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24 September 2014

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Billy Fury
The Billy Fury statue in Liverpool

Billy Fury

By Paul Coslett
The story of one of Liverpool’s first pop stars, Billy Fury covers his life from tug boat worker to stardom and his early death.

Had the Beatles not existed then it’s possible that Billy Fury would have been Liverpool’s most famous musician. One of the UK’s biggest stars Billy Fury whose real name was Ronnie Wycherley was the original pop idol with a string of hits from the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s. Spencer Leigh’s new book is the first to tell the life story of the pop icon who battled with ill health throughout most of his life.

Billy Fury had been sacked by numerous employers before he got his big break in an almost fairytale like way when he talked his way on to the bill of a show at the Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead on October 1st 1958. The showbiz impresario Larry Parnes was putting on Marty Wilde at the theatre, Ronnie Wycherley talked his way in to backstage and after a brief dressing room audition was added to the bill along with an ambitious young comedian called Jimmy Tarbuck.

"Spencer Leigh’s new book is the first to tell the life story of the pop icon who battled with ill health throughout most of his life."

Wondorous Face charts Billy Fury’s career as a performer who as Spencer Leigh says had shoulder so broad  “It always looked to me as though he went on stage with the coat-hanger still in his jacket.” From that first performance at Birkenhead Billy Fury rose to national stardom as one of Britain’s first rock and roll stars. With hits including ‘Halfway To Paradise’, ‘Wonderous Place’, and ‘Margo’. Spencer Leigh has interviewed many of the key stars and players of the day to bring to life a story includes the usual rock and roll standards of affairs, near riots at performances, girls hiding in car boots and appearances on the same bill as Eddie Cochran.

Ultimately for Billy Fury his career was partly destroyed by the tradition of youthful pop stars of which he had been one of  the first and gone a large way towards creating. There are two shadows hanging over the book, Larry Parnes and the constant spectre of Billy’s ill health.

Parnes was a controlling and ultimately financially destructive influence with his booking of Billy into summer seasons at Great Yarmouth and cabaret clubs he was unable to grasp with the changes that the 1960’s had brought to show business and his failure to manage Billy’s tax affairs would lead to Fury’s eventual bankruptcy.

Billy Fury
Billy Fury is honoured by a statue

Billy Fury, like his Dingle neighbour Ringo Starr, spent a large amount of his childhood in and out of hospital and his recurring health problems would blight his career and contribute to his early death in at the age of 43 in 1983. By as early as 1966 his heart complaints were becoming more serious and ‘Wonderous Face’ describes in detail Billy Fury’s decline throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Spencer Leigh also depicts the largely unknown side of Billy Fury as a lover of nature, a man who turned his swimming pool into a bird sanctuary, who visited Cornwall after the Torrey Canyon oil spill to care for birds, and who at one timed owned sheep, dogs, pigs, an owl, magpies, fox cubs and a badger he kept on a diet of Milky Way bars.

Wonderous Face is a much needed and comprehensive appraisal of one of Liverpool’s biggest stars. Over twenty years after his death Billy Fury is still much loved and has even been accorded the honour of a statue in his home city.

last updated: 12/12/05
Have Your Say
What are your memories of Billy Fury? Add your comments here.
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Sandy Phipps
I saw Billy live on stage at Dover, I was in the front row. He was at his best and his voice was like silk.His looks spectacular.I will never forget that evening.

Linda Knowles
Loved him, I thought he was better than the beatles found his statue inLiverpool on last visit

Tony Connor
I only encountered him once, he was visiting Mike Cox, another Liverpool performer, and had parked his motor bike on Mike's pathway. I was calling on Mike's brother, Dave and inadvertantly knocked over the bike. He chased me but quickly ran out of breath. I didn't know who had chased me until the following day, then it became local folklore that I had been persued by "the" Billy Fury.

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