The very first time I visited London was in the summer of 1982, and the first Beatles location I went to visit, was the famous zebra crossing near Abbey Road studios. It has been an obsession of mine to collect as many photos as I can from this photo session, and I have assembled them all here.
The cover designer of the Abbey Road album was Apple Records' creative director John Kosh, 22. The cover photograph was taken by photographer Iain Macmillan, at John Lennon's suggestion. Macmillan was a freelance photographer and a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. According to Kosh, the assignment came on Monday and the finished cover was supposed to be due Wednesday. So the most imitated and iconic album cover arguably to have been made was a rush job! Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes on Friday, August 8, 1969 around 11:30 that morning to take the photo on the zebra crossing on Abbey Road.
According to Macmillan's printer, Richard Heath, Iain later remembered it as being a Sunday. Still, Mal Evans' diary, as well as the memories of the fan girls who used to hang around the studio in Abbey Road all confirm that Friday, August 8, 1969 was the date.
|Paul McCartney's sketch|
Anyway, Iain was given this sketch by Paul McCartney a couple of days before the shoot showing where and what the picture should look like and Iain added his own sketch in the top corner to confirm the layout.
Extract from an ebook by Kevin Harrington, "Who’s The Redhead On The Roof....?":
"Towards the end of the recording sessions I was asked, along with Steve Brendell, to meet on a Sunday morning at EMI Studios. Iain Macmillan, the photographer, wanted to take a few shots of four people walking across the zebra crossing outside the studio on Abbey Road to show the boys what the album cover idea would look like. To make up the foursome, two studio porters were drafted in as well. I know a photo exists of the four of us but I am not in a position to publish it."
"Iain then proceeded to show the boys the photo for the forthcoming album cover and a week later the iconic album cover picture was taken. This time Ian brought a step ladder with him, and fortunately a policeman happened to pass by on his beat and kindly stopped what little traffic there was on this early Sunday morning a couple of times whilst the boys crossed the road. It was all over in 30 minutes or so."
Alongside Mal Evans, Harrington worked as assistant for the Beatles on the albums they made in 1968-69.
Part 1 - Iain Macmillan's photo session
|Test photo of the empty crossing, taken earlier in the morning.|
The setting of f22 at 1/500 seconds have also been disputed by a commentator over at The Beatles Bible in 2016: "As a professional photographer for the past 45 years I can tell you with certainty that this photo was not taken at 1/500 at f22.on transparency film. Even the most sensitive transparency film of the era, Kodak high speed Ektachrome, would have been three stops under-exposed at that setting."
|Photo 1 from a limited edition print.|
|Photo 1, another version.|
They start by walking across from the Abbey Road Studios side of the street over to the other side, Paul McCartney is still wearing sandals. The VW beetle is there all the way through the session, but the police van is nowhere to be seen yet. "Mystery man" is there, on the right, but so are two other people further back on the same side of the road. One is looking at the camera, the other is bending down, looking for something in a bag.
|"Mystery man" and two other people.|
|Two women and a young girl appear behind the Volkswagen Beetle.|
|Photo 2 from a limited edition print.|
|Photo 2, another version.|
This image was used for the cover of an HMV boxed edition of the Abbey Road CD back in 1987, and inside the box was also a poster with the same photo, alongside other goodies.
|The HMV boxed sets were released simultaneously with the first standard CD release of each album.|
They cost 1 pound more than the standard edition, and were only available from HMV record shops in the UK.
Paul keeps the flip flops on as they return, but he leaves them on the sidewalk for the remainder of the photo session. There’s "Mystery man" again, but this time he is all alone on the right pavement. The two people on the right in frame 1 have gone. Meanwhile our friend sitting on the wall on the left has been joined by a man in a white shirt and a woman with a parasol.
|Photo 3 from a limited edition print.|
|Photo 3, another version.|
Here’s where it gets interesting. You have to look very, very carefully on the left pavement to spot her, but there in the closest gateway, just behind the Beetle, is a young woman in a purple top. This is her ﬁrst appearance, but she is present in three of the six frames – just one fewer appearance than "Mystery man"
Immediately behind the Beetle, a black delivery van has pulled in. It has gone before frame 4.
