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Fury, Billy [real name Ronald Wycherley]locked

(1940–1983)
  • Dave Laing

Billy Fury (1940–1983)

by Harry Hammond, 1960

Fury, Billy [real name Ronald Wycherley] (1940–1983), singer and songwriter, was born on 17 April 1940 at the Smithdown Road Infirmary, 126 Smithdown Road, Sefton, Liverpool, the elder son of Albert Edward Wycherley, a shoe repairer, and his wife, Sarah Jane (known as Jean), née Homer. He first attended St Silas's infant school and, after leaving Wellington Road secondary modern 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. He was fascinated by rock'n'roll music and taught himself to play guitar and to write songs. He occasionally performed in public as part of the Formby Sniffle [sic] Group under the name Stean Wade.

In 1958 Ronald sent a tape of six compositions to the rock'n'roll impresario Larry Parnes, who invited him to play them backstage at the Birkenhead Essoldo to the singer Marty Wilde. As a result he was given a spot in that night's show and was signed to a contract by Parnes, who gave him the stage name Billy Fury. After being turned down by Marty Wilde's recording company, Philips, he was given a recording contract by Decca and in 1959 made his first hit recording, his own composition 'Maybe tomorrow'. This was followed by three more self-written hits: 'Margo', 'Colette', and 'That's love'. But the most acclaimed of his early recordings was The Sound of Fury (1960), a long-playing album that featured Fury's singing and Joe Brown's guitar playing in a convincing imitation of the American rockabilly sound.

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, swapping his bomber jacket and cowboy boots for a gold lamé suit and smart shoes. At one stage Parnes briefly considered hiring the Beatles as Billy Fury's backing group. Instead, 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' (1961), 'Halfway to paradise' (1961), 'Jealousy' (1961), and 'It's only make believe' (1964). 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, and that of many contemporaries, was affected by the arrival of a new generation of Liverpool musicians led by the Beatles. In an attempt to capitalize on their success he recorded versions of two songs associated with the new groups ('Glad all over' and 'Hippy hippy shake') for the US market. He signed a new recording contract with EMI's Parlophone label and issued eleven singles between 1966 and 1968. Most were undistinguished. He 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. He returned to the stage in the next decade, appearing at the London Rock'n'Roll Festival in August 1972. In the same year he starred with David Essex and Ringo Starr in That'll Be the Day, a nostalgic film set in a 1950s holiday camp in which Fury played a rock star named Stormy Tempest. 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.

Fury had suffered intermittent health problems following a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of six which damaged his heart valves. In the latter part of his life he spent much of his time on his farm on the Surrey–Sussex border, turning a swimming pool into a bird sanctuary. 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 (b. 1937) 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.

During the 1970s Fury twice underwent major heart surgery, and in March 1982 he collapsed, suffering from paralysis and temporary blindness. He recovered, but died of a heart attack in St Mary's Hospital, Harrow Road, Westminster, London, on 28 January 1983 and was buried on 4 February at Paddington new cemetery, Mill Hill, London. A tribute concert was held at the Beck Theatre, Hayes, to raise funds for the Billy Fury Memorial Fund for Research into Heart Disease. Fury was one of Britain's first rock'n'roll stars, and his music, which has had numerous CD reissues since his untimely death, continues to inspire a loyal following.

Sources

  • P. Hardy and D. Laing, Faber companion to 20th-century popular music (1995)
  • S. Leigh and J. Firminger, Halfway to paradise: Britpop, 1955–1962 (1996)
  • D. McAleer, Hit parade heroes: British beat before the Beatles (1993)
  • J. Rogan, Starmakers and svengalis: the history of British pop management (1988)
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • The Times (29 Jan 1983)
  • ‘The Billy Fury Story’, www.billyfury.co.uk, Nov 2001

Archives

Film

  • BFINA, Omnibus, BBC1 12 Oct 1998
  • BFINA, performance footage

Sound

  • BL NSA, ‘Like I have never been gone: the Billy Fury story’, BBC Radio 2, 25 Jan 1998, H9642/1
  • BL NSA, documentary recording
  • BL NSA, performance recording

Likenesses

  • H. Hammond, photograph, 1960, NPG [see illus.]
  • photographs, 1962–8, Hult. Arch.

Wealth at Death

under £40,000: probate, 21 July 1986, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)