|Birth name||Ronald Wycherley|
|Born||17 April 1940|
|Died||28 January 1983 (aged 42)|
Ronald Wycherley (17 April 1940 – 28 January 1983), better known as Billy Fury, was an English singer, musician, songwriter, and actor. An early star of rock and roll, he equalled the Beatles' record of 24 hits in the 1960s and spent 332 weeks on the UK chart. His hit singles include "Wondrous Place", "Halfway to Paradise" and "Jealousy". Fury also maintained a film career, notably playing rock performers in Play It Cool in 1962 and That'll Be the Day in 1973.
AllMusic journalist Bruce Eder stated that Fury's "mix of rough-hewn good looks and unassuming masculinity, coupled with an underlying vulnerability, all presented with a good voice and some serious musical talent, helped turn [him] into a major rock and roll star in short order". Others have suggested that his rapid rise to prominence was due to his "Elvis-influenced hip swivelling and, at times, highly suggestive stage act".
Fury was born Ronald Wycherley at Smithdown Hospital (later Sefton General Hospital and now demolished) on Smithdown Road in Liverpool on 17 April 1940. He commenced music lessons on the piano before he was a teenager, and was bought his first guitar by the age of 14. Wycherley fronted his own group in 1955, but simultaneously worked full-time on a tugboat and later as a docker. He entered and won a talent competition, and by 1958 had started composing his own songs.
Wycherley went to meet pop manager and impresario Larry Parnes at the Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead, hoping to interest one of Parnes' protégés, singer Marty Wilde, in some of the songs he had written. Instead, in an episode that has since become pop music legend, Parnes pushed young Wycherley up on stage right away. He was such an immediate success that Parnes signed him, added him to his tour, and renamed him "Billy Fury". However, his early sexual and provocative stage performances received censure, and he was forced to tone them down. In October 1959, the UK music magazine, NME, commented that Fury's stage antics had been drawing much press criticism.
He released his first hit single for Decca, "Maybe Tomorrow", in 1959. He also appeared in a televised play Strictly for Sparrows, and subsequently on Oh Boy! In March 1960, he reached No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart with his own composition "Colette", followed by "That's Love" and his first album The Sound of Fury (1960), which featured a young Joe Brown on lead guitar, with backup vocals by the Four Jays. After securing more hits and splitting from his band Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Parnes held auditions in Liverpool for a new group. Among those who auditioned were the Beatles, who at this time were still calling themselves the Silver Beetles. They were offered the job for £20 a week on condition that they sacked their bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. John Lennon refused and the band left after Lennon had secured Fury's autograph. The Tornados were recruited as Fury's backing band and toured and recorded with him from January 1962 to August 1963. The Puppets were another band that backed Fury at a couple of gigs for 12 months.
UK chart and film success
Fury concentrated less on rock and roll and more on mainstream ballads, such as "Halfway to Paradise" and "Jealousy" (which reached No. 3 and No. 2 respectively in the UK Singles Chart in 1961). Fury confessed to the NME that "I wanted people to think of me simply as a singer – and not, more specifically, as a rock singer. I'm growing up, and I want to broaden my scope. I shall continue to sing rock songs, but at the same time my stage act is not going to be as wild in the future". It was Decca's decision to mould Fury into a teen idol after his last self-penned song, "My Christmas Prayer", had failed to chart. The years 1961 through 1963 were Fury's best years chartwise. In 1962, he appeared in his first film, Play It Cool, modelled on the Elvis films. It featured Helen Shapiro, Danny Williams, Shane Fenton and Bobby Vee, who appeared with the Vernons Girls. The hit single from the film was "Once Upon a Dream". There were other notable performances by several British actors and performers such as Richard Wattis, Lionel Blair and Dennis Price.
In 1965 he appeared in the film I've Gotta Horse, which also featured his backing group the Gamblers, the Bachelors, Amanda Barrie, Michael Medwin and Jon Pertwee. The album from the film was made available in stereo. Fury left Decca Records in 1966, after signing to a five-year recording contract with Parlophone.
