with Jack Good handling the production. The album contained ten songs, all written by Billy, some of them under pseudonym Wilbur Wilberforce, and was the first real British rockabilly record. The album and a single "That´s Love" lifted from it, both made the charts in June, the album reaching the 18th place and the single the 19th place at it´s best. On May 10th, the Beatles among other Liverpool bands auditioned for Parnes and Billy, at Wyvern Social Club, in Liverpool, trying to get a break as Fury´s backing band. However, this never happened - instead Billy made a short tour with Cass & the Casanovas By that time Billy had also hosted Jack Good´s latest TV show, the short-lived "Wham!" The rest of the year Billy toured with Joe Brown and other stable mates in a Larry Parnes/Jack Good production "The Rock´n´Trad Spectacular" (subtitled as "The New Noise Of 1960"), a sort of stage version of Good´s TV shows where as many performers as possible were squeezed in and each having their own 30 minutes in the spotlight. Jack Good also produced Billy´s next single "Wondrous Place", a great number when performed live and one of Billy´s personal favourites; he recorded five versions of the song during his recording career. Despite being a great song it didn´t climb higher than No. 25 in the charts during November.

The year 1961 started with a cover of the Rivileers´ "A Thousand Stars" and Marty Robbins´"Don´t Worry", both reaching the tail end of the charts, but it was "Halfway To Paradise" that really made him a major star. The Goffin/King song had been a minor hit in the US for Tony Orlando, but Billy´s cover is now considered the definitive version. It entered the charts in May and stayed there 23 weeks, peaking at No. 3, earning Billy a Silver Disc for passing the 250,000 sales mark in August. This was the first session produced by Dick Rowe and Mike Smith for Billy, with Ivor Raymonde in charge of musical direction - a combination that would produce most of Billy´s big hits. While the single was racing up the charts, an LP was hurriedly assembled and issued through Decca´s subsidiary label Ace of Clubs. The follow-up was an old standard "Jealousy", released in September and reaching No. 2 in the next month, the closest Billy Fury ever came to the top spot in the UK. Another Goffin/King song proved to be a huge success for him; "I´d Never Find Another You" was released in November, eventually reaching 5th place in the charts and in January it had sold over 250,000 copies, earning Billy his second Silver Disc and also the Carl-Alan Award from Mecca Dancing when this was voted the most popular record at Mecca Ballrooms all over the UK. More awards kept pouring in; Billy was voted Britain´s No. 3 Male Singer in annual New Musical Express´ poll, just behind Adam Faith and Cliff Richard, and was No. 1 Most Requested Artist for Poll Concert, an award which he was to receive for the next two years, validating his position as most exciting live performer. It was also during this time that Billy had his own 30-minute show "The Sound Of Fury" on Radio Luxembourg and he won the Getaway Trophy on the programme´s "Battle Of The Giants" competition in 1962 and 1966. At the end of 1961 Billy scored an overwhelming success at the famous Olympia Theatre in Paris, France.

Billy and Elvis

One of the greatest moments in Billy´s life was when he and Larry went to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley whilst he was filming "Girls, Girls, Girls", to present him with some Gold and Silver Discs for UK sales on behalf of the Disc music paper. Billy spent an entire day at the Paramount lot, had his picture taken with Elvis and flew back home with a song from the film; "Because Of Love" became Billy´s 14th hit. Billy´s previous backing group, Georgie Fame´s Blue Flames were now on their own and in April 1962 Billy started his spring tour with a brand new backing group, The Tornados, a group put together from Joe Meek´s session men. Billy made his silver screen debut in the 1962 low-budget movie "Play It Cool", a drama about a struggling rock band, Billy Universe & The Satellites (!), involved with a runaway heiress, played by Anna Palk. The director of the film, Michael Winner, had so far directed minor trash/exploitation stuff like "Shoot To Kill" and "Some Like It Cool" and went on further success with the "Death Wish" movies in the 70s. "Play It Cool" was a box office hit and saw a US release the next year. A soundtrack EP from the film was launched and it was a huge success, spending 45 weeks in the EP charts, eventually reaching No. 2. The single "Once Upon A Dream", also from the film, reached No. 7 in the charts in August. Now Billy had been on the road about 48 weeks out of 52 per year since he´d joined Parnes´ stable, criss-crossing the country from London to Glasgow and back to Plymouth, anywhere and everywhere, two shows a night. Now this mad pace started to take it´s toll and some performances were cancelled on account of flu, measles, kidney stones and some mystery illnesses, more or less side-effects of the weak heart. On several occasions Billy collapsed on stage.

