On 30 March 1967, The Beatles gathered at Chelsea Manor Studios, in Flood Street Chelsea, to be photographed for one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Studio 4 at Chelsea Manor Studios, was rented by photographer Michael Cooper. The studios opened in 1902, and Cooper established his studio from 22 July 1966.
Paul McCartney was a great friend of art dealer and art gallery owner Robert Frazer. Paul would often visit Robert’s gallery at 69 Duke Street, Mayfair, and would often drop by his flat to see who was there and what was happening. Robert, known as ‘Groovy Bob’, was a superb host; he always mixed the latest drinks, had the best drugs, and a room full of interesting people.
The cover had come about after Paul McCartney came up with the album title. He took some ideas to friend Robert Fraser, who suggested they use artists Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth and photographer Michael Cooper to realise the concept. Fraser sold artwork by Blake and Haworth and help finance Cooper.
Paul’s original idea for the cover was a design of The Beatles, looking like a brass band being presented to some dignitaries in front of a floral clock. After talking to Peter Blake and Jann Haworth the concept changed. The dignitaries became assorted famous people, and the clock became a huge drum.
The Beatles gave a list of names of people they would like to appear on the cover to Blake and Haworth. In the crowd is a ‘Fifth Beatle – Stu Sutcliffe, who left the band in 1961, and tragically died of a brain hemorrhage in April 1962.
Jesus and Hitler were among John Lennon’s choices, but they were left off the final list. Gandhi, meanwhile, was disallowed by Sir Joseph Lockwood, the head of EMI, after he told them they would have problems having the sleeve printed in India. George Harrison chose Indian Gurus – including Paramahansa Yogananda.
Many of the people in the crowd since were huge cut-outs taken from photos – however some were waxworks from Madame Tussauds. These included figures of the Beatles circa 1964 – to show the contrast of the Beatles in their stage suits to them in their Sgt Pepper uniforms. The other two are boxer Sonny Liston, and English actress Diana Dorrs. These are often mis-identified as Mohammed Ali and Marilyn Monroe. Sonny Liston had lost his world crown, and his wax figure was about to be melted down. Peter Blake was a big fan and asked Tussaud’s whether he could keep it permanently after the photo shoot. Tussaud’s readily agreed, and now it has pride of place in his studio.
Peter Blake was paid £200 for his services – and was much aggrieved that he wasn’t offered more when Sgt Pepper was released on CD in the 1980s.
The Sgt Pepper cover remains one of the most iconic, and imitated of all time, and very fitting for such a famous album.
Blogger Richard Porter is author of ‘Guide to the Beatles London’ and is a Beatles walking and virtual tour guide in London. For more on his tours go to https://beatlesinlondon.com/