Having had more UK hits, such as "It's Only Make Believe" and "I Will" (written by Dick Glasser, not to be confused with the Paul McCartney song), both in 1964, and "In Thoughts of You" (1965), Fury began a lengthy absence from the charts in 1967, and underwent surgery for heart problems in 1972 and 1976 which led to his abandoning touring. Despite spending many weeks in 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 1973, Fury emerged from a period of semi-retirement to star as 'Stormy Tempest' in the film That'll Be the Day. Also starring David Essex and Ringo Starr, it was roughly based on the early days of the Beatles. Starr was from the Dingle area of Liverpool, as was Fury, and had originally played drums for Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, whom the Stormy Tempest group were said to be modelled on.
In the mid-1970s, Fury went out on the road with Marty Wilde. Away from the spotlight, he focused on wildlife preservation. Fury's health deteriorated and he underwent two open heart surgeries - the first was in 1972, and the second in 1976. In 1978, Fury was declared bankrupt for unpaid taxes to the Inland Revenue. The taxes dated back to 1962, and amounted to £16,780. Fury was also forced to sign over his royalties and publishing income. A new release, "Be Mine Tonight" (1981), failed to make an appearance in the UK Singles Chart. Worse was to follow in March 1981 when Fury, working on his own farm, collapsed and almost died. He returned to touring later that year, and his next two singles, "Love or Money" and "Devil or Angel", just dented the UK chart.
In 1981 and 1982, Fury was signed to Polydor Records by A&R man Frank Neilson, and recorded a comeback album, The One and Only (released posthumously) with Shakin' Stevens' producer Stuart Colman. Owing to his health, Fury did little touring to promote the new album. His last public appearance was at the Sunnyside pub, Northampton, on 4 December 1982. A few days before he died, Fury recorded a live performance for the Channel 4 television show, Unforgettable, featuring six of his old hits, although, at the request of his mother, only four of them were broadcast.
Fury was a keen birdwatcher. He lived with businesswoman Lee Everett Alkin, better known as "Lady Lee" Middleton, from 1959 to 1967. During this time, he had a short relationship with actress Amanda Barrie, his co-star in I've Gotta Horse. Fury went from Liverpool to London (like the Beatles) and he lived in Number 1 Cavendish Avenue, the same street as Paul McCartney. He is remembered and honoured with a Blue Plaque there.
Fury married Judith Hall in May 1969, but later left her for heiress Lisa Voice. They lived together in London, and sometimes on Fury's farm in Wales, from 1971 until his death, although they were leading separate lives for the last two years.
After returning from a recording session in the early hours of 28 January 1983, Fury collapsed from a heart attack at his home in London. His manager Tony Read found him unconscious the next morning. He was taken to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, but died later in the afternoon, aged 42. Rheumatic fever, which he first contracted as a child, damaged his heart and ultimately contributed to his death. A week after his death, a funeral service was held at the St John's Wood church in London, for which his body was embalmed by Desmond Henley. 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 Fury's body was buried at Mill Hill cemetery, in North London. A song issued posthumously entitled "Forget Him" became his final chart hit.
On 10 April 1983, a tribute concert for Fury was held at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. 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 names including Marty Wilde with his daughter Kim Wilde, Joe Brown, Alvin Stardust, Dave Berry, Helen Shapiro and John Miles.
In 1999 a TV documentary about Fury called Halfway to Paradise was broadcast on the BBC channel, narrated by Ian Dury. Between 1999 and 2000, the song "Wondrous Place", a favourite of Fury's (he re-recorded it at least three times during his career), later received wide airplay on British television when it was used as the theme for a Toyota Yaris car advertisement. In 2005, Spencer Leigh from BBC Radio Merseyside published a biography book about Fury called Wondrous Face – The Billy Fury Story. In 2008, a biographical documentary film Billy Fury: His Wondrous Story was released on DVD.
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.
In 2010, Camden Council named a previously unnamed alleyway "Billy Fury Way" in his honour. It starts just off Finchley Road near Finchley Road & Frognal station and runs to West Hampstead Station. He had recorded at the nearby Decca Studios. The alleyway was decorated with a large mural of his face (at the West Hampstead end), which was unveiled and blessed on Friday 29 July 2011.
