'The Sgt Pepper Album Cover Shoot Dissected'

30th March 1967

In July 2007 I decided it would be a good idea to gather all the known Sgt Pepper cover out-takes. I like to play around with animation and editing and I thought it would be cool to try and get the images in the right order and scale and then fade from one to the next in a short 'slideshow'. I thought that as the background was the same in all of them it should be fairly straightforward to assemble something that looked reasonably seamless.

I started keeping every one I could find in a layered Photoshop document. At this point I realized that the camera had moved slightly between virtually every shot, so they didn't really line up very well, even after using some digital trickery to adjust the perspectives and skew between them. I was a little disheartened as it would take more work than I'd imagined so I turned my attentions elsewhere for a while. However, It dawned on me one afternoon that I could achieve the effect I was looking for by cutting The Beatles out of every photo and then pasting them on to a common background, and as I had a good few different poses by now I figured that I should be able to copy background details from all the different shots and make one 'master' background of the empty set.
Clearing the set...

Some initial experiments proved quite fruitful and I 'got into it'. Recreating the empty set ended up taking me months on and off, copying tiny details from one source, colour-balancing and scaling them and dropping them into my montage. Hours of painstaking experimenting into the small hours would sometimes yield just the smallest amount of progress.

The empty set by Michael Mason

Copy and paste...
Eventually, I had something I was pleased with and was ready to move on to phase 2: Copying and pasting The Fabs from the various outtakes onto the master background. This was also much, much more time consuming than I had anticipated and with every result there was a new problem. However, after staring at these pictures for 100s of hours while I did this, little revelations started to occur to me...
Some Beatles pasted onto the empty set
Three fakes 'outtakes'
The three pictures featuring Paul with his Rickenbaker bass are all fakes. The images of Paul, and of John and George with their guitars, are probably from stills taken on the set of the 'Hello Goodbye' video which have then been pasted into the original. I did think for a while that the 'Paul' figure was genuine and that he must have had a couple of shots taken of just him on the Pepper set for posterity. But toward the end of the whole project I realized that he has the same expression on two of the shots and that actually all three shots had his head pasted in from genuine Pepper outtakes. By the time of the 'Hello Goodbye' video he had shaved off his moustache so I guess the pasted-in faces were to disguise this. Of the other Beatles in these 'outfakes', the bottom halves of George's legs are pasted in in addition to the image from the 'HG' shoot, there is some messy Photoshopping to the right of Ringo (seated) where you can see several tell-tale signs of John having been obscured by the insertion of a rogue brass instrument and some traces of an attempt to airbrush out a further image of George (leaving a trace of the tuba he was posing with). John with his guitar just doesn't 'look right' (there is no drop shadow between his right arm and Paul) and, more incriminatingly, he has a new head. There are also a couple of fakes floating around which show the alternate bass-drum skin pasted onto variations of the genuine outtakes, but for the following reason these are all identifiable at a glance.

(Updated 30th March 2009 with two further photos)


The alternate bass drum skin (which was on the 'back' of the same drum) was only professionally photographed once, in the very first shot of the day. The drum was then rotated to display the more famous head and the second shot, with The Beatles in a very similar pose, was the one used on the finished cover. Once these initial two planned, posed shots were done then the rest of the shots were taken, seemingly with improvised poses in the main, and with a couple of changes to the props on the set which helped greatly in establishing the probable chronology of the photos, which is detailed below.

The first two shots of the day


The most noticable change after shots #1 and #2 is the position of the doll sat on the chair wearing a 'Rolling Stones' sweater (this doll is often referred to as the 'Shirley Temple Doll', but it isn't - the image of Shirley Temple is peeping out from the left of 'Diana Dors'). After the two main shots were done the camera was moved in closer and this prop was moved from a 'far right' position' to in front of the DD waxwork, presumably to keep it in shot.

Detail showing movement of doll during Sgt Pepper album cover shoot.

At the same time, the hookah pipe was draped over the waxwork of Ringo, and John places the horn he is holding on the top of the bass drum. It's on the right in Shot #3 and then moves to the left for shots #4 to #7. Paul is still holding the cor anglais from the first two shots. George and Ringo have removed their hats. In shots #3 to #5 the euphonium on the floor in front of the waxwork 'Ringo' is upright then in shots #6 and #7 it has been tilted to it's right, perhaps to prevent it from being stepped on and damaged. There is a shot of George stooping to his right and apparently pointing at the instrument. He is possibly about to move it (shot #5). All the subsequest shots have the euphonium tilted to it's right.

Sgt Pepper Album Cover photo session, shots 3 to 7.

In shot #8 George and John have sunken closer to the floor and Paul has swapped his cor anglais for a trombone. George has acquired a trumpet and John's horn has been removed from the bass drum. Ringo is unmoved! Shot #9 looks more posed on Paul's part.
Sgt Pepper Shoot - fab4art.com






In shot #10 they have a little change around. Maybe George and John were getting bored of crouching. Paul hands the trombone to John (who leans on it for shot #11), as Ringo heads around the back of the bass drum.

