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Beatles and Bystanders - the unknowns at Abbey Road

Exhibition preview

BEATLES and Bystanders – the unknowns at Abbey Road, an exhibition revealing the previously unidentified characters in the Beatles complete Abbey Road session photographs, is on display at Snap Galleries until May 28, 2011.

Paul Cole was an American tourist who happened to be on vacation in London on August 8, 1969, the day on which one of the most famous photo-shoots in rock ‘n’ roll history took place.

As he walked around the streets of St John’s Wood waiting for his wife, he stumbled across four guys being photographed on a zebra crossing. He watched for a while as they went there and back again. And again. And again.

That’s how he was captured for posterity on one of the most famous photographs of all time – the the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road LP, standing to the left of John Lennon’s head on the album sleeve. But, as the exhibition reveals, he might so easily not have been on the cover.

Beatles and Bystanders: the unknowns at Abbey Road uncovers, for the first time, at least a dozen other characters who, if a different frame had been chosen for the album sleeve, might have featured on the cover of one of the most important albums in the history of popular music.

Scottish photographer Iain MacMillan (1938 – 2006) was the man behind the camera. He took six photographs that day, and the fifth frame in the sequence was selected for the front cover.

It’s the one everyone knows. The Beatles crossing from left to right. Paul McCartney barefoot with a cigarette in his hand. John and Ringo (like Paul) in Tommy Nutter suits, with George Harrison at the back, dressed in denim. The other Paul, Paul Cole, stands on the right pavement, while on the left of the photograph is the fifth Beatle – or Beetle, to more precise.

The Volkswagen Beetle, registration LMW 281F, achieved cult status after appearing on the album and, after selling at auction, was displayed at the Volkswagen Museum in Germany.

Gallery owner Guy White explains further:

“Iain MacMillan’s Abbey Road session images are the holy grail for collectors of rare Beatles photographs, and the opportunity to present a complete set has given us the chance to put the individual images under the microscope.

“We’ve subjected them to some really rigorous analysis and delved into the dark spaces and shadows for the first time. This has revealed a whole cast of unknown characters (unknown for now at least) who could have found themselves in the same position as Paul Cole – on the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road LP.

“One of my favourites is a mysterious lady in a purple top who appears deep in the shadows on three of the frames. Who was she? She probably doesn’t even know that she was there that day – but someone will know who she is.

“During our research, we have discovered a dozen other bystanders, just like her. In frame 3, a black delivery van pulls in behind the iconic white Beetle. The van only appears in one frame, then it’s gone. Look very closely and you can see the left arm of the delivery driver as he stands at the back of the van.

“It’s fascinating to me to think that if a different frame had been chosen as the cover, some of these other characters might have been on the album sleeve. It’s also interesting to have a set of photographs with the actual frame numbers visible, so we can establish with absolute certainty the order of the images.”

Admission: Free.

Times: Monday to Saturday from 11am to 6pm.

Snap Galleries, 8 Piccadilly Arcade, London, SW1Y 6NH