The story of the band’s business venture Apple Corps is told in Ben Lewis’s entertaining and revealing new film ‘The Beatles, Hippies And Hell’s Angels’
It was when the hungry and belligerent Hell’s Angel Pete Knell threatened to smash his fist into John Lennon’s face at the office Christmas Party that it finally became apparent that the beautiful dream of Apple Corps wasn’t sustainable. Knell had already knocked out one of the other partygoers, a well-spoken English who had tried to tell him it wasn’t “cool” to be hungry. Actor and author Peter Coyote, a close friend of Knell’s, intervened, telling Lennon (who was dressed as Santa Claus) to sit down before the Hell’s Angel could strike again.
This incident took place in the Georgian building in Savile Row, Mayfair, that served as Apple Corps’s offices. Apple Corps was the venture set up by the Beatles in 1968. It was somewhere between a conventional entertainment business and a hippy nirvana. The story of the early years of the company is told in Ben Lewis’s entertaining and surprising new film, The Beatles, Hippies And Hell’s Angels. This is a Beatles documentary with a difference. There are no screaming teenagers or scenes of John, Paul, Ringo, George singing “Love Me Do”.
This isn’t an official documentary. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the remaining living Beatles, aren’t involved. Lewis, though, has tracked down the secretaries, journalists, DJs, sound engineers, musicians, accountants, hairdressers and freeloaders who lived, worked and hung out at Apple Corps. He tells a story at once comical and very sad. If you want to know why the Beatles split up, you will find out here.apple
This is one of the few rock docs in which the accountant’s voice features as strongly as that of his music biz clients. As Steven Maltz, the account at Apple, explains on camera, he had been going through the group’s papers in 1966 and was shocked to discover “nothing had been done”. The Beatles hadn’t filled in their tax returns. They were then probably the most successful band in the world and yet they were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Maltz told the musicians that they should start businesses and invest in them to save themselves from having to give all their money to the taxman.
The staff working at Apple Corps enjoyed themselves. A typical day for the secretaries might start with a sherry and a cigarette. This would be followed by a long lunch. “You never quite knew who was going to be coming into the office,” one former secretary recalls.
Visitors like journalist Ray Connolly might drop by for a drink. It wasn’t unusual for strange gifts to be delivered (among them, once, a donkey).
Apple Corps had opened its own fashion boutique. The company invested heavily in new technology, especially electronics, under their hippy boffin “Magic Alex” (Yanni Alexis Mardas).
Lewis – director of such other docs as Google and the World Brain and The Great Contemporary Art Bubble – reflects on the Apple Corps story. “I thought it was a story that was almost Chaucerian in a way. It was a yarn about something which was quite trivial involving really famous people. It revealed them to be really, really human. I liked all the contradictions. On the one hand, you thought that the Beatles were being really silly and self-indulgent because they had lost of money. On the other, you really identified with them. The Beatles were pretty nice people, clever people, sane people. Given the level of fame John, Paul, Ringo and George had gone through, they had emerged relatively unscathed.”
Now, they wanted to run a business and live by hippy values but money kept on getting in the way.
The latter part of the documentary looks at the power struggle that eventually tore the band apart. The Beatles realised they needed a strong and savvy figure to sort out the mess that was Apple Corps. McCartney favoured his father-in-law, New York attorney Lee Eastman. John Lennon and the others were keener on Allen Klein, the famously abrasive business manager of the Rolling Stones.