The country was in the grip of hippy-hating army officers in 1967 – and yet the band were given a warm welcome
Helena Smith Athens · 1 Ott 2023
‘The trip to Greece was just a haze of LSD. None of them really knew where the hell they were’ Barry Miles, Beatles biographer
In the summer of love, on a hot July day, John Lennon was sitting by a lake in central Greece. The Beatles were on their way to Delphi, via the mountain village of Arachova. Lennon, who was splayed across the grass next to his first wife, Cynthia, and their young son, Julian, appeared to be lost in thought.
The rest of the band were lapping up the rays, knocking back beers and splashing about in the lake. Labis Tsirigotakis, then a cub reporter on the Greek daily, To Vima , realised this was his big chance. Sensing a scoop, he moved closer. “John, can I ask you a few questions?” he asked.
“No problem, I’m happy to meet you,” came the response as Lennon, looking up from his Orwell novel, contemplated Tsirigotakis’ next question on his “impressions of Greece”.
What followed was an outburst so impassioned it took the reporter aback: “Unfortunately the social inequalities in England are so big it wounds me psychologically. Greece is a wonderful country, fantastic climate, great people … and that’s why we are seriously thinking of buying a small Greek island and setting up our own hippy commune where we could live undisturbed for half of the year.”
In 1967 it was extraordinary that the Beatles were in Greece at all. Three months earlier a group of colonels had seized power . One of the regime’s first acts was to ban the miniskirt – and anything else that to the rightwing junior army officers smacked of decadence and immorality. Top of the list were hippies, who were seen as “drug addicts, sex maniacs and thieves”.
And yet, officials at EOT, the national tourist board – like the media tightly controlled by the junta – were keen to use the Beatles’ visit to offset international isolation spurred by reports of widespread torture and persecution of political opponents. “The regime clearly saw them as celebrities who could serve a purpose,” said Tsirigotakis, recalling the cat-and-mouse games he and a photographer were forced to play with EOT minders tasked with acquiring the perfect propaganda snap.
It appeared to have been lost on the dictators, who would rule with an iron hand for the next seven years, that at the height of the flower-power 60s Britain’s most famous band were not only opposed to violence and war but deep into their psychedelic phase.
More than five decades later, the episode related in the veteran journalist’s memoirs has given pause for thought to scholars. Last month the University of Liverpool’s Journal of Beatles Studies ran an essay titled “Used as propaganda”: The Beatles’ Greek island plans and international politics. Its author, Jonathan Knott, is persuaded that while the musicians were keen to buy an outpost to escape the pressures of fame, Greek officials were equally intent on exploiting that desire to encourage tourism.
Weeks earlier, protests against the military government, which had banished thousands of ex-communists to island labour camps, had erupted in London. A newspaper reported on protesters carrying placards demanding “democracy in Greece” at a reception of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Athens. Its Greek host had made “an impassioned plea to British tourists to come to Greece”.
“The Greek press at the time was heavily censored, so any reports concerning the Beatles presumably had official blessing,” Knott writes. “But cumulatively, the evidence suggests more than this: that there was an attempt in 1967 by Greek tourism representatives to use the Beatles’ visit to generate beneficial publicity. To be clear, I am not suggesting that any of the Beatles were at any time aware that their trip might be, or might have been used, in this way.”
Knott describes how when the group found their island (believed to be Tsougrias, off Skiathos) and before the deal fell through, they were instructed to wire “£120,000 worth of property dollars in total to cover legal fees and renovating the properties”.
The trip to Greece had been organised by Alexis Mardas, an electronics genius who had invented a light-box that stimulated Lennon’s LSD trips. Mardas, who would fall out spectacularly with the band, was the son of an airforce officer with close links to the colonels. “It appears likely that official tourism representatives and Alexis Mardas were involved,” Knott writes.
Barry Miles, a friend of the group and Paul McCartney’s biographer, said he had been “horrified” by the Beatles’ stance, telling author Peter Doggett : “Paul was faintly embarrassed by it all, but John wasn’t concerned. As far as I can gather, the entire trip to Greece was just a haze of LSD, though. None of them really knew where the hell they were.”
Historians concur that the Beatles’ presence in Greece would have been seen as a boon. “The colonels were desperate very early on for some kind of legitimisation from abroad,” said Alexandros Nafpliotis. “The Beatles being in Greece in the middle of Beatlemania would have constituted a propaganda coup for them.”
“Although the thought of the Beatles ostensibly buying their own private Greek island tends to be recalled with a touch of romance and whimsy, [Knott’s] article really highlights the process as being anything but,” said Dr Holly Tessler, who coedits the Journal of Beatles Studies.
“Often influenced and sometimes dazzled by some of Apple’s employees, the Beatles’ almost-purchase shows both their naivety and their innocence, sometimes exploited by those in their inner circle.”