Eight of Fury's EMI recordings remained unreleased on mainstream CD until June 2010, when they appeared on a 29-track issue, The Complete Parlophone Singles, released by Peaksoft (PEA009). The singer's estate licensed the tracks to benefit his memorial fund, which finances equipment purchases for hospital heart units. In November 2011, further co-operation between the estate and Peaksoft resulted in the issuing of a second CD, The Lost Album (PEA014), which attempted to construct the format of an album recorded by Fury in 1967–71, but which was never released.
Fury's backing band from 1970 until 1976, when he stopped touring due to ill health, were Fury's Tornados, named by Fury and his then manager Hal Carter. They continue to tour in the theatre show Halfway to Paradise: The Billy Fury Story. Fury is also remembered in the work of tribute bands such as another theatre show called The Billy Fury Years. The film Play It Cool was first released on DVD on 10 February 2014.
References in popular culture
This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2018)
- Fury's life was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1994 as a play called The Sound of Fury, written by Mike Walker and starred Anton Lesser as Fury.
- Rock band Devilish Presley recorded a song "Billy Fury is Dead" on their 2008 album Flesh Ride. They were interviewed about it in the "Tributes" section of the official Fury website.
- Bernie Taupin included the song "Billy Fury" on his album Tribe, released in 1986. Sound effects at the beginning of the song gave the impression that it is being played on a jukebox, and the "imaginary" vocalist sang about his desire to "be like Billy Fury" and have the trappings of a rock singer. Long-time Taupin collaborator Elton John appeared towards the end of the song, contributing some backing vocals.
- In 1987, Fury was featured on the cover of the Smiths' last single "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me".
- In the 2009 film Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, Fury was played by Jon Lee.
- The Sound of Fury (1960)
- Billy Fury (1960)
- Halfway to Paradise (1961)
- Billy (1963)
- The Golden Years (1979), re-released in 1983 as Memories
- The One and Only (1983)
- List of people from Merseyside
- List of Decca Records artists
- List of rockabilly musicians
- List of performers on Top of the Pops
- "Billy Fury - Biography, Albums, Streaming Links - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Wright, Jade (1 June 2015). "Watch: Billy Fury to be celebrated in new film premiering in Liverpool". Liverpoolecho.co.uk. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- "Billy Fury - Biography & History - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 217. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- "Biography by Bruce Eder". AllMusic. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
- Goldman, Lawrence et al. (editors) (2009) "Fury, Billy" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, electronic resource Archived 3 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine requires subscription, OCLC 56707601
- "Liverpool – Entertainment – Billy Fury". BBC. 1 October 1958. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- Roberts, David (1998). Guinness Rockopedia (1st ed.). London: Guinness Publishing Ltd. p. 124. ISBN 0-85112-072-5.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 73. CN 5585.
- "The Beatles Bible - Live: Blue Angel, Liverpool – audition for Larry Parnes". The Beatles Bible. 10 May 1960. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- "John Lennon photographed getting Billy Fury's autograph, 10 May 1960". Beatles Source. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 95. CN 5585.
- "Final Days". Billyfury.com. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
- Billy Fury – His Wondrous Story (DVD). Odeon International. 2007.
- "the story. Your 60s site since 1998". Billy Fury. Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- "Billy Fury, 42, British Singer; Is Called Heart Attack Victim". The New York Times. 29 January 1983.
- "In memoriam Desmond C. Henley". Christopherhenleylimited.com. Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
-  Archived 9 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "West Hampstead Life". Westhampsteadlife.com. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Billy Fury tribute show in Rhyl - Daily Post". Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "The Sound Of Fury Radio Play(By Mike Walker)". Soundcloud.com. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
- "The story. Your '60s site since 1998". Billyfury.com. Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
- Wondrous Face – The Billy Fury Story (2005) by Spencer Leigh
- Halfway to Paradise - The Life of Billy Fury (2018) by David Stafford and Caroline Stafford