How the Beatles tried to set up a Communist empire

Number 3 Savile Row is a Georgian house in the heart of Mayfair’s bespoke tailoring district. 

Nowadays, it’s a trendy children’s clothing store, but 50 years ago it became one of London’s most famous buildings as the HQ of the Beatles’ Apple organisation.

Here, John, Paul, George and Ringo made their brief, disastrous attempt to become business tycoons; here, too, they effectively broke up in 1969, although the official split didn’t come until two years later. 

And while the double crisis unfolded, and those closest of friends turned to bitter boardroom opponents, I was inside the house, watching it happen.

Mobbed: Paul McCartney leaving Apple's Saville Row headquarters, 

Mobbed: Paul McCartney leaving Apple's Saville Row headquarters, 

I sat with John and Yoko Ono — then playing her own not inconsiderable part in breaking up the Beatles — while they planned to give their next Press conference with sacks over their heads.

I talked to George as he tried on expensive Mr Fish shirts for a photo session, and was presented by Ringo with a jar of apple jam made by his then wife (and George’s future lover), Maureen.

I had breakfast with the Beatles’ terrifying new American manager, Allen Klein, as he fought to keep the band together until he could sign them to a massive new recording-contract.

The Beatle's Saville Row HQ: Here, John, Paul, George and Ringo made their brief, disastrous attempt to become business tycoons; here, too, they effectively broke up in 1969, although the official split didn’t come until two years later

The Beatle's Saville Row HQ: Here, John, Paul, George and Ringo made their brief, disastrous attempt to become business tycoons; here, too, they effectively broke up in 1969, although the official split didn’t come until two years later

And every day I witnessed the Beatles’ business being plundered by swarms of con artists and freeloaders like wasps around a Grade II-listed honeypot.

Apple sprang from their desire to have their own record label, rather than be tied to the elephantine EMI organisation, and take control of the many other commercial activities being carried on in their name, like music publishing, film-making and merchandising.

Fortuitously, EMI owed them £2million in back royalties (multiply by ten for today’s value) which was to be paid in a single instalment. 

The only way to avoid losing almost all of it under the then Labour government’s punitive tax regime was to invest it in a business. 

But they were the Beatles, so it couldn’t be just your everyday grim, grasping kind of business.

Paul McCartney defined their aim as ‘a kind of Western Communism...We’re in the happy position of not needing any more money,’ he said, ‘so for the first time the bosses aren’t in it for profit.’

Befitting the hippy era of love and peace, there was to be a strong philanthropic and what today would be called mentoring element. 

‘We want to help people but without doing it as a charity. We always had to go to the big men and touch our forelocks and say: “Please can we do so and so.” If you come to me and say: “I’ve had such and such a dream,” I’ll say to you: “Go away and do it.”’

The organisation began modestly with a publishing company, Apple Music, on the upper floors of a building in Baker Street

The organisation began modestly with a publishing company, Apple Music, on the upper floors of a building in Baker Street

Art connoisseur Paul came up with the name Apple and a logo inspired by the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte’s 1966 painting Le Jeu de Mourre (The Guessing Game) of a pristine green Granny Smith with ‘Au revoir’ written across it. 

In a Lennonesque pun, the organisation’s full name was Apple Corps, pronounced ‘Core’.

Schizophrenically, as it took shape, its four bosses were in India, studying Transcendental Meditation with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, being taught the futility of earthly possessions at one moment and signing business contracts the next.

The organisation began modestly with a publishing company, Apple Music, on the upper floors of a building in Baker Street.

Its ground floor then became an Apple boutique, the first in a projected chain, selling hugely expensive hippy robes created by a Dutch ‘design collective’ calling themselves The Fool.

They also covered the building’s exterior with a psychedelic mural which caused such outrage among other Baker Street traders that it had to be scrubbed off, removing a potential tourist attraction to rival Sherlock Holmes.

Managed by John’s old schoolfriend, former policeman Pete Shotton, the boutique lacked any retailing expertise and quickly turned into a shoplifters’ paradise. 

After a few months, the Beatles terminated it by giving away its entire stock (after themselves taking first pick.)

