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. So it was probably the following Monday that the photos for the front and back cover were delivered to Kosh in order for him to design a front and a back for the album.
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.
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. Macmillan recalled: “The whole idea was McCartney’s. A few days before the shoot, he drew a sketch of how he imagined the cover, which we executed almost exactly that day.”
“I took a couple of shots of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road one way. We let some of the traffic go by and then they walked across the road the other way, and I took a few more shots.”
“The one eventually chosen for the cover was number five of six. It was the only one that had their legs in a perfect ‘V’ formation, which is what I wanted stylistically.”
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. As you’ll see, the white VW Beetle is at the exact spot where it remained in the actual album cover and outtakes. Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn said in a series of lectures called “Hornsey Road” in 2019 that the owner had parked the Beetle there, and then gone on holiday! So it remained there for several days. According to Lewisohn, the test shoot was done the day before The Beatles’ own photo session.
The London weather, summer of 1969:
July: Most of the first week was fine and warm, but the 6th was dull and wet with 33mm of rain and a high of only 16C. It stayed rather cool until the 10th, but it then became very warm and humid. On the 16th, the temperature rose above 31C., but fresher weather followed on the 16th, although it remained mostly warm or very warm until the 28th. No measurable rain fell from 11th to the 28th, but over 30mm of rain fell on the 29th and it then became much cooler.
August: There was a rather cool and changeable start to the month, and thunderstorms on the night of the 2nd/3rd produced 57mm of rain. Towards the end of the first week it became settled and pleasantly warm, and during the second week it became hot, with the high on the 11th near 30C.
So we can conclude that it had been a regular English summer, and that the day they took these photos, it was sunny and warm, to witness: Paul’s sandals.
Some see shoes on Paul’s feet in this photo, we see sandals.
They hadn’t gotten much sleep before this photo shoot, having worked in the studio past midnight and then met up again at in the morning. Paul and John may have gotten a good few hours, since Paul lived nearby, and Yoko and John either stayed at Paul’s or at the Dorchester Hotel, since they were about to move into their new home at Tittenhurst Park only three days after the photo shoot. But George and Ringo would have been driven back to their suburb homes in Surrey the night before and then back to the studio in the morning, so they probably just had five hours on the pillow each. Ringo was the first to turn up, at 10:15, whereas the others arrived just after 11, according to the diary of their assistant, Mal Evans.
Part 1 – Iain Macmillan’s photo session
The above photo has had us puzzled for years, because when it was published on the Beatles official website in conjunction with the remastered albums in 2009, it had a caption identifying it as taken the morning of the actual shoot. However, the light and shadows contradict the time of day, and the absence of the white VW Beetle contradicts the story, so later theories has it taken either days before the test photo with stand-ins or after the Beatles photo session, maybe as late as a year after.
But let’s start with the six photos that photographer Iain Macmillan took, while standing on a stepladder in front of the crossing. He 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 camera was sold at an auction in 2020.
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.”
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. A person we have elected to call “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.
On the left pavement, a man sits on the wall, his legs dangling, while closer to camera, two women and a young girl appear behind the Volkswagen Beetle.
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.
In May 2012, a limited edition print of this photo signed by photographer Macmillan, was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in London for £16,000.
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.
One of several London buses and a taxi appears. Paul has left his sandals by now. “Mystery man” is there, but now he has moved further away from his position in frame 2. He shares the pavement this time with a lady in a red sweater, looking directly at the camera.
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.
Look carefully and you can see the left arm of the driver, standing behind the van.
Is it the same bus waiting for The Beatles to cross the street? There’s no sign of “mystery man”, but there is another man in a white shirt, striding with some purpose, walking towards the camera.
A new image, taken from the presentation video of the 2019 version of the Abbey Road Album has a different image, featuring the same guy. Possibly one taken by Linda in a hurry, stepping closer to Macmillan’s ladder.
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.
PHOTO #5 – The one we all know
The iconic cover photo, where they are walking in step. Finally, there’s that police van. “Mystery man” is there on the right, of course. On the left pavement, further back, stand three decorators, subsequently identified as Alan Flanagan, Steve Millwood and Derek Seagrove. They were all captured for posterity on the cover photograph.
