We’ve lost yet another important person in the Beatles story – Yanni Alexis Mardas, or as he was nicknamed by John Lennon, ‘Magic Alex’.
It is fair to say that the reaction on social media to his passing has been rather mixed – with many calling him a ‘charlatan’ and even one calling him a ‘c**t’! Certainly, he was a character, and very much part of the Beatles ‘inner circle’ for around 2 years – until he was dumped.
Mardas first came to England, from his home country of Greece, in 1965. It has been said his first job in the UK was as a TV repair man. However, he quickly starting mixing with people in the art and music scenes. Mardas befriended John Dunbar, one of the co-owners of the Indica Art Gallery, where John Lennon met Yoko Ono. It was either Dunbar, or Rolling Stone Brian Jones, who introduced Mardas to John Lennon. Lennon was immediately taken with Mardas’s electronic inventions, including a ‘nothing box’ and christened him ‘Magic Alex’. Lennon introduced Mardas to the other Beatles as ‘my guru’.
On 15th June 1967, a meeting was held was held by Clive Epstein (Brian’s brother) and the Beatles’ accountant, Stephen Maltz, with Mardas, to see whether he could work in some capacity for the Beatles new company ‘Apple’. ‘Magic Alex’ was put in charge of what became ‘Apple Electronics’
Before this though, Mardas had the idea that the Beatles should buy a Greek Island and relocate to it. At the time the Beatles were paying 95% tax, and that buying the island would save them lots of money. In July 1967, the Beatles and their entourage, including Mardas, went to Greece to track down a suitable island. However, Alistair Taylor, the general manager of NEMS (Brian Epstein’s company) said that everywhere the Beatles went, the press were there too, and put the blame firmly onto Mardas for tipping them off. Eventually, the Greek Island idea was dropped.
However, Mardas’s influence with the Beatles was growing ever stronger. He was involved in the setting up of the Beatles ‘Apple’ shop on Baker Street, and also was on the Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ coach, during which, he took part in a singalong, which was featured as an extra on the MMT DVD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE93Xwf85Rg
It was around this time that building was bought at 34 Boston Place, by the side of Marylebone Station, to be converted to be the headquarters of ‘Apple Electronics’ – that Mardas would run. He was given a salary of £40 per week, and a share of any profits his inventions would make. Ironically, the Beatles ran past the building during the opening scenes of A Hard Day’s Night, some four years earlier. Mardas was seen in his new lab for Apple Electronics in a promotional film for Apple, part of which was seen in the Beatles Anthology. Although much money was spent to develop Mardas’s inventions, no, or little money was ever made on them. It has been said by many that ‘Magic Alex’ wasn’t so magic after all. It’s interesting that during an outtake of ‘Hey Jude’ (included on the Beatles Anthology), Paul McCartney says ‘I was a robber in Boston Place!’ – was this a reference to ‘Magic Alex’ and the money being spent by him?
Mardas also got involved in the Beatles personal relationships. In May 1968, he was told to stop work at Apple, and join the Beatles in Rishikesh, India, where they were studying meditation with the Maharish. It was alleged that Mardas made suggestions to the Beatles that the Maharishi was making unwanted advances to a member of entourage, and the Beatles left immediately.
Soon after their return to the UK, Mardas went on holiday to Green with Cynthia Lennon, Jenny Boyd and Donovan. On return to the Lennon’s family home, Kenwood, on May 22nd 1968, Mardas and Cynthia Lennon discovered John Lennon with Yoko Ono, and promptly left. It has been said the Mardas slept with Cynthia around this time.
In January 1969, the Beatles began work on what was originally called ‘Get Back’ at Twickenham Film Studios, but work was abandoned there after a few days, when George Harrison walked out. It was therefore decided to leave Twickenham and instead record in the Beatles new Apple Studio at 3 Savile Row, that ‘Magic Alex’ had built for them. Alex has alleged since that the Studio wasn’t finished, and was still being worked on in Boston Place, but was taken, without his permission, to be used in Savile Row. Whatever the case, the studio didn’t work, and equipment has to be hired from EMI at Abbey Road Studios, for the Beatles to use their own studio space.
It was around the time of the recording of ‘Get Back’ that John Lennon met Allen Klein about saving Apple, as it was haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate. Klein immediately shut down Apple Electronics and fired Mardas.
After the Beatles episode, Mardas became a security consultant, and even worked with many royal families around the world. He was again in the press when he was said to be having a relationship with Joan Collins in the 1980s. He had first met her when Collins was married to Ron Kass, head of Apple Records.
In 2004, Mardas sold many of his Beatles souvenirs at Christies Auction House in London. Probably the most interesting piece was the leather Hindu charm that John Lennon had worn non stop for a year or more in 1967-68. He was even wearing it on the ‘Two Virgins’ album cover.
Mardas had said many times that this days with the Beatles had been misrepresented, and sued many publications to put his side of the story. In 2010, he wrote a long document to the New York Times, in reply to allegations made by journalist Allan Kozinn. You can read it at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/arts/Mardas.pdf Unfortunately, Mardas’s memory had rather dimmed by then, and many errors were made in his account.
RIP ‘Magic Alex’ – certainly an interesting character in the Beatles story.
Blogger Richard Porter is a professional Beatles tour guide in London. For more info on his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com