The tragic story of Beatles roadie Mal Evans

5 January 2022, 18:44 | Updated: 5 January 2022, 19:10

Mal Evans and his employers and friends, The Beatles
Mal Evans and his employers and friends, The Beatles. Picture: Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty/PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The Fab Four's personal assistant and road manager was killed by police in January 1976. Here's the sad story of one of the stars of the recent Get Back documentary.

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By Martin O'Gorman

"Mal!" For anyone who's sat through all seven-and-a-half hours of Peter Jackson's Get Back documentary, there's one character in the Beatles story that has become something of an unsung hero.

Malcolm "Mal" Evans was The Beatles' road manager... and, when their touring days ended in 1966, he became their personal assistant, mate and general helper. In the Get Back doc, you can spot him writing down the lyrics to John, Paul and George's new songs as they're composed and he even gets the role of tapping along on an anvil during rehearsals of Maxwell's Silver Hammer.

It's also Mal who has to keep the Saville Row police at bay when the famous rooftop concert gets into its stride. When asked which of The Beatles was his favourite, Mal would give his stock answer: "Whichever one has just been nice to me."

This description "road manager" doesn't really do justice to Evans' contribution to the Fab Four's career, but the amiable figure seen in the Get Back movie seems at odds with the story of how Mal died, several years later.

Mal Evans sets up Ringo's drumkit in Washington on The Beatles' first trip to the US in February 1964
Mal Evans sets up Ringo's drumkit in Washington on The Beatles' first trip to the US in February 1964. Picture: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

On 5th January 1976, Evans was shot dead by Los Angeles Police Department officers at his home after he confronted the officers with a rifle. It was subsequently discovered that the weapon was just an air rifle. Evans was 40.

How did such a loved and amiable man end up in this tragic situation?

Paul McCartney with Mal Evans arriving at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental meditation centre in Rishikesh, India, February 1968
Paul McCartney with Mal Evans arriving at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental meditation centre in Rishikesh, India, February 1968. Picture: Getty

Malcolm Evans was born in May 1935 in Liverpool and grew up in the Wavertree area of the city. Mal got to know The Beatles when he began taking lunch breaks from his job at the Post Office to go and see the band play at The Cavern Club. George Harrison recommended Mal to the manager as a suitable doorman for the cellar venue, thanks to his imposing physical 6ft 6in height.

Mal recalled: "I walked down this little street called Mathew Street that I’d never noticed before and came to this place, the Cavern Club. I’d never been inside a club, but I heard this music coming out – real rock it sounded, a bit like Elvis. So I paid my shilling and went in."

From there, it was only natural that Mal would become the part of The Beatles' road crew once the group started to take off, alongside Neil Aspinall, who would go on to manage the band's Apple Corps company.

Mal drives Paul and George to the memorial service for their manager Brian Epstein in October 1967
Mal drives Paul and George to the memorial service for their manager Brian Epstein in October 1967. Picture: Clive Limpkin/Daily Express/Getty Image

Mal and Neil were by the Fab Four's side throughout the hectic years of Beatlemania, setting up equipment, hustling the group to and from venues and keeping thousands of fans at bay.

Evans was there for all The Beatles' greatest moments: their huge show at Shea Stadium in the US, he appears in the two Beatlemania-era movies A Hard Day's Night and Help!, plus he was with the group when they met their hero, Elvis Presley.

"I just sat there with my mouth wide open," recalled Evans of this momentous rock 'n' roll encounter. "I made a big impression on Elvis."

It was Mal who had to negotiate with the authorities in the Philippines when the Fabs inadvertently snubbed the country's First Lady while on tour there in 1966; it was Mal who came up with the name "Sgt Pepper"; and it was Mal who can be heard counting down the 24 bars of orchestral noise on the song A Day In The Life.