Seagrove: “I am the guy on the right, in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture. It wasn’t unusual for me to be at Abbey Road. I had been there on numerous occasions. I used to see the Beatles having a cup of tea in the canteen. We would sometimes be at the next table and say a casual hello to them. On this day, we saw them all walking out the front door around about 10 or so, which was unusual in itself. You rarely saw them at that time of day. Curiosity got the better of us so we followed them. We stopped at the gate and they walked up the other end. We just stood there watching. The guy who was taking the photograph was waving to us to get out of the way but we decided to just stand our ground. We had no idea about the significance of the picture.”
Close viewing shows another man, as yet unidentified, standing behind a car, close to the group of three. There is no sign of the mysterious girl in the purple top.This photo has been colour improved for use on the cover. The unaltered original has not been published, but above you can see an approximation I made, by placing it on top of the full photo #6. To use it as an album cover, some cropping was needed to keep the Beatles in the center of the photo. For publication, the photo had some colour corrections, and also possibly the very blue sky was painted in.
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.”
The police van is still there in the final photo. A bus has passed them. “Mystery man” has had enough – he’s gone. The three decorators remain on the left, joined by a fourth person. The girl in the purple top is there on the left, clearly visible, back in the gateway she first occupied in frame 3.
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 where all four Beatles were walking in step.
A seventh Iain Macmillan photo from that crossing appeared on an LP five years later, in 1974.
The cover shot on the LP, “Soulful Road” by New York City, looks very much like it could have been taken the same day. “Soulful Road” is the second and final studio album recorded by American male vocal quartet New York City, released in 1974 on the Chelsea label. To quote Popper, in the comments section of this blog post, “Exactly the same vantage point and the same vehicles parked down the side of the road. In the very first Beatles’ shot, you can see a white or cream coloured car coming down the road towards the camera, on the right as we look (probably an Austin 1100). It proceeds to park up on the side of the road, as seen in the next shot – and it’s there throughout the rest of the session. The cars behind it are unchanged too – two black ones close together then a little red sports car with a white roof. They are still there on the Soulful Road cover, unmoved, but the ones in front (eg the police van) have driven away. Same cars parked, different photo – so it’s another one from a bit later in the day. The shadows are a bit longer”.
And in the sleeve notes on the 2019 remixed anniversary boxed set of Abbey Road, it clearly says “In 1973, the vocal group New York City dropped in pictures of themselves on another of Iain Macmillan’s pictures from The Beatles’ session for their own record, Soulful Road.” So, this photo was probably taken on the same day, but without anyone crossing the road. The members of New York City were photographed elsewhere and then superimposed on Macmillan’s shot of the empty crossing.
In 2023, another shot of an empty Abbey Road zebra crossing appeared in a Bonhams auction, from The Iain Macmillan Collection. Macmillan has been experimenting with this shot years later, superimposing a faint latter day “Abbey Road” road sign to the sky. Thanks to Thorsten Knublauch for alerting us to this photo.
The photographer, Iain Macmillan 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.
Part 2 – The “Mystery man”
According to a couple of interviews he gave only four years earlier, 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”.
I think Paul Cole was telling tales, his story seems to indicate that he has only seen the one photo that most people have seen, the actual Abbey Road cover. There’s no museum in that part of Abbey Road. The police van was a late arrival to the photo session, as evidenced by the previous photos, so Paul Cole can’t have had such a conversation with the driver prior to the Beatles arriving at the scene. And the “mystery man” can be seen in several photos. Paul Cole was just someone who knew three things about the cover:
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.
This is a reenactment from the 2009 The Beatles RockBand commercial, the scene as seen from the “mystery man’s” point of view.
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 may still not have been published. But quite a few are available. To give you an idea about where the photos were taken, 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.
By now, Linda was a McCartney, but her handbag carried her previous initials L.L.E. Linda Louise Eastman.
The guy in the doorway is Alan, Ringo’s driver. Identified by Lizzie Bravo.
Linda is in this photo, so it must be one of Mal’s or perhaps Macmillan.
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: Waiting to cross, Paul’s sandals are seen under the jacket on the wall next to George. Linda’s handbag is also there.
From the Anthology book, part of a bigger photo? Seems to have been taken at the same moment as Mal’s first photo.
Mal: Probably snapped from location 3.
Linda: Paul is still wearing his sandals, so this is immediately before photo 1, similar traffic going on as well.
