Yanni (later John) Alexis Mardas (Greek: Αλέξης Μάρδας; born May 5, 1942 – January 13, 2017) is better known as Magic Alex, the nickname given to him by The Beatles when he was involved with the group between 1965 and 1969, including being head of Apple Electronics.
Mardas arrived in England in 1965, exhibiting his Kinetic Light Sculptures at the Indica Gallery. He impressed John Lennon with the Nothing Box; a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights, and allegedly said that he could build a 72-track tape machine. Mardas was then given the job of designing the new Apple Studio in Savile Row, and was in India with The Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s ashram in India.
In the 1970s, the anti-terrorism industry offered bullet-proof vehicles, bugging devices and security hardware, so Mardas set up various companies offering these products to royalty and VIPs. King Hussein of Jordan bought a fleet of cars that Mardas had customised. In 1987, Mardas was a managing director of Alcom Ltd, which specialised in electronic communications and security. He now lives in Greece.
The 21-year-old Yanni Alexis Mardas first arrived in England on a student visa in 1965, befriending John Dunbar of the Indica Gallery in London, and later moving in with him in a flat on Bentinck Street, which was where Mardas first met Lennon. Known as Yanni Mardas, he found employment as a television repairman.Dunbar later introduced Mardas to Brian Jones, after Mardas exhibited his Kinetic Light Sculptures at the Indica Gallery. Dunbar worked with Mardas on the “psychedelic light box” for The Rolling Stones‘ three-week tour of Europe in 1967, although they were not impressed with the results. Dunbar later said: “He was quite cunning in the way he pitched his thing. He knew enough to know how to wind people up and to what extent. He was a fucking TV repairman: Yanni Mardas, none of this ‘Magic Alex’ shit!”
Jones introduced Mardas to Lennon, and it was at this point that Mardas impressed Lennon with the Nothing Box; a small plastic box with randomly blinking lights that Lennon would stare at for hours while under the influence of LSD. Lennon later introduced the renamed John Alexis Mardas as his “new guru”, calling him “Magic Alex”. Mardas allegedly told Lennon about ideas for futuristic electronic devices he was “working on”, which he later denied either promising or discussing: a telephone that responded to its owner’s voice and could identify who was calling, a force field that would surround The Beatles’ homes, an X-ray camera, paint that would make anything invisible, car paint that would change colour by flicking a switch, and wallpaper speakers, which would actually be a part of the wallpaper. Mardas later asked for the V-12 engines from Lennon’s Rolls-Royce and George Harrison‘s Ferrari Berlinetta car, so he could build a flying saucer. Mardas also denied making these claims.
The Beatles set up a company for Mardas called Fiftyshapes Ltd., in September 1967, and Mardas later became one of the first employees of the newly formed Apple Corps, earning £40 a week and receiving 10% of any profits made from his inventions.
Mardas in the Apple Electronics laboratory with some of the equipment he used
The Beatles often called Mardas the “Greek wizard”, and Paul McCartney remembered being interested in his ideas: “Well, if you [Mardas] could do that, we’d like one”. It was always, ‘We’d like one’”. Mardas’ ideas were not confined to the realms of electronic wizardry, but included songwriting involvement, with a Lennon-Mardas composition, “What’s the New Mary Jane“, originally meant for inclusion on The White Album.