Alice Jones: What the new Sgt Pepper cover tells us about modern Britain


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The Independent Online

Where once stood Marilyn, now stands Delia, in a Norwich City scarf. HG Wells has been ousted by JK Rowling, Marlene Dietrich bumped by Kate Moss. As for John, George and Ringo – they're nowhere to be seen.

This week Sir Peter Blake unveiled a new version of his Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Created to mark the artist's 80th birthday, it features a jostling crowd of today's great and good, sprinkled with Sixties nostalgia: Amy Winehouse and Mick Jagger, Alexander McQueen and Mary Quant, Danny Boyle and Alfred Hitchcock, Jonathan Ive and Terence Conran. There are artists, too – Freud, Hockney, Emin and Hirst, to name but four. It's a babyboomer's dream dinner party, in cut-and-paste.

Blake's 1967 original is glorious - a bonkers, psychedelic snapshot of the zeitgeist. Shimmering Diana Dors, Karl Marx poking out from behind Oliver Hardy's pork pie hat and, centre stage, the Fab Four themselves, resplendent in rainbow satin.

The 2012 collage is an altogether tamer affair – more old rockers and national treasures than bombshells and mystics. There are 14 sirs, three dames and two lords in the club band now and no sniff of a rumour of Jesus, Hitler or even Gandhi lurking behind the palm tree. The latest version is resolutely apolitical and areligious: it says it all, perhaps, that Paul McCartney is the only Beatle allowed back for a second appearance.

There are more women this time (22 to the original's six) but ethnic minorities have just three representatives - Michael Chow, Anish Kapoor and Shirley Bassey - in the 79-strong crowd.

So what to glean from this homogenous crew of over-achievers? "I've chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends. I had a very long list of people who I wanted to go in but couldn't fit everyone in", says Blake. "That shows how strong British culture is."

It's a lovely birthday card for the granddaddy of pop art but a portrait of a generation? I'm not sure. Where are the politicians or the comedians, the journalists or the campaigners?

There is, really, just one timeless truth that emerges. Blake gives six, no less, chefs/restaurateurs - Rick Stein, Delia Smith, Mr Chow, Mark Hix, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King - their place in art history. Which just goes to show, famous faces may come and go but a true artist always knows the value of a slap-up meal.

* It's eerie, chilling, not quite of this earth. No, not Damien Hirst's pickled shark, but the new Madame Tussauds waxworks of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Both lifeless exhibits went on show this week and are likely to become the most photographed attractions in London over the summer, stuffed stooges for a thousand tourist snapshots and Facebook profile pictures.

Museums have known for a long time that it's not enough for visitors simply to look, they also need an experience, something to take away with them. And so it is we find ourselves in the era of the giftshop luxe.

Forget notelets, lemon curd and fancy teatowels, Tate Modern ushers visitors out of its Hirst retrospective via a gift shop selling rolls of butterfly wallpaper at £700 and a gaudy skull for £36,800.

Stranger still, chez Kate and Will, visitors to the refurbished Kensington Palace, which opened last week, are offered replica Palace toast racks for £1000 and a regal egg-cup for £800.

For cash-strapped museums, giftshops are an important moneyspinner but does anyone really turn up to a public exhibition planning to spend thousands of pounds on their way out?

For the price of one knock-off skull or a Princessy breakfast set, you could buy the entire graduate show of the next big YBA (probably a safer investment than a Hirst at the moment), or hire a butler to serve you hot buttered toast for a month instead.