Time was tight for the Beatles in the summer of 1969 whilst they were recording in EMI's London studios in Abbey Road, St John's Wood, and the photographer Iain MacMillan was told that he could have the group for a few minutes during a lunch break for the album cover shoot. Following a suggestion from Paul McCartney, he sat on a tall ladder outside the studio and took photographs of them striding across the zebra crossing. By then, the Beatles, on the verge of disbanding, had no uniformity in their looks. Long-haired John Lennon was in a white suit, Ringo Starr in a black frock coat, McCartney in a suit bought at Oxfam, and George Harrison was in denim.
As the cover of Abbey Road, the photograph was instantly iconic but no one could have predicted what was to follow, as fans scrutinised the picture for clues that Paul McCartney had died and had been replaced by a lookalike. There were so many pointers on the album sleeve that it looked deliberate: Paul was out of step with the others; Paul was barefoot (apparently an Italian burial custom); John was the minister, Ringo the undertaker and George the gravedigger. The Volkswagen's numberplate was 281F and Paul would have been 28 IF he were alive, and so on.
MacMillan was born in Carnoustie, Angus in 1938 and attended school in Dundee. He became a trainee manager for Jute Industries but loved photography and, in 1958, studied the subject professionally. His first assignment was as a photographer on a cruise. He did much technical photography and then compiled a series of photographs of life in the city for The Book of London (1966). It was through this work that he met John Lennon, who invited him to photograph the album cover for Abbey Road.
MacMillan went on to work with Lennon and his second wife, Yoko Ono, on several of their projects. He photographed the clouds for their album Live Peace In Toronto (1969) and was also involved in the packaging of Sometime In New York City (1972). For the picture single of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", he skilfully morphed photographs of John and Yoko together.
MacMillan's representative Raj Prem says, "Iain was too gentle for the industry in which he worked and eventually he preferred to teach photography instead. He was a much better photographer than many of his contemporaries but he never said a bad word about them and was always modest."
MacMillan parodied his own cover for the album Hinge and Bracket at Abbey Road (1980) and in 1993 McCartney and MacMillan revisited the Abbey Road zebra crossing for photographs of McCartney with his sheepdog. This became a cover of a CD called, appropriately enough, Paul Is Live.