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Liverpool Entertainers - Billy Fury

Billy Fury, (Ronald Wycherley) 1940–1983, singer and songwriter, 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. He left school at the age of fifteen, worked as a rivet thrower in an engineering factory and as a deckhand on a tugboat in the Mersey estuary. As a child he suffered rheumatic fever which left his heart weak but that did not stop him from becoming a consummate performer. 

St Silas School
When he was 14 his father bought him a guitar, and he taught himself to play. Whilst not the best guitarist, he was quite good at writing songs and 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 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). 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 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 9. Colette became his biggest success, so far. Billy’s records continued to sell well and his tours were very popular. The man had animal magnetism and his live shows were earthy for the time. He knew exactly the importance of screaming fans practicing his stage craft for hours. This did not meet with approval from the guardians of morality who fearing the arrival of R’n 'R as the beginning of the end, began a campaign to ban the singer.

Recognizing the potential impact of Fury's Elvis Presley-influenced, hip-swivelling, and at times highly suggestive stage act, the television producer Jack Good featured him on his shows Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls, and Wham! In 1959 he made his acting début, playing a Teddy boy in Strictly for Sparrows, a television play by Ted Willis. Fury undertook concert tours frequently in the early 1960s but toned down his stage act after the curtain was dropped during his performance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in October 1959. Parnes formed the Blue Flames, led by pianist and organist Georgie Fame. After leaving Fury in 1962, the Blue Flames became a pioneer of the rhythm and blues movement in London. Fury's later supporting groups were the Tornados and the Gamblers.

From 1960 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 year in which he made his only appearance on television in the United States and his only appearance in pantomime, ‘Aladdin’ at the New Theatre, Oxford. He starred in two light comedy musical films, Play it Cool (1962, directed by Michael Winner) and I Gotta Horse (1965, directed by Kenneth Hume).

Fury's popularity was to some extent 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 (the Beatles) appeared on BBC-TV on 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.

Billy formed his own record company, ‘Fury’, in 1971 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 his abandoning touring.

Despite spending many weeks on the charts, Fury never achieved a number one single, 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 and in 1978 he re-recorded his early hits for the K-Tel company in order to raise money following his being declared bankrupt, having apparently become the victim of unscrupulous management. He returned to recording in 1981 and his final album, The One and Only, was released posthumously.

In the latter part of his life he spent much of his time on his farm on the Surrey–Sussex border. In the 1970s he purchased a 100 acre farm near Llandovery in Carmarthenshire, where he bred horses and sheep and indulged his interest in ornithology. His personal life was somewhat complicated: an eight-year relationship with Audrey Valentine (Lee) Middleton ended in 1967. (she subsequently married the disc jockey Kenny Everett). There followed a short-lived marriage (from 31 May 1969) to Lee's friend Judith Hall, a fashion model. The last twelve years of his life were shared with Lisa Rosen, a music publisher.

After returning from a recording session in the early hours of 28 January 1983, Billy Fury collapsed in 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. A week later his funeral was held 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.

Billy Fury Statue By Tom Murphy
at the Albert Dock

On 19 April 2003 a bronze statue of Fury was unveiled by Jack Good at the National Museum of Liverpool Life. The sculpture, by Tom Murphy, a Liverpool sculptor, was donated by 'The Sound of Fury' fan club after the money was raised by fans. It is located at the Albert Dock complex.

In 2005 Spencer Leigh from BBC Radio Merseyside published a biography book about Billy Fury called Wondrous Face – The Billy Fury Story.

Wondrous Face on Kindle

Robert F Edwards

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