When did The Beatles cross the road?

Was it really the 8th of August 1969?

A few days ago, I was contacted by one Richard Heath, a man who was Iain Macmillan’s printer from the mid eighties and until the photographer passed away in 2006.

Heath was eager to correct some of the information I provided on my Abbey Road Photoshoot page. The first issue is the actual date when The Beatles were photographed crossing the Abbey Road. It has been generally accepted that this happened on the 8th of August, 1969. That makes it a Friday. However, people seem to remember the shoot having taken place on a Sunday! Iain seems to have always remembered it to have been a Sunday. Here’s what Heath wrote: “Now on one of the many conversations I had with Iain, and once you got him started he was off, I’m sure he said it was on a Sunday. So to be honest it may not even have been the 8th., I really don’t know.”.

Also, Kevin Harrington wrote about it as a Sunday in his 2015 book. He remembers having been picked out to do a “dry run” for the photo the previous Sunday, and The Beatles were photographed the next Sunday. So if the Sunday reporting is true, the photo may have been taken on Sunday the 10th or perhaps even Sunday the 17th.

A policeman held up the traffic during the photo shoot. Or, so they say anyway!

Another issue Heath was keen to pursue was the shutter speed and exposure time. Macmillan used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds. Or at least, that’s what was reported earlier – but again in comes Richard Heath with some corrections: “Regarding the camera exposure: Back in those days film speed was not all that fast, maybe 64-100 ASA which I would be amazed if that gave you a setting of f22 and 1/500th of a second. I would think it would be 2 or 3 stops down from there, maybe f11/f16 at 1/250th, even 1/125th of a second. … Strangely the rear shot of the wall/girl was shot on a different film (but) both front and rear films were Kodak, as most transparency film was in those days. “

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.”

The photo of the back cover was shot using a different type of film.

The original photo that made the cover of “Abbey Road” 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.”

Heath also told me about the different prints, those that were printed on Kodak photo paper, and those that were printed on Fuji photo paper. Remember, this is information starting in the mid eighties:

“When I started printing them you could only buy Kodak “R” type paper, and it was always a problem to get an accurate print. Basically because the Kodak paper was not very good. It was almost impossible to John’s white suit to look natural, the contrast just wouldn’t allow you to get detail in it. In fact, I can remember having a heated conversation with Iain in which I ended up suggesting, very politely, maybe he might be better if he used another laboratory, but he absolutely wouldn’t hear of it”.

“Then we started to get Fuji paper. OMG! This stuff was amazing, the colour, and contrast was from a different galaxy. Needless to say Iain loved it. So if you look on the back of the very early prints and it says Kodak, and other ones say Fuji, that’s why they can be so different in colour with the Fuji versions being much richer and accurate in colour”.

“The watermark (is) a very faint printed name of the paper producer. To complicate things a little, Fuji didn’t always print their name on the back, it depended on what size of paper you were using. Just for the record, they were never printed on “C” type paper from the originals. The only ones made on that paper would have been made from digital files. Negatives were never made from the originals, not by me anyway”.

I hope this is valuable information for all you photo collectors out there. Save for the photo paper information, the other subjects of the discussion have been incorporated into the main  Abbey Road Photoshoot page.

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15 Responses

  1. John Medd says:

    Too much to hope that pictures from the week before (dress rehearsal, if you will) exist?

  2. Unknown says:

    Kevin Harrington has a print of the rehearsal picture which I have seen. As far as I know, it will be used for an upcoming book. Can't reveal more details.

  3. Adam Smith says:

    The 8 August date is confirmed in Mal Evans' diary (which also confirmed our calculation of the time of day, using the lamp-post as a sundial on the 1989 anniversary). The shutter/film speed information came from Iain himself: I met him two or three times in the late 80s. He said transparency number five (transparencies, not negatives) went missing after he'd sent it to New York for some reason. No mention of the day having been a Sunday, nor of no.5 being lost by the sleeve printer.

    Adam Smith

    co-author, The Beatles' London

  4. Richard Porter says:

    Yes, Mal's diary says August 8th. He also says the Beatles recorded in the studio later the same day – but no recordings were made on Sundays. August 8th it is!

  5. Eduardo Ferreira Coelho de Souza says:

    New history after 50 years???? Come on man!!!! 8th is CORRECT!!!!!

  6. SammyG says:

    …plus, would the three decorators in the background have been at work on a Sunday?

  7. Unknown says:

    But what about the traffic?

  8. Unknown says:

    New history after 50 years? … well yes of course. Don't be surprised about that – I'm still uncovering it every day for the All These Years trilogy I'm writing. But not this one. August 8th is definite. Not only did Mal keep a diary, so did several of the fans who waited outside the studio every day that eventful summer, noting their shock when turning up at EMI in the early afternoon to learn that the Beatles had been photographed on the zebra crossing that morning, catching them all out. Friday 8 August it was, 100 per cent.

  9. wogew says:

    Thank you, all who commented. I think we can safely conclude that it was that Friday, like the earlier sources all agreed upon.

  10. John Medd says:

    And this is why there will never be another Beatles; this has transcended music. We're now talking about forensic reconstruction – camera shutter speeds, third party diaries, angle of the sun. I love it!

  11. Popper says:

    Isn't there a bread van in one of the photos? I doubt bread van drivers would have worked Sundays either.

  12. Unknown says:

    "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."

    I dare say that that is why we have seen so many amazing Sgt Pepper Cover / and interior cover outtake photos in wonderful condition – but the reprints of the actual photos originally used always look like copies of a pre-existing printed cover / or pre existing 'block'…Would love to see the gate-fold photo in pristine condition from original negative…

  13. db says:

    Peter Blake's wife Jann said the Sgt Pepper cover photo was "so retouched, so messed about, it ended up looking like artwork, rather than a set that was built".

  14. Unknown says:

    Mark Lewisohn Please, Please me and publish All These Years part 2 .Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me (too many) years to write, will you take a look?

  15. Unknown says:

    I have a set of 5 outtakes purchased directly from Ian in the mid 80’s framed (museum quality) and one of them signed by him. Printed direct from the original negatives. Stupid me. I should have purchased the album size from him instead of the approximate 7 x 7 inches copies back then. I also didn’t purchase the back cover from him as well! What was I thinking?

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