|Van and driver|
Look carefully and you can see the left arm of the driver, standing behind the van.
|Photo 4 from a limited edition print.|
|Photo 4, another version.|
Over on the left we get a clearer sight of the mysterious girl in the purple top, on the move this time, and two of the three decorators who appear on the actual cover, appear in this frame.
|Girl on the move.|
|Photo 5 from a limited edition print.|
|Photo 5, seemingly uncropped.|
|This is photo #5 as album cover.|
This is how the original UK 1969 cover looked like, it was heavily saturated. The 1987 CD release had far duller colours, whereas the 2009 remastered CD version had a green hue.
The original photo may have been lost, and it's likely that the only original negatives remaining, are the outtake photos. Richard Heath: "Believe it or not but back in those days it was quite common to send an original to the blockmakers, ie for an album cover - even a Beatles one, and never see it again. Exactly that happened in this case. I started making prints for Iain in the mid 80's and I have never seen the original transparency, when I asked him about it he just said he never saw it again."
|Photo 6 from a limited edition print.|
Other people appear, but are not engaged with the scene: a man dressed in black walks away from camera on the left pavement. On the right, by the police van, two people are looking away, while in the distance, on the left, passengers spill out of a number 159 bus.
Shortly after the shoot, McCartney studied the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. It was the only one when all four Beatles were walking in step.
Here's the photographer, Iain Macmillan pictured with one of the photos he took. He had prints of the five outtake photos printed up, along with one from the photo he took for the back cover. These were limited edition prints, which was numbered and signed. In November 2014, a set of these six prints were sold for a staggering £180,000 by Bloomsbury Auctions.
|Iain Macmillan pictured with photo 4.|
Part 2 - The "Mystery man"
In February 2008, news was that Florida resident Paul Cole, the man beside the police van had died, aged 93. But was he really that man? I don't think so, and here's why.
According to a couple of interviews he gave in 2004, Paul Cole was on the pavement while he was waiting for his wife, who was visiting a museum in Abbey Road. He was starting a conversation with the driver of the police van, and a bit later he realized that the police was there for a special occasion. When he looked over at the Beatles, he only recognized them as "A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn't walk around in London barefoot".
|Paul Cole's story|
1. There's a police van there.
2. Next to the police van there's a man standing.
3. One Beatles was not wearing shoes and socks.
So, he invented a story, putting himself in the picture. Well at least he got a laugh when news media all over the world reported about it. It's even in the Wikipedia entry of the album.
Here's a close-up from photo #2 of the "mystery man".
Clearly looking straight at The Beatles before the police van had turned up, here's a close-up of the "mystery man" as early as photo 1, while McCartney was still wearing his sandals:
Earlier references to the "Mystery man"
Over the years there are several people who have claimed to be the man on the Abbey Road cover. I have heard stories about people claiming to be or to know "the man on the cover" for as long as I have been a Beatles fan. One of them supposedly was a gay man who died in the seventies. Here's another, earlier claim:
Jo Poole: "At 21, I was a dedicated Beatles fan, and bought the 'Abbey Road' album the moment it was released. As soon as I saw the cover, I shouted, 'That's my brother, Tony.' He was 33, and was very distinctive at six feet four inches tall. Tony Staples was his name and he lived in Scott Ellis Gardens, near Abbey Road, and regularly saw the occasional Beatle, though catching a glimpse of all four Beatles together was rare, even in Abbey Road. He was on his way to work as an administrative secretary for the National Farmers Union on the Friday morning when that photo was taken. I used to travel regularly from my home in Gloucestershire to visit Tony in St. John's Wood, and I remember him pointing out Paul McCartney's house."
Of course, since Paul Cole was the first of the "mystery man" candidates who managed to get in the news during the internet age (2004), and because he was referred to as "the man on the Abbey Road cover" in an obituary that was widespread all over the internet (2008), AND because the job of research has been abandoned along with the proof reading job by the media at large, it has become almost impossible to google and find all those other, previous claims (from the pre-internet seventies) about the identity of the man. In 2004 and 2008, a news item such as this could "go viral". In the seventies, it would have been published in a small, amateur Beatles fanzine and read by the die-hard subscribers only.
