Friday, 14 August 2015

Help! photo from Beatlefan

The upcoming issue (#215) of "Beatlefan" celebrates fifty years of Help!
In the upcoming issue of Beatlefan, there is going to be a trivia competition where the winner will get a 16" x 16" print of the image used on the cover. The photo comes from the Vincent Vigil collection, and is one of the images which will be going into the permanent collection of the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The scene is from the performance of the title song "Help!", early on in the film. That part of the film is the only black and white portion of it, and it was also very probably filmed using black and white film stock. Luckily, photographers shooting colour film were also present, capturing images like this one. Filmed at Twickenham film studios, the mimed performance of "Help!" was also used as a promotional film (music video of the day) on TV.
A sample issue of Beatlefan costs $8 in the U.S. or $11 elsewhere. U.S. funds only. Be sure to specify #215. For more information, email

Speaking of "Help!", remember what we posted a few days ago about the shooting of the cover? As you know, the order in which the Beatles are standing from left to right is different in the USA and the UK. Also, there is the matter of whether or not some or all of the images have been presented mirror-flipped.

UK positions: George, John, Paul, Ringo.

USA: Apart from being in black and white, only George keeps his position, but is mirror-flipped.

On the US cover, the image actually kind of spells out HELP. Not in semaphore, but with their names. Positioned in this order there is H for Harrison, L for Lennon and P for Paul. The odd one out is Ringo, which makes them spell out HRLP or HSLP, using his first or last name.

USA movie poster: Same as on the US album.
So this brings us these questions: Why were the USA figures presented in black and white, why did they not appear in the same order as in the UK, and why was Georges image mirror-flipped?

WogBlog reader Stephen McGowan wrote to us about these issues, and presented us with the puzzle, which he also seemed to solve during our mail exchange.

The simplest answer (which often is the correct one, mind you), is perhaps that Capitol Records, who released the album in the US, did not have the colour photo negatives (or positives, for that matter), of  those four individual shots of The Beatles which were going to be used on the British "Help!" album cover. What they did have were images from the film itself, and they presented those in a colourful gatefold cover. As for the four individual shots, which they used for the album sleeve and United Artists reused for their movie poster, they probably just had black and white negatives of those.

Adding to the confusion, there's also a book of sheet music from Northern Songs.

UK edition of the "Souvenir film and song album" book. 
Inside this book are these four individual black and white shots, which upon close inspection reveal that George, John, Ringo and Paul are standing on a white platform for the photo shoot:

George, as on the UK sleeve

John, as on the UK sleeve

Ringo, as on the UK sleeve

Paul, mirror-flipped compared to the UK sleeve
The positioning of each Beatle on the cover seems to have been a last minute decision. In our previous blog post about the royal world premiere of "Help!", we showed a photo of the outside of the London Pavilion. We would like to draw your attention to the large figures on display on the facade of the building:

The "Help!" figures outside the theatre.
George, Ringo, John and Paul. Exactly in the same order, not as on the UK album sleeve, but as on the US one. Did the Capitol executives see this photo and used it to position the four black and white photos for their album release? Or was it a coincidence? George is like he is on the US album (notice the light glare in his hat), but Ringo is mirror-flipped, hinting that it was perhaps the latter.

Another photo, taken inside the London Pavilion of Ringo, his wife Maureen and Paul reveals a bit of a "Help!" poster behind them.

Note that Paul's image on the poster is like in the songbook, not like the sleeves and the facade of the theatre.
The photo shows inconsistency between the figures on the facade outside the theatre and the poster in the lobby inside. As you can see, on this poster the Paul figure is mirror-flipped, just like in the songbook rendition. Another inconsistency occurs in the newspaper advertisement for this premiere, where the fabs are positioned as on the US album cover.

Newspaper ad before the Royal World Premiere.

Then it's the finished UK movie poster. Made by United Artists, it's probably not that surprising that they used the same order as they had done for the US poster - and once again presents the four figures in black and white.

UK film poster

The sum of all these discrepancies is evidence that the positioning of these four Beatles figures, and their appearance on the upcoming album sleeves had not yet been decided upon.

So who was flipped and who was not? During the photo shoot for the album cover, scenes for the film were still being, as it were, filmed. Still needed on the set in different clothes, the Beatles just changed to their Obertauern costumes for the "Help!" album cover.

Here is a shot of The Beatles in their costumes, from Obertauern:

Wearing the same costumes in Obertauern, earlier in the filming.
If this black and white shot is correct, and going by signs behind it is, it means George is mirror-flipped on the UK "Help!" sleeve, as per the side of the buttons in his coat. That means he is correct on the US album sleeve.

George, as per the US album sleeve, only in colour.
If the film stills featuring Ringo are correct, which we know they are (we've all  seen it enough times) then the large one on Pavillion is correct and all others are flipped, including both the UK and US sleeves.

Still from the film, ring on right hand.

In the Help! cover photo, the ring is not on his right hand, but on left. Perhaps it was added afterwards, you might ask? Not according to this photo, taken during the photo shoot:

Ringo at the photo shoot: ring on his right hand.
This shows that the photo on the UK and US album covers was a mirror image. So here's what he really looked like in the photo:

Flipped the correct way, blue colour removed.
If Paul is flipped, then he would be wearing a watch on the wrong hand for a leftie. Though his fringe is most unPaul like, compared to this picture with Victor Spinetti, taken on the same occasion.