Climbing the chart and losing the Tornados

Billy kept on recording hits; the year 1963 started with a single "Like I´ve Never Been Gone", which charted in February, eventually reaching the No. 3 spot. A new LP, simply titled "Billy", was a clear evidence of his new something-for-everybody image; a wide range of songs from standards like "Willow Weep For Me" to Ray Charles´ "Hard Times". The record, released in May, went on to become Billy´s biggest-selling album, peaking No. 6 in a 5-month chart run. The next two singles "Like I´ve Never Been Gone" and "In Summer" also made the Top 5 in the UK. 1963 was the year when the Merseybeat emerged and it meant hard times for the old guard, but Billy survived longer than any of his pre-beat contemporaries, apart from Cliff Richard. The year certainly was the peak of his career; he was voted Britain´s No. 2 Male Singer in the annual New Musical Express´ poll and again No. 1 Most Requested Artist for Poll Concert. He even reached the No. 1 spot in Pop Weekly magazine´s Popularity Charts, beating such names as Elvis and Cliff. Also he became the most requested artist on ATV´s "Thank Your Lucky Stars", topped the bill on the first edition of ITV´s major pop show "Ready, Steady, Go!", and had his own magazine "Fury Monthly" which ran for four years. Whilst on a three-month UK tour with Joe Brown and Karl Denver in October a new LP was released. The album "We Want Billy!", which was recorded with The Tornados live in front of some 600 screaming girls at Decca´s studios, contained more or less Billy´s standard live set from that period and it charted briefly before vanishing into thin air. As a record of his compelling and electrifying stage presence it is essential listening, probably the finest live album of the 60´s. December 7th 1963 John, Paul, George & Ringo (then known as the Beatles) appeared on BBC-TV´s "Juke Box Jury", voting Billy´s latest single, "Do You Really Love Me Too", a hit. It was a hit, spending 10 weeks on charts eventually reaching No. 13 spot. At the end of the year Billy & the Tornados toured Europe; France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium & Holland.

The year 1964 started with the sacking of the Tornados. The band´s line-up was changing constantly, meaning extra rehearsals. By that time Billy´s calendar was booked up for about 18 months in advance, so there were hardly any extra days to break-in a new band member. The Gamblers, a six-piece unit from Newcastle, made their debut as Billy´s backing band on BBC Radio´s "Saturday Club" on March 23th (they´d already cut some tracks with Billy in January) The next singles "I Will", "It´s Only Make Believe" and "I´m Lost Without You", still made the Top 20, guaranteeing the top billing on the tour posters. Now there wasn´t any longer Parnes´ stable of stars. Larry had lost his interest in pop managing, letting the others go and Billy was his only signing and the last of the pack who was making any money as a singer.