Part 3 - Beatles and bystanders
The gang of three directly over McCartney's head seems to have been identified, too:
Mrs N. C. Seagrove: "It wasn't until years after the 'Abbey Road' LP was produced that my husband discovered he is on the album cover. Derek was 31, and working for the decorating firm Fassnidge, Son & Morris, based in Uxbridge, when the picture was taken. He's the one on the right of the three men in white overalls on the left-hand pavement. The other two are his work-mates, Alan Flanagan and Steve Millwood. They were doing a decorating job in Abbey Road studios and were coming back after a lunch break when the picture was taken. They hung around just to be nosey. Derek thought if it was used, he and his mates would be edited out."
The 2011 exhibition "Beatles and bystanders" was a small one, with just the six Macmillan photos. So to expand the theme a bit, the exhibition focused on the bystanders that close scrutiny of the blown up original photos reveal.
|From photo #1 with the background lightened.|
Part 4 - Candid snapshots
Linda McCartney and Mal Evans were around for the photo shoot and took a lot of pictures themselves during the proceedings, many of which are still unpublished. But some are available.
Here's a bird's eye view of the Abbey Road crossing as it is today, with the three photo locations indicated by numbers. 1 marks the stairs outside Abbey Road studios, The Beatles are walking from 2 to 3 on Macmillan's photos 1, 3 and 5 and from 3 to 2 on photos 2, 4 and 6.
First some shots from the Abbey Road stairs. We don't know if these are taken before or after the photo session, but before is more likely - waiting for Macmillan to rig his stepladder - or for the policeman to arrive to hold up the traffic. After the session, they probably didn't want to hang out outside the studio.
|This is a brighter version of the same photo that occupied this space earlier|
|Still photo from the George Harrison documentary "Living in the Material World"|
|Brighter than the others|
|Taken by Mal|
|This is the photo Linda gave the title "four strangers"|
|Linda's hand bag.|
|With Linda and Alan the driver.|
|Another of Linda's photos|
|Also one of Linda's|
|George completes this selection of Linda's individual portraits|
|Four different individual shots|
The following are photos where The Beatles are standing around location 2.
Ringo picks his nose... Paul has sandals on, so this is before photo 1.
|Mal Evans photo.|
|Mal Evans' photo|
|Linda McCartney photo.|
|Immediately before the cover shot.|
Linda: From the Anthology book. Part of a bigger photo?
The following are photos where The Beatles have crossed the street at least once, and are standing on the other side, waiting to go back.
|Modern day photo of the same location.|
|Waiting for the traffic.|
Part 6 - Iain Macmillan's back cover photo
|The Abbey Road back cover photo. O and A in "ROAD" may have been repaired.|
In a blog post from 2010 where Mike Cockcroft talks about his dad, we found some information about the retouching of the back cover, and he has also given us some details by email. John Cockcroft (1934-2008) was an expert on retouching photos, and Mike says that he was the man responsible for the job that was done on the Abbey Road back cover photo - for use on the album cover.
The company he was a director of was called Colorcel, it was a professional photographic lab producing dye transfer prints and offering a retouching service, it was located in London at 52/54 Featherstone street, London EC1. John Cockcroft was a director and the head retoucher. It ran from the late 1950s through to the 70s. The clients where mainly professional photographers and ad agencies. Iain Macmillan was a client. and would have bought his film from them and had it processed there. Ringo was also a client and had his happy snaps processed and printed there (something that amused Cockcroft, as the lab was really for professional photographers and ad agencies who could afford the rates).
Iain Macmillan shot the front and back covers, Mike is not sure if his dad did anything on the front cover, it’s possible he removed some bystanders, but he doesn’t know for certain.
We don't think much was done to the front cover, the bystanders all seem to be there, and we believe that colour improvement, especially as far as the sky is concerned, is what mainly has taken place.
The intermediate mock-up of the album's back cover:
|The back cover, with some preliminary mock-up text but no "BEATLES" sign yet.|
Although Kosh kept from adding the group's name to the front cover (and George Harrison sided with him about that), the "BEATLES" sign on the back cover was added.
