The fall of the Greek colonels (1974)

& the restoration of Theodorakis's recordings to EMI Greece

Amongst the first of the many repressive actions brought into play by the coup d'état of the Greek military in 1967 was to ban the music of Theodorakis, a left-winger but undisputedly a musical figure of world renown (most notably as the composer of "Zorba the Greek") and who was already living in exile. They had not only banned his music but instructed the management of the local operating company of EMI (then known as The Columbia Graphophone Company of Greece) to destroy all his recordings - tapes, masters, labels, films & artwork, other factory parts and printing materials etc..

Since its foundation in 1926 the EMI factory in Greece had always been under British management and history shows that it is not unusual for the response of such managers to disobey the orders of trumped up little tyrants !  Often such responses may have been generated by the watching of too many British WWII films (often featuring a similar trumped up dwarf !).

To us today the response to the destruction order was entirely predictable and it was silently observed - but not in the manner the colonels anticipated ! Their instructions, in a manner of speaking, were executed immediately but instead the management of the company disobeyed and requested, of the company's employees, that all these materials be dispersed into their homes for the duration.  History records that they were entirely happy to cooperate with these instructions.

It was only during those rather stressful days in the summer of 1974, when I was holidaying on the isle of Poros, that followed the coup d’état in Nicosia (inspired by the Greek junta) and the simultaneous Turkish invasion of Cyprus (summer of 1974) - and during which time I returned to the office and remained at my post at EMI Greece - that I became aware of what had occurred those years before.  Nothing was discussed and no plans were made by the management as that would have been dangerously premature.

In mid-afternoon on the day that was to see the collapse of the colonels' regime (23rd July), the MD's secretary Aphrodite, in a state of some excitement, burst into my office to exclaim that we were all "in great danger ...... there are tanks on Patission...! You must go home at once !". I wondered why tanks were going across Athens instead of northwards, but I later discovered they were heading for the railway station where they were said to have been in transit for the Turkish border ! They never left the city !

I replied to Aphrodite that as we were situate outside Athens, and my home was in Ekali, even further out to the north, I'd carry on for a while and then go home.  My wife and three children remaining on holiday on Poros and were doubtless watching the continuous passing of military aircraft overhead.

On my way home I called in at the house of friends in Kifissia and as I pulled up Dr. Michael Dobbyn's Greek wife Daisy appeared, coming down the garden path, exclaiming.... "It's all over..... Karamanlis is leaving Paris right now in Giscard d'Estaing's plane and he will land shortly in Athens..."

Somewhat relieved that the stress of the previous few days was now over, I went out to dinner in Kifissia with Brian Rea, my opposite number from ITT.

The following day, naturally, I went to the office. As I put down my briefcase my secretary Nikki said, "Before you do anything I think you'd best go look at the board room table".

Yes, it was a big table, and ... yes, it was covered with everything that the employees had kept concealed in their homes for all those years. This was a very moving moment as I observed, perhaps in only a small way, a nation responding to one of their national treasures (whatever his politics may have been) and, as it were, bringing all this material home to the safety of where it belonged and without a word being said (or so it appeared).

Within about 2-3 weeks the (EMI) Columbia factory, with the aid of Peter Jamieson (MD of the music production company EMIAL in downtown Athens), had everything in production and LPs & cassettes we being sent out (once again) all around the world "by the ton" and most especially to London, to Peters Inc. in NY and the Greek communities across the world and most especially in Melbourne (said to be the 3rd largest Greek community in the world - Qantas were delighted !).

However the story has a slightly shameful footnote. For obvious reasons I was unable to tell this tale sooner but immediately upon the announcement of Theodorakis's death (2nd September 2021) I contacted the BBC.  It is sad to report that the BBC's R4 Today programme were, as it were, all "out to lunch" that day.  The independent journalist who was asked to ring me was very enthusiastic about the story but the following day I was informed that the BBC were not interested.  Hence this article.

I think the BBC's position brings shame upon them since this is a moving and human story notwithstanding that many in that institution have similar political leanings towards this composer !   But this all took place some 47 years ago so perhaps their staff are too young to recall such matters ?

My own favourite recording of Theodorakis is the very moving "The Ballad of Mauthausen" with Maria Farandouri
You Tube : [ the legitimate CD must certainly still be available ]

The Greek actor Kostas Kastanas, the Cypriot Ambassador to Spain, the former EMIAL MD, Peter Jamieson 
& former lawyer & EMI Chief Counsel, Guy Marriott, have all confirmed their approval of this article.
John G. Deacon
Sales Director : EMI Greece 1971-77 (formerly Columbia Graphophone Company of Greece)

Buckinghamshire, January 2022