The Panto Four: Unseen photographs reveal the Beatles at play

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John Lennon poses as Ali Baba, Paul McCartney sits on all fours in a cat costume while George Harrison, as Robin Hood, strokes his tail and Ringo Starr grins out of a grizzly bear outfit.

John Lennon poses as Ali Baba, Paul McCartney sits on all fours in a cat costume while George Harrison, as Robin Hood, strokes his tail and Ringo Starr grins out of a grizzly bear outfit.

That playful side of the Beatles, captured in December 1964 by a photographer in Scotland, features in an exhibition of more than 100 unpublished and rarely seen photographs unearthed by the music magazine Mojo .

It features photographs from the band's early days in Hamburg in 1960 and the Cavern Club in Liverpool to their final performance at the Candlestick Park stadium in San Francisco in 1966.

The picture of the Beatles in pantomime costume provides an insight into the lengths to which they were prepared to go to promote themselves at a time when pop was a new phenomenon and singers were viewed as light entertainers.

"That's the kind of thing entertainers were expected to do in that day and age. I think a lot of modern bands wouldn't do that," said Mark Blake, editor of Mojo special editions.

"Popular bands were expected to jump through hoops, they were seen as light entertainers. They weren't too cool to do it then but you wouldn't have got them into those costumes two years later."

"They were a big band becoming a huge band at the time. Pop music was very new, very fresh - they were making up the rules as they went along."

Bob Whitaker, an Australian photographer who took the picture, spent more than two years photographing the band. Four of his pictures, not published until now, feature in the exhibition.

One shows Lennon relaxing backstage cradling a cat in his arms in Houston, Texas. Another eccentric but intimate shot gives a glimpse into Lennon's home life with his first wife, Cynthia. She is sitting with their baby son Julian on her lap, clutching a mop, looking at Lennon, who is smiling and holding a garden hoe.

In a third, Lennon and McCartney are shown horsing around at Cliveden, the stately home where John Profumo frolicked with Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler. All three pictures were taken in 1965.

"They [the Beatles] were intelligent people. They weren't just 'yeah yeah yeah'. They knew what was going on," said Mr Whitaker, who was commissioned to take the pictures by the band's manager, Brian Epstein.

"I know Brian wanted me to make images that weren't just happy snappy shots. Gradually, as I spent more time with them, I realised I was recording history."

The Beatles, Classic, Rare and Unseen is at the Redferns Music Picture Gallery in Bramley Road, London W10, from tomorrow to 8 May.

Lennon art 'showed folly of obscenity law'

By Gavin Cordon

John Lennon's graphic drawings of himself having sex may have escaped conviction for obscenity because of fears that art collections throughout the country could have fallen foul of the law if the case succeeded, official files made public yesterday show.

The decision to charge Eugene Schuster, the owner of London Arts Gallery, for displaying eight lithographs by the former Beatle depicting himself and his wife, Yoko Ono, in various sexual poses led to a sensational court case in 1970.

The drawings, which went on sale at the gallery in New Bond Street, were evidence of a "sick mind", as far as Scotland Yard's obscene publications squad was concerned. But, at the last minute, it was decided by the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring the case under an obscure piece of legislation - the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 - rather than the Obscene Publications Act. The decision, never properly examined, led to the case being thrown out on a technicality.

The original DPP file - now released to the National Archives at Kew, south-west London - suggests that one of the reasons may have been concerns over the implications of a successful prosecution for other art collections. The file preserves a letter from an artist setting out the worries of the art world. It states: "If the subject matter forms the basis of the prosecution's case, this will be the first of many such actions your department may well have to cope with...

"There are thousands of prints by Rembrandt Van Rin (to name but one artist) depicting sexual intercourse, so at least one such print will figure in all the important State and private collections."