"It was really a publicity photograph. It was a desperate time for EMI. Let It Be was supposed to come out… and was put back. Abbey Road all of a sudden was slotted in and they wanted an album cover on Wednesday — and it’s Tuesday. Iain Macmillan had his light box, and we had the loop and transparencies and we just chose one. Then I had to go, I had to really rush. But somehow or other the printer, which was Garrod & Lofthouse (...) really helped me put this thing together." John Kosh.
Although he is referring to Garrod & Lofthouse, who printed the album sleeves, the actual work may still have been undertaken by by John Cockcroft of Colorcel. Someone put the "BEATLES" sign into the picture and drew in the crack in the "S", and possibly repaired some of the letters in "ROAD". It might as well have been Colorcel.
A version of the Abbey Road album back cover with the "BEATLES" sign added, but without the text (song titles etc) and Apple logo exists and used to be here on the blog, courtesy of Recordmecca.com, but is now no longer available online.
In thet version, there was a white edge under and to the left of the "BEATLES" sign, this was blackened before the cover was regarded as finished. Four of the other original letters from the sign were salvaged during the demolition of Alexandra Road, and later glued together again and sold for £7000 in 2012.
From Macmillan's transparency, a dye transfer print was made using separation negatives, (you end up with a set of three pin registered matrixes, magenta,cyan and yellow, which are then individually placed on top of a print to transfer the 3 colours that make up the Dye Transfer).
The difference between a type c print and a dye print is that on the type c any retouching done would have to be with acrylic paint or gauche paint and an airbrush, and would sit on top of the print surface emulsion, crude and sometimes quite visible. On a dye you could use bleach to remove any part of the image all the way back to white and then use the same dyes that had produced the print to draw back in the missing area, the result in the hands of a master would be undetectable.
As an example, suppose you wanted to remove a person from a shot, you would bleach the area out till it went back to white, making sure you had a soft edge. So now you have a print with a white hole were the person was, what the retoucher would have to do is fill this hole with the surrounding detail. How? With a fine brush, dyes, and a lot of skill and patience, and on a dye if done right you would never know a person had been there, maybe five hours work, done today in 5 minutes in Photoshop.
Dye transfer was a new process at the time and allowed incredible image manipulation,photo composites and retouching, many of the techniques that are so easy to do now in photoshop, had to be done by hand, it required a high degree of artistry and craftsmanship. Here's a link to a video describing the process: daviddoubley.com.
|Signs around London. This 2007 photo: Roger Stormo|
From these shots, a composite was created of the Beatles lettering and then combined and used to mask this area out on the master set of dye matrixes, so that when a new dye was made, the combined lettering would be part of the image. Whatever imperfections then existed (masking lines etc) would be bleached out, and the detail tickled back in with a fine brush using dyes mixed and matched by the artist to recreate missing detail. The infamous crack in the "s" was bleached back and then drawn in. If this was Cockcroft's input or a request from the art director, Mike doesn’t know, but it helped the lettering look real. The scene in the photo did have an original Abbey Road street sign, but replacing letters may have been applied to the damaged "O" and part of the "A" in ROAD on the original sign. These original letters seem to have fallen victims to that major crack in the wall.
The actual back cover photo was taken on the corner of Abbey Road and Alexandra Road, a road which is no more. Cockcroft talks about cracks being drawn in to make it look real, but the main crack is certainly real, as seen in this photo:
|Early album cover tourists|
|The "O" is clearly damaged in this photo, too.|
The girl in the blue dress
Every reference to her has her already in the place when the photo was taken. Sometimes she has been identified as Jane Asher, but we think that's just an uninformed rumour. After all, Paul and Linda had been married since March, and the scene in the Alexandra Road/Abbey Road junction where the back cover was photographed was half a mile away from the famous Abbey Road crossing.
Wikipedia: "After the shoot Iain went to find a road sign for use on the back cover. It was taken on the corner with Alexandra Road. During photographing the sign a girl in a blue dress walked through the shot. Iain was angry but later it was chosen as the back cover. The wall with the sign was demolished several years later."