Linda: Published in “Club Sandwich”, the official Paul McCartney fan club magazine. Before Macmillan’s photo 5, as Paul has his cigarette.
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.
Taken almost from Iain Macmillan’s p.o.v., several bystanders are also seen – some with cameras. Mal is seen sitting on the wall behind the Beatles – between Paul and George. The “mystery man” also appears.
This modern day photo ought to be sufficient evidence that all those rumors about the Abbey Road zebra crossing having been moved since the sixties is just someone’s imagination. Or bad research. The streetlight pole has been moved further away from the crossing, though.
A year before the photo session, a fan took this snapshot of John and Yoko strolling across the road:
Linda: A pink lady chats with the boys, George and Mal are sitting on the wall.
Part 6 – Iain Macmillan’s back cover photo
For the back cover, Macmillan took a photo of an Abbey Road street sign. The sign was located half a mile further down the road from the famous zebra crossing, at a junction where Alexandra Road met Abbey Road. The junction is no longer there. Alexandra Road was an area of some 600 decaying Victorian villas, scheduled for demolition. The junction was replaced by the Alexandra Road estate, properly known as the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, but more commonly, and erroneously, referred to as simply Rowley Way, which is a concrete housing estate with 520 apartments, a school, a community centre, a youth club, a heating complex, and parkland. Designed in 1968 and approved in April 1969, work on the estate had not yet started when Macmillan took the photo, construction work didn’t commence until 1972 and the housing estate was finally completed in 1978. The Alexandra Road junction was situated between Boundary Road and Belsize Road.
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.
In 2023, a former employee of Colorcel submitted a print of the back cover to an auction, and had this to say:
Prior to and during my university years I spent my summers working for the commercial photo processing laboratories Colourcel Ltd in Old Street, near Old Street tube station. In my third summer I went inside and learned how to process prints. When the print was signed off, an extra copy would be kept, in case of problems in the studio during retouching, and the modified dyes would be bottled, and used by the in-house artists to retouch the print using the same dyes as had been used for the print.
The Abbey Road print, as I recall, did not present any color problems, but a registration challenge. It required the main image, which had been altered during generation of the separations to have a blank area where the Beatles name would go. As can be seen from the artwork, letters or pairs of letters each represented a separate image to be printed. These were added as further sets of separations to write the name “Beatles” in the space that had been created. The missing letters were found by Iain Macmillan from other streets.
As can be seen from the artwork, there are gaps around the “Beatles”, and other marks that were later fixed by the in-house artists.
Particular points of note:
The girl in the picture is not a separate image
Letters are used from the Abbey Road letters. You can see shaded parts in common.
Iain Macmillan found a letter S with a crack. In the retouched artwork it doesn’t quite line up.
I kept the artwork for many years in excellent condition, but over the years, the paper hardened. Damage occurred when my then teenage daughter tried to tidy my office at home. She rolled up the artwork, then placed other stuff on top, which cracked the artwork. I avoided further damage for a number of years.
Having seen Ashleigh Brown on a television documentary about paper conservation. I contacted her and commissioned a conservation of the artwork. The object was to stabilize and preserve. As it was my intention to sell the artwork, with none of my family wanting it, I was recommended to do no further work other than conservation.
The intermediate mock-up of the album’s back cover:
Nicola Carletti sent us the above photo from his collection. Made during the process of finishing the Abbey Road cover, this may have been the mock-up Sir Joseph Lockwood, head of EMI, saw which lead him to demand that they should put a “BEATLES” sign in the picture. After all, the name of the group was nowhere to be found on the front cover and he wanted the group to be identified prominently on the back. Art director John Kosh was interviewed in 2013 by Rock Cellar magazine and reveals that he got a phone call from Sir Joe at 3 in the morning, complaining about the absent group name.
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 that 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.
John Cockcroft was supplied with shots of street lettering taken in and around London that matched the Abbey Road signage (possibly supplied by Macmillan).
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:
Still, the crack was drawn into the “S” in the “BEATLES” sign. The “Alexandra Road” photos indicate this, as can be seen in the photo of the “cover tourists” above, but also in this black and white shot, taken at a different date.
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”.