Spinetti, in costume, seems to be omnipresent on this occasion.
As you can see, Paul's costume for the album cover shoot is the same as he was wearing in Obertauern, a rather black, furry thing (before he became an animal lover) with a zipper.
Colour photos of Paul taken in Obertauern wearing the same costume reveal that it's really black, and has been coloured blue only for the UK "Help!" cover.

Photographic evidence of the true colours of The Beatles' costumes.

So, taking the wristwatch issue into consideration, Paul is probably correct on the album sleeves, but was flipped in the song book.

Paul, what we assume is the correct way, blue colour removed.
Was John's image reversed? Once again we turn to a photo with Victor Spinetti on the occasion of the cover shoot at Cliveden House.

John in cover shoot costume, Spinetti once again in a costume appropriate for the day's "Help!" scenes.
If we use the same reasoning re buttons as we did with George, and if the photo with Victor Spinetti shown above is correct, (and Spinetti's buttons are consistent through all images), then yes - John is flipped on the album sleeves.
John, flipped back and blue removed.
We could  really do with a contact sheet of the actual shoot to see whether or not we are correct in our assumptions. Photographer Robert Freeman's photo books "Yesterday" and "A Private View" do not contain these photos, so either he's not showing, or United Artists, EMI or Apple own them, or they may have been lost to time.

Since the pictures were individually taken, and furthermore not actually correct for the semaphore of spelling out H E L P, then a correct order is irrelevant - there is no correct order. However, eager as we are to please, here's a rendition of the UK "Help!" album front cover, with no Beatle reversed.

The UK "Help!" album front cover, after restorations.
Thanks to Stephen McGowan for all the photos he sent and the conclusions he came to. For the recent re-releases of the "Help!" film for the home video market (2007 on DVD, 2013 on Blu-ray), the box covers look like the UK album cover. In conclusion, some of the Beatles were reversed on both the UK and the US album sleeves. John, George and Ringo are reversed on the UK cover, only Paul is presented the right way around. John and Ringo are reversed on the US album cover, Paul and George appear as they were photographed. The funny thing is, Paul is the only Beatle presented the correct way on both covers, but if they had mirror-flipped him, he would actually have been spelling the requisite HELP letter P in semaphore. As presented on the UK cover, the Beatles are actually spelling NUJV, and NVUJ on the US cover.

The Beatles and their doubles on location in Obertauern, Austria.
From left to right: Hans Pretschner, Ringo Starr, Herbert Lürzer, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Frank Bogensperger, George Harrison and Gerhard Krings. Photo: Tourismusverband Obertauern
Here's a photo which shows the Beatles and their stunt doubles on location in Austria, revealing that there were at least two of each costume made. Except for Paul's. His stunt double wore a plain black jacket, not a furry one.

A twenty year old discussion on this same theme can be found here, it eventually comes to the same conclusions.


Unknown said...

Great pics indeed!
But why didn't they do REAL semaphore signs meaning H E L P ?
I have always wondered about this mystery...

Unknown said...

The link Roger posted at the bottom has your answer.

The photographer who conceived of and executed the photo, Robert Freeman, confirms that no semaphore message was intended. Freeman writes:

...I had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP. But when we came to do the shot the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn't look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms. (Freeman, Robert _The Beatles_, Barnes & Noble, NY, p. 62)

wogew said...

This was also the subject of a QI question on BBC.

John Medd said...

Not for the first time, I'm staggered by the amount of research that goes into your Blog. I, on the other hand, write like every word carries with it a personal bill from HMRC (the Taxman).

wogew said...

You know, John, my initial inspiration to start writing about anything, stems for wanting to correct misconceptions. When I started writing this particular piece, it was just to give Vincent Vigil and Beatlefan some write up. But after I'd finished, I opened up a can of beer and recalled my recent email exchange with McGowan about the positioning of The Beatles on the Help! album cover. So I started elaborating on that theme, did some photoshopping on a few photos to illustrate my points and one more beer later, I felt I could publish it. I knew the subject had been discussed before, but I thought I might as well help (npi) spread the word wider. Only after having written the whole piece, I googled around to find the discussion from twenty years ago from the usenet group, which I linked to at the end of the blog post. It's interesting to see that there are fans who still think that The Beatles are, or are meant to, spell out H-E-L-P, or who try to read some significance of the way they ended up on the cover. Which again means that trying to correct misconceptions is probably futile. Maybe your way is better, short and sweet.

John Medd said...

Believe me Roger, your way is better! My three go to people when it comes to all thing Beatles are, in no particular order: Mark Lewisohn, Raymond Murray and your good self. A cliche I know, but keep up the good work.

John Medd said...

Believe me Roger, your way is better! My three go to people when it comes to all thing Beatles are, in no particular order: Mark Lewisohn, Raymond Murray and your good self. A cliche I know, but keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Roger!

Unknown said...

(Sorry, "unknown" is Bill King of Beatlefan

Cas said...

Thanks Roger for these stories. I'm an older fan, and never liked the British Help! cover since it came out, always considered it too sparse, not reflecting adequately the content of the album, but now, after all these years and reading all your explanations, I finally started to appreciated the cover.

Shad Radna said...

Chop George in half and swap the two halves over and he's an H. Turn John clockwise 90 degrees and his arms and head form an E. Paul's arms are an L. And Ringo... draw a P on top of Ringo.