On Sir Peter Blake’s iconic front cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles jostled for head-space next to Marlene Dietrich and Albert Einstein.
Now the Fab Four have been pushed out of the spotlight by One Direction and a 36-stone sumo wrestler in a new mural, unveiled by the pop art pioneer, celebrating famous figures who have appeared at the Royal Albert Hall.
Emmeline Pankhurst, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Sir Edward Elgar, Benny Hill, Diana, Princess of Wales, J.K. Rowling and the Dalai Lama are among the 400 luminaries who feature in Appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, a new work by Sir Peter, 82, in which the artist returns to the “crowd” theme of his famous 1967 Beatles cover.
Figures from entertainment, sport, science and the arts, all of whom have spoken or performed at the Knightsbridge hall since its 1871 opening, battle for attention in the 10ft triptych, which will be displayed in the venue’s foyer.
Bob Dylan, Fred Astaire, Dylan Thomas, The Beatles and Einstein – who addressed a 1933 meeting in which the German émigré warned of the “disaster” that appeasing Hitler would inflict upon Europe - enjoy the privilege of appearing in both Sgt Pepper and its successor.
Whether posterity will deem One Direction, Jimmy Carr, Tim Henman, Leona Lewis and Russell Brand worthy of their place in the 2014 pantheon, only history can judge.
The mural’s central figure is Konishiki, the 36st 8lbs sumo wrestler, known as the Dumptruck, who entertained London fans at the first sumo tournament staged outside Japan, in 1991.
British wrestlers Big Daddy, Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo and the masked Kendo Nagasaki are also given a prominent role.
“Most of the names were sent to me by the Royal Albert Hall but I wanted to get Kendo Nagasaki in,” said Sir Peter, who used to attend wrestling bouts at the venue as a Royal College of Art student. “I was here the night McManus took out Pallo in a street-fight and I saw Nagasaki unmasked.”
Where the Beatles once took centre-stage, they feature lower down in the new mural, well below the Rolling Stones and nestled behind Suggs of Madness. Bill Clinton has the podium, flanked by the late Sir Colin Davies, the conductor and Iggy Pop.
Sir Peter had not seen the finished mural, produced by digital manipulation, until the unveiling. “I’ve only seen it on computer,” he said. “Hi-def images are just clearer and better. Sgt Pepper was a much more laborious process. Each cut-out had to be printed up photographically and stuck down and hand tinted. Now I’d do it on a computer obviously.”
The Pepper sleeve was light on musicians, Sir Peter said, an omission rectified with James Brown, Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Adele and Paul Simon included in the new work.
Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Queen’s Brian May and the Who singer Roger Daltrey searched for their faces in the crowd at the grand unveiling. “I love the energy of the mural,” said Daltrey. “The Albert Hall has always been a really magical place to perform.”
Sir Peter was notoriously paid only £200 for the Sgt Pepper album cover in 1967. He has been paid “a fair price” for the Albert Hall mural, he said.
He acknowledged that there was a “vulgarity” about the prices which some contemporary art works can command. A US artist, Christopher Wool, whose stencilled letters work Apocalypse Now sold for $26 million last year, benefited from pieces being sold for “artificial prices,” Sir Peter said. “They’re kind of dumb pictures. Anyone could do them. That’s when it gets a bit silly.”
He excused Damien Hirst from accusations of vulgarity because “his art is about money. Damien could stop making money any point and go back to Devon and just paint.”
The Royal Albert Hall yesterday revealed a record performance in 2013 with its highest ever operating income of £18.6 million, a 10.4 per cent rise.
The Hall was opened in 1871 as part of Prince Albert’s vision for a centre for the Arts and Sciences. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria are both represented in the mural.