In the initial U.K. printed cover, someone made a mistake with the alignment of the image and text. The earliest copies don’t align the text correctly with the Apple logo. As you can see in the above image, the Apple should be just under where the text says I WANT YOU (She’s So Heavy), aligned to the left margin. Here’s a comparison of the first and later edition U.K. back cover:
As you can see, the initial printing seemingly has the Apple misaligned with the text. But inspecting it closer shows that the Apple logo occupies the same space on the wall in both instances. The photo, including the Apple logo, is moved to the right in the corrected printing, revealing more of the bricks to the left and the round marks near the top. Most of the misaligned covers were sent abroad, the ones that were used on U.K. pressings are now collector’s items.
In 2024, Greg Armstrong revealed in Furore Magazine #28 that the round dots just before the BEATLES sign in full actually spelt the name DAVE. A guy called Dave and his mate was sorting through some rubbish from a building demolition site and found a walking stick with a rubber stopper on the end and some ink pots. So he used the rubber end as a stamp and dipped in ink from the pots, he dotted the wall, spelling out his name. What you see in the Macmillan photo is just the E.
Part 7 – Advertising the album
A billboard featuring the Beatles walking across Abbey Road was constructed on Sunset Strip in 1969. Shortly after its construction, some prankster climbed atop the structure and cut Paul’s head off. When Los Angeles author Robert Landau first published his book about classic Rock ‘n’ Roll billboards of the Sunset Strip, he made his readers an offer: pass along any info on the whereabouts of Paul McCartney’s head and you’ll get a free signed copy of his book. More than four decades later, that prankster, now in his 60s, contacted Landau. “He took it when he was 16, and it was still hanging in his living room,” joked Landau, who traveled to the man’s home in the San Fernando Valley to pose with Paul.
Part 8 – Paul is live
In 1993, Paul McCartney wanted to recreate the Abbey Road cover photo for his new album, “Paul is live”, which was a concert album from his 1993 tour. As a film director had plans of making a movie about the “Pauls is dead” rumour from 1969, Paul decided on the “Paul is live” title. As the original Abbey Road cover had been at the center of the conspiracy theory, interpreted as containing clues to Paul’s death by the believers, Paul wanted to recreate the album cover. He hired original photographer Iain Macmillan to shoot the cover like he did in 1969, which allows us to see how he was positioned.
The photoshoot took place on the 22nd July 1993. After having reviewed the new photos taken by Macmillan, Paul decided that the location had changed too much. The solution was to go back to the original images and puzzle together a version without the Beatles, and superimpose Paul on top of that.
Since 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.
- Added weather details etc
- Added Eric Bourgoin’s desaturated photo, probably closer to the natural light and saturation. (later replaced)
- Added a new transparency version of one of Mal’s photos, and a Japanese single cover with the same photo.
- Added that day’s page in Mal’s diary
- quotes from Derek Seagrove and Iain Macmillan added from a 2019 article by Ken McNab in Daily Record.
- new image taken from presentation video for 2019 Abbey Road remixed album.
- test photo of Kevin Harrington and Steve Brendell added.
- Soulful Road photo and story added
- Page revised for new site
- several photos replaced by bigger or better image files
- Photo #1-7 headlines added
- Made a slideshow from some small Linda McCartney photos of the Beatles waiting to go from location 3
- Added a section about Iain Macmillan’s 1993 recreation of the photo for Paul McCartney’s “Paul is Live”.
- Added a photo of Paul McCartney return to the scene in 2018.
- Replaced a photo of the four Beatles sitting on the steps with a less cropped version of same
- Added fan’s snapshot of John and Yoko at the crossing in 1968
- Added the photo captioned “John could always make Paul laugh.”
- Added photo of the Alexandra street wall with back cover photo superimposed
- Added photo of Paul and Linda arriving
- Added photo indicating placement of Apple logo
- Replaced “early tourists” photo
- Misaligned U.K. back cover story and images added
- Replaced miniature of the six Iain Macmillan photos in the correct order.
- A shot of an empty crossing with a modern Abbey Road sign superimposed in the sky appears in an auction.
- Replaced the “Soulful Road” photo with a brighter scan.
- Added «policeman» photo.
- Added print of back cover from Colorcel employee and his story.
- Replaced original photo of Paul and Arrow in 1993 with a better copy.
- Revelation of the dots spelling the name DAVE on the wall on the back cover.
© 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).