Late in 1968 came the move to 3 Savile Row, which had formerly belonged to the bandleader/impresario Jack Hylton and was purchased for what was even then a bargain £500,000. 

Schizophrenically, as it took shape, its four bosses were in India, studying Transcendental Meditation with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, being taught the futility of earthly possessions at one moment and signing business contracts the next

Schizophrenically, as it took shape, its four bosses were in India, studying Transcendental Meditation with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, being taught the futility of earthly possessions at one moment and signing business contracts the next

From day one, a crowd of female fans clustered around its front steps, whatever the weather, monitoring every arrival and departure and erupting into demented screams if it happened to be a Beatle.

George, the least fan-friendly of the four, ungraciously dubbed them Apple Scruffs. But they wore the name with pride, even producing their own newsletter headed ‘Steps, 3 Savile Row’. 

To begin with, the house’s vibes (a favourite Apple word) seemed all good.

Paul, a born producer and A&R man, took charge of the record company with its Apple-logo-ed label, working with Peter Asher, the brother of his then girlfriend, Jane Asher, and formerly one of the pop duo Peter and Gordon.

Apple Records put out the Beatles’ controversial but hugely successful double White Album and scored an international No.1 single with Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin, whom Paul had spotted on the Opportunity Knocks television show.

Every week, it seemed, the media excitedly reported the opening of yet another Apple division, invariably run by some friend or protégé of this or that Beatle.

There was Apple Tailoring, Apple Films (whose TV debut, Magical Mystery Tour, was their first-ever flop), Apple Electronics, headed by John’s assiduous courtier ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas, and Zapple, a spoken-word record label for avant-garde poets and writers.

Apple Records put out the Beatles’ controversial but hugely successful double White Album and scored an international No.1 single with Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin, whom Paul had spotted on the Opportunity Knocks television show. They are pictured receiving their MBEs

Apple Records put out the Beatles’ controversial but hugely successful double White Album and scored an international No.1 single with Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin, whom Paul had spotted on the Opportunity Knocks television show. They are pictured receiving their MBEs

There was to be Apple Foundation for the Arts and an Apple school, run by Ivan Vaughan, another childhood friend of John’s, who’d first introduced him to Paul at a church fete in 1957.

The first serious bruise on that shiny green skin was John’s public affair with Yoko Ono, a Japanese-American conceptual artist, and the revelation that he’d left his wife, Cynthia, and small son, Julian, for her.

Such was his obsession with Yoko that he insisted she should be at his side every minute of the day, even in the recording studio where no Beatle wife or girlfriend had previously been allowed to set foot. 

Yoko in effect replaced Paul as John’s creative soul-mate.

The first serious bruise on that shiny green skin was John’s public affair with Yoko Ono, a Japanese-American conceptual artist, and the revelation that he’d left his wife, Cynthia, and small son, Julian, for her

The first serious bruise on that shiny green skin was John’s public affair with Yoko Ono, a Japanese-American conceptual artist, and the revelation that he’d left his wife, Cynthia, and small son, Julian, for her

In November 1968, Apple Records reluctantly released their first album together, a melange of electronic noise recorded at John’s house while Cynthia was away in Greece. Ironically titled Two Virgins, its cover was a photograph of the couple full-frontally nude.

The public were bewildered by what had come over former cuddly mop-top Beatle John while the British Press portrayed Yoko as a witch who’d cast a spell over him.

Then John and Paul, that formerly indivisible entity, were reportedly at loggerheads over the choice of a manager to replace their visionary first one, Brian Epstein, who’d died of a drugs overdose in 1967, aged only 32, when Apple was still on the drawing board.

The need was sharpened by a letter from their accountant warning: ‘Your finances are in a mess. Apple is in a mess.’ Paul’s candidate was New York entertainment lawyer Lee Eastman whose daughter, Linda, happened to be the new girlfriend with whom he’d recently replaced Jane Asher.

John, backed by Yoko, wanted Allen Klein, a tough New Yorker of dubious reputation who’d previously managed the Rolling Stones. 

John had reportedly enlisted George and Ringo’s support in Klein’s favour and Paul, marginalised and embarrassed — for Lee Eastman was soon to become his

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