Film and TV

In March 1965 Billy made a short visit to the US, making his American TV debut on ABC-TV´s "Shindig". Even though it was the year of the British Invasion in the States, Billy never made it over there, no matter that he was a Scouse singer, and certainly better than most of his competitors. Billy´s second movie "I´ve Gotta Horse" was shot in colour. That must have been the highlight of the film. The feeble script about Billy and his racehorse, Anselmo, which he actually owned, was co-written by Larry Parnes and the director of the film Kenneth Hume. The supporting cast included Amanda Barrie, a soon to be Dr. Who... Jon Pertwee, Michael Medwin, together with the Bachelors and the Gamblers. The film premiered in the West End in April 1965 and Decca released a soundtrack album, the last LP for Billy under their trademark. The critics loved the film, as did many fans who liked to see the "real Billy", horse owner and animal lover as opposed to the performance persona presented in "Play It Cool". "In Thoughts Of You", Billy´s 25th Decca single, was released in June 1965 and it entered the charts the next month, eventually reaching No. 9 place. It proved to be Billy´s last Top 10 hit. Still, minor hits kept coming; "Run To My Lovin´ Arms" and "I´ll Never Quite Get Over You" both reached the lower-parts of the charts. The year ended Billy making his debut in pantomime, "Aladdin", at the New Theatre, Oxford. The supporting cast included "the new comedy star" Ray Fell, Cheryl Kennedy and the Gamblers who played six Chinese policemen! By that time Billy´s younger brother Albert had become a recording artist in his own right under name Jason Eddie. His debut single for Parlophone, "Watcha Gonna Do Baby" was produced by Joe Meek.

Marriage, Surgery and goodbye Decca

In February 1966 Billy recorded the title song, "How´s The World Treating You", for a play at the Wyndham Theatre, London, where it was featured each night. Billy´s contract with Decca was running out and in April 1966 Billy entered Decca´s West Hampstead studios for the last time. Instead of waxing a big production number, he tried something different - "Don´t Let A Little Pride Stand In Your Way" was a commercial failure. As a swansong for the company "Give Me Your Word" was released in July 1966. It made the charts, reaching 27th place and spending 7 weeks on the listings before slipping away. A total of 29 singles were released between 1959-1966, 26 of them making the charts and 11 reaching the Top 10, but Billy never made the No. 1 spot (except in Singapore, where "It´s Only Make Believe" Not a bad show from the Dingle lad. Billy was in fact Decca Records most successful singles artist, beating even the Rolling Stones! During the last week of December Billy signed a five-year recording deal with Parlophone, recording 11 singles for the label over a period of three years. Sadly, none of his Parlophone releases made the charts. Each session was produced by different producer, even Larry Parnes himself tried his skills behind the desk, but the winning formula wasn´t found. Billy´s worsening health also meant that he wasn´t able to fully promote his current releases and the rest of the 60´s he spent on his farm on the Sussex/Surrey border, devoting more time to bird watching and taking care of sick animals, occasionally performing in cabaret. He even turned his £8.000 swimming pool into a bird sanctuary, complete with weeds and bullrushes.

In 1968 Billy was engaged to former fashion model Judith Hall, and on May 31st 1969 they got secretly married at Esher Register Office, in Surrey. Billy´s best man was his manager Hal Carter. Later the couple went off on honeymoon to Majorca. Unfortunately the marriage didn´t last long and they divorced in 1973.

In December 1971 Billy underwent his first major heart surgery at the National Heart Hospital, in London. After a good rest he returned back to cabaret circuit and the next year he established his own Fury record label and issued a one-off single "Will The Real Man Please Stand Up". Only a handful of singles by Shane Fenton, Atlantis and Johnny Hackett were released and the label folded soon afterwards.

Rock festivals and failing health

In August 5th 1972 Billy appeared at the Wembley Stadium at "London Rock´n´Roll Festival", sharing the bill with Little Richard, Gary Glitter, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Heinz etc. The year ended with filming of David Essex/Ringo Starr movie "That´ll Be The Day" at the Isle of Wight. Billy made a cameo appearance in the movie as "Stormy Tempest", a 50´s holiday camp ballroom singer, more or less reflecting his own image from the early days. The movie premiered in West End in April 12th 1973 and was a huge success, as was it´s soundtrack album which spent 7 weeks as No. 1 on the charts. The album contained a mixture of oldies together with some specially-recorded material, including 5 tracks by Billy. During this time he bought a 100-acre farm in the Welsh mountains, near Llanwrda, where he led a relaxing life breeding horses and sheep and bird-watching. Billy even drew up his own plans for a bird sanctuary. The year 1974 saw Billy on Rock´n´roll revival tour with Marty Wilde, Heinz, Tommy Bruce etc. and Warner Brothers released one single "I´ll Be Your Sweetheart" in July 1974, but the record buyers ignored it. He also recorded Marty Wilde´s "57 Queen" which unfortunately has yet to see light of day.