Mal Evans at London Airport in July 1966, on returning from The Beatles' troubled trip to the Philippines
Mal Evans at London Airport in July 1966, on returning from The Beatles' troubled trip to the Philippines. Mal wondered if he'd ever get out of the country in one piece. Picture: Bill Howard/Evening News/Shutterstock

When the Beatles stopped touring in the summer of 1966, Mal became more of a personal assistant to the four musicians, arranging the instruments at sessions and carefully noting down lyrics as the songwriters dictated them.

Mal can be seen at the start of the Get Back sessions with his assistant Kevin Harrington, setting up the drum kit and other instruments for the first day's filming at Twickenham film studios.

Mal Evans, by Lennon's side when John and Yoko appeared on David Frost's TV show in August 1968
Mal Evans, by Lennon's side when John and Yoko appeared on David Frost's TV show in August 1968. Picture: Shutterstock

Evans also kept fans abreast of what was going on in the group's lives with his diary notes in the official fan magazine, The Beatles Book. He even made an appearance was one of the wizards in the band's TV special Magical Mystery Tour. When Paul McCartney wrote a new song called Let It Be, the draft lyrics included a mention of "Brother Malcolm".

While there was still Beatle business to attend to, there was also the subject of the group's own company, Apple Corps. Evans discovered a Welsh band called The Iveys and renamed them Badfinger. He persuaded each Beatle personally to sign to Apple Records and they went on to have a Top 5 hit with Paul McCartney's composition, Come And Get It. Mal produced their single No Matter What in 1970.

Mal Evans joins John and Yoko on Top Of The Pops for Instant Karma, February 1970
Mal Evans joins John and Yoko on Top Of The Pops for Instant Karma, February 1970. Picture: Ron Howard/Redferns/Getty

Once The Beatles had officially split at the end of 1969, Mal kept his hand in producing Apple artists like Jackie Lomax. When the ruthless businessman Allen Klein took over the running of Apple, Mal was sacked - only for Paul, George and Ringo to reinstate him.

However, without the lifeline of The Beatles and Apple, the work dried up for Mal Evans and things began to unravel. He split from his wife Lily in 1973 and he moved to Los Angeles, where he was involved in the chaotic recording of Keith Moon's solo album, Two Sides Of The Moon.

Mal Evans in the part of "Bearded Skunk Henchman" in the western Blindman, which starred Ringo Starr, July 1971.
Mal Evans in the part of "Bearded Skunk Henchman" in the western Blindman, which starred Ringo Starr, July 1971. Picture: Jack Kay/Daily Express/Getty Images

Living among the bad influence of these party animals and heavy substance abusers, Evans claimed he was working on a memoir called Living The Beatles Legend, which was to be the ultimate insider's story of the group.

On 5th January, Mal was living in a rented apartment with a new girlfriend, Fran Hughes, and working on the book with his co-author John Hoernie. The manuscript was due to be delivered a week later, but the former Beatles aide was still depressed about his impending divorce.

Mal Evans, rocking the standard Sgt Pepper moustache of the era, with Paul McCartney in April 1967
Mal Evans, rocking the standard Sgt Pepper moustache of the era, with Paul McCartney in April 1967. Picture: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

Hoernie and Evans had an argument that was rendered incoherent due to Mal having taken Valium. Mal picked up an air rifle, and with Hoernie unable to get the weapon off his friend, a panicked Fran Hughes called the police. When three armed officers entered Mal's bedroom, the former Beatles roadie pointed the gun straight at them. Not realising it was an air rifle, the officers told Evans to put the weapon down, but he refused. The policeman immediately shot Evans dead.

Mal Evans was cremated two days later and his ashes were sent back to England - but were lost on the way. When he heard about this mishap, his former colleague John Lennon found it bleakly funny: "They should look in the dead letter office", he was reported to have said.

While the book Living The Beatles Legend was never finished, a collection of Mal's diaries and papers were discovered in 1986 and returned to his family. These archives are to form the basis of a new biography of Evans by author Kenneth Womack, due in 2023.

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