We'd like to take you home with us...The truth behind the Beatles' Sgt Pepper cover shoot

The shoot was a comedy of errors from the start

Simmy Richman@simmyrichman
Sunday 22 February 2015 01:00
Perhaps Peter Blake's best known work is the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album
Perhaps Peter Blake's best known work is the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album

A shot heard around the world

The Magnificent Obsessions exhibition at the Barbican in London offers many insights into “the artist as collector”.

But though Peter Blake is one of the contributors, there is, surprisingly, nothing to be found there from the set of Blake’s best known work, the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album (right).

Blake still owns the Marilyn Monroe figure from that shoot, but the fate of many of the other props and cardboard cut-outs is less well known. So, it was with some joy that a “conversation” on Facebook last week led me to one Nigel Hartnup, now living in France but in 1967, the assistant to the late photographer Michael Collins.

In fact, Hartnup tells me, it was he who clicked the shutter in that Chelsea studio in 1967. According to him, the shoot was a comedy of errors from the start, with the dimensions of the garden at the front of the picture wrong, and the whole thing having to be more squeezed than a “very stoned” Collins had envisaged.

With the camera jammed up by the ceiling, Hartnup – who is 6ft 2in and was standing on a stool – was the only person who could reach it. “I don’t claim it is my photograph,” he says, “because I wasn’t carrying the can. But while some of the inside cover photos are credited to Michael Collins, the cover is said to be the work of MC Productions.”

And are there any “souvenirs” that he still has from the shoot? “There was a time when we needed a new kitchen,” he says, “so I sold my signed Marlene Dietrich cut-out. I got £2,300 for it and was thrilled, though it did sell again in 2003 for £86,000.”

Keeping mum

A young man would have to be brave, foolhardy, or both to take on Mumsnetters, but one such hardy soul quickly felt the full force of the mob when he offered his services to users of the forum recently. “I am here to help,” the poster known only as Blacklight told them. “I am male, in my mid-20s and grew up with this technology. Wondering what something means? Wondering how to do something?”

The first response of many summed up Mumsnetters’ feelings. “Thank god you’re here,” it read. “What is this ‘internet’ thing you young people keep going on about?” Cue Buzzfeed articles with headlines such as “A Man Went on Mumsnet to Explain the Internet and Got Completely Owned”.

But what did Blacklight make of all this? After a complicated explanation as to why his original post had been misconstrued, he tells me: “I don’t regret it. The consequences of what I have written amount to exactly zero. So far as the responses, I had no idea the thread would take the direction it did, or become so infamous.

“I posted my post and minimised the window for about half an hour to return to approximately 10 pages of replies. Thankfully, unlike the real world, the internet is a wonderful place. If you’re looking at something you don’t like you have two things you can do: keep looking, or just click that little red X and forget that it ever existed.”

There will be blood

Last week, tickets went on sale for the “immersive live experience” known as The Generation of Z: Apocalypse (bottom right), which made its UK debut at the Edinburgh Festival last summer.

Taking place from April until July in the east London building that used to house the Wickhams department store, the show involves cast members attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse.

“We’ve got backing now,” says one of the shows “key creatives”, Charlie McDermott, “so it will be bigger, better and bloodier than ever before. If you buy a ticket you will have the crap scared out of you.”

Do people ever leave? “Every performance,” McDermott says. “Our audience is 55 per cent female and though they tend to scream a lot, it’s always the blokes who say the safety word and ask to be let out.

“We had a stag party in Edinburgh and at one point the group couldn’t find the stag. He thought his mates had set him up to be eaten so, right at the start, he’d crawled, terrified, into one of the shacks we had built and curled up and went to sleep.”

Wellcome relief

Ask For Evidence is a new website that encourages users to question any “product claim, policy statement, newspaper article or advert” they find dubious and the site will provide scientific evidence to confirm or dismiss the claim.

Backed by the Wellcome Trust, Ask For Evidence will, no doubt, prove useful to many people over the coming years. But what’s this victory trumpeted on the site? One user complained about the labelling of a “detox” drink at the Wellcome Collection café. It has now been removed from the menu. Phew.

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

The interview didn’t quite go to plan,

When he walked in and saw that the man,

He had pushed on the train,

Was now saying his name,

And giving his CV a scan.

Twitter: @simmyrichman

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