He returned to cabaret work, working steadily, but in 1976 his health failed again and the second visit to Harley Street was made and this time his valve was replaced, which forced him into retirement for the rest of the 70´s. The only exception was re-recording of his Decca hits for K-Tel in 1978 in order to clear his bankruptcy announced earlier in the year, but he wasn´t seriously considering to making a comeback. However, in 1981 Billy´s friends Tony Read and Hal Carter "conned" him to making a record.

"A great friend of mine Tony Read telephoned me - well, he´d been phoning me for years - and said could I come and make another recording? I kept saying no, till eventually he actually cut the track together with all the musicians. So I couldn´t turn him down. Spent five or four grand on this track. So I kind of had to do it."

"Be Mine Tonight" was released by Polydor in October 1981, but it failed to chart - Billy himself didn´t expect anything from that record, saying it would only "go as high as a flea would jump". It was in fact a recreation of his late 60´s sound but in the 80´s style. He was still quite unwilling to make a major comeback, spending most of his time at his farm looking after wildlife and apparently turning acres of marsland into lakes and ponds for birds

Ta Rah Billy

On March 7th 1982 Billy collapsed at his farm with critical kidney and heart condition and was paralysed down one side and lost his eye sight temporarily. Lisa Rosen, Billy´s long term companion, made a 210-mile dash through the night by car to London hospital. It was a close call; the doctors didn´t think that he would make it through the night, but he did. A picture in the Daily Mirror of a smiling Billy resulted in a flood of get well cards from fans. After his recovery, Billy started performing again, appearing first at the Stuart Henry Multiple Sclerosis Appeal concert in London, then at the Blue Boar Festival site, Hucknall, the Radio One 15th anniversary concert and on several TV shows. His next single "Love Or Money", which was produced by Stuart Colman, returned Billy to the UK singles chart after 16 years absence in September, peaking at No. 57. Now Billy was also following the footsteps of Larry Parnes when he introduced his teenage protegé Caroline Vandermolen, known as Ricky O´. He was grooming her for pop stardom, and showed a good deal of concern for her. Through an arrangement with Essex Music, he recorded some demos with her at their studios. A follow-up single, "Devil Or Angel", was quickly cut and it charted in November, eventually reaching No. 58 spot. Two different versions of the single was made; one with and one without the strings, which confused the dealers and helped to stifle a big hit record. More television and radio appearances followed; he recorded "Maybe Tomorrow" for ITV´s "Greatest Hits" and appeared on the Marty Wilde edition of "This Is Your Life", and even undertook a series of one-night stands, mostly in the Midlands and the East of England.

The year 1983 looked bright for Billy; a brand new album was on it´s way, plans for a nationwide tour with Helen Shapiro were made and he taped six songs for the Channel 4 TV show "Unforgettable". On January 27th after working late in the studio, Billy returned home and collapsed during the night. He was found unconscious the next morning and rushed to a hospital. This time he lost his battle and died at the age of 42. A week later his funeral were held at the St. John´s Wood Church in London. Among the mourners were Larry Parnes, Marty Wilde, Hal Carter and ex-Pirate 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", a fine tribute to the great performer. After the service Billy was buried at Mill Hill cemetery. In March Polydor released the album "The One And Only", a mixture of well performed covers and originals, which charted briefly, reaching the No. 54 spot. A Decca release "The Billy Fury Hit Parade" did even better, placing No. 44 in April. On April 10th 1983, a tribute concert for Billy was held at the Beck Theatre in Hayes, Middlesex. All the artists performed for free and the money raised was donated to the Billy Fury Memorial Fund for Research into Heart Disease. On the bill were such names as Marty Wilde with his daughter Kim, Joe Brown, Dave Berry, Helen Shapiro, Lyn Paul etc. Billy´s last single for Polydor was released in May 1983 and it charted the next month, placing at No. 59. The song was titled "Forget Him" - something that we´ll never do!!!