Later in life, Macmillan have referred to the girl in the photo as a "happy accident".
|A weird one: The text is in place, the Apple logo is correctly aligned, but no "BEATLES" sign. And this is for the USA edition, as observed by the catalog number SO 383 in the upper right corner.|
Part 7 - Advertising the album
|Original poster ad. Sent us by Eric Bourgouin|
|A large billboard on Sunset Strip, LA, 1969. Photographed by Robert Landau|
|2-page NME advertisement spread, sent us by Yan Friis|
Part 8 - UpdatesSince this was posted, some photos have appeared,and some of the ones in the original post have been replaced by better versions of the same photo. Feel free to send me updates so I can keep improving this post!
Improvements so far:
- The photo of The Beatles with several spectators taken from Macmillan's p.o.v. was sent to me by a reader. Inserted and updated with the same in higher resolution from Miss Tammy's site.
- A still photo of the four Beatles on the Abbey Road stairs has been captured from the recent trailer for the George Harrison documentary, "Living in the material world"
- Macmillan's photo 6 has been replaced with one that was bigger and better.
- The "Ringo joins in on the fun" photo replaced with a composite in better resolution.
- The Club Sandwich photo replaced by a bigger version.
- Macmillan's Photos 2, 3 and 4 replaced by better versions.
- Two alternate versions of Macmillan's Photo 1 removed.
- The Abbey Road album cover miniature replaced with a "greener" one.
- Added a map with locations numbered
- Arranged the post into sections
- Added some captions
- Replaced Macmillan's photo 6 again with a more colourful one
- Added Mal Evans to the storyline, details provided by Eric Bourgouin
- Added Paul McCartney's layout drawing
- Added a news story about Paul Cole
- Replaced the "mystery man" photo with a bigger one.
- "Ringo picks his nose" replaced by an improved version of the same photo
- Modern day photo showing streetlight pole relocation added.
- New Ringo & Paul photo by Linda McCartney added
- The brighter stairsteps photo is new
- The first John/Paul photo replaced by a brighter version (and without a caption)
- Solo John photo added near the end
- Four individual shots, from the Kenwood blog added.
- Linda's "Club Sandwich" photo replaced by a better version from Paul McCartney's facebook page.
- Paul McCartney's website featured 13 of Linda's photos, several of which were previously unpublished. I made use of them to insert where appropriate.
- The "Ringo joins in on the fun" photo replaced by one in a higher resolution.
- Section 6 about the back cover added.
- Section 7 about advertisement added.
- Macmillan's photo 4 replaced again, the previous incarnation was a composite of two versions.
- Macmillan's photo 6 replaced again with a better version.
- Macmillan's photo 1 replaced again with a better version.
- The Abbey Road cover (photo 5) edited to reveal how much it has been cropped.
- "A weird one" back cover photo added.
- Comments by Rand Bruckner about the buses added.
- Information from Mike Cockcroft about his father John Cockcroft of Colorcel doing some retouching of the back cover added.
- Added a "girl in the blue dress" headline
- Rearranged the candid snapshots, placing them in numerical order.
- Added photos of limited edition prints of Macmillan's photos 1-6.
- Added more close-up photos of the "mystery man".
- Replaced Macmillans photos 1-4 and 6 once again, with better versions.
- Added Guy White's descriptions of bystanders in each of the Macmillan shots.
- Added Kevin Harrington's story about the rehearsal for the photo shoot.
- Replaced photo captioned "Alan" with a better version from George Harrison's Twitter account.
- Made the article a Page, as opposed to a Post
- Filled in some information about Alexandra Road and the housing estate that replaced it.
- Included image and story of HMV boxed set Abbey Road.
- Included info about Macmillan's camera and the prints sold by Bloomsbury Auctions.
- Added several close-ups of bystanders
- Inserted Richard Heath's comments about the date, shutterspeed and the disappearing original.
© 1969 Iain Macmillan (the six variations of the Abbey Road front cover and the back cover photo)
© 1969 Linda McCartney (all other photos taken around the cover photo session, except)
© 1969 Mal Evans (photos taken from Mal's point of view and one from the Abbey Road steps with Linda McCartney in view).