Shot #12 is very similar, with Paul looking towards the camera this time. The chronology of #11 and #12 maybe back-to-front, as may be #8 and #9.

More props are required so Paul gets up to bring them on to the set (shot #13). It's all smiles again (shot #14) as George is handed a tuba, Ringo the horn only from a sousophone, and Paul equips himself with a tuba like George's.
Shot #15 is very similar to shot #14, the main difference being that Paul has been handed the 'sci-fi' trophy that was in the flowerbed, in front of letter 'L'. Shot #16 is in turn very similar to shot #15, Ringo having now lifted the sousaphone horn to chest height.


Sgt Pepper Shoot - fab4art.com
There is a further 'infomal' photo (below) which shows a pose involving Paul & George standing side-by-side in front and to the right of the bass drum. There is no colour photograph (as far as I know) of these two in this position.
Everybody knows that images of Hitler, Jesus and Elvis were made but not used and that two further characters (Gandhi and Leo Gorcey) were later airbrushed out before the album was released, but what of the poor people that were there but ended up being obscured from the camera lens? How sad to be so close to appearing but remaining unseen! Below are some of the people who can be seen in informal shots of the set.
Who is the old man in picture 'A'? You can still see part of his head on the finished album but he's mostly obscured by Lawrence Of Arabia. I've never seen him credited anywhere but he does look familiar. Please do get in touch if you recognise him. The little girl in picture 'A' was moved from next to him to the far left of the set (behind the Beatles' waxworks) (B). I'm almost sure this is Queen Elizabeth 2 as a child. If it is we have both Queen Elizabeths on the set (QE1 is hidden behind George on the final album cover). The 'couple' in picture 'C' are also unseen behind the Beatles' waxworks on the final cover. Is it Sophia Loren and Harold MacMillen? Or is she Pat Phoenix?! Again, if you know please fill me in! (**please see end of article for responses)
Is that Elvis in picture 'D'? He was standing furthest on the left during the shoot and missed out! The man in picture 'E' can be seen on the finished cover, obscured by Diana Dors. 'F' and 'G' just show the 'Rolling Stones Doll' in her original garb, and then changed into a hat and rosette before pulling on her famous outer garment!
'The Stone Man'
The Stone Man
This fine looking fellow very nearly made it onto the cover of two Beatles albums, as this photo from the session that would yield the cover for the 'Hey Jude'/'Beatles Again' album shows.
'The Slideshow'
Thanks very much for reading so far. I hope you enjoyed it and, as I said earlier, if you have any comments, ideas, theories or observations regarding anything on this page please email them to me!
So anyway. This slideshow. Well, turn on your speakers, click play on the youtube link below and peek in on some of the events of the day that the arguably most instantly recognisable photographs of all time were taken.
Michael Mason March 2009
** I've had a few emails since this article was posted regarding the identities of these people. Darby very kindly got in touch to direct me to a site that lists the man in picture 'E' as a 'Legionnaire from The Order Of The Buffalo'. There also seems to a be a general consensus that the little girl in pictures 'A' and 'B' is Shirley Temple. I do agree that it looks like her but I don't understand why they would use her image twice (or three times if you consider the Rolling Stones Doll to also be her) (I don't!) when nobody else is duplicated. Hopefully a knowledgeable Shirley Temple fan will be able to point me to the source pic one day! Until then I'm on the fence! I'm also starting to think that the dolls in pictures 'F' and 'G' are different. I'll have another look through the pictures and report back! 17th March: Had some very interesting emails from Sergey in Ukraine. My assertion that Queen Elizabeth the First is hidden behind George is wrong....sort of! It's actually Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth in 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex'. Sergey also believes that the old man in picture 'A' is Sigmund Freud*, (I've got no reason to disagree with that), and that the lady in picture 'C' is indeed Sofia Loren. My image isn't that clear but on seeing a better image of her I think Sergey is definitely right. Sergey is firmly in the 'Shirley Temple Camp' with regard to the little girl, but I'm still not rolling over just yet! 30th March: Sergey has done some more brilliant investigating and we now think that the old man in picture 'A' is Irish author James Joyce (see below).
James Joyce?
29th April - Sergey has uncovered the identity of another 'obscured' star - Timothy Carey. The picture on the right is a still from Stanley Kubrick's 'The Killing', and his image as it appears on the cover outtakes. You can just see the back of his shirt on the finished cover.   Timothy Carey
29th April - The waxwork of Diana Dors, as featured on the cover, was sold at auction in London yesterday for £35,000. The same item was sold for £15,000 in October 2005. In that same auction the waxwork heads of John, George & Ringo (with a similar Paul that wasn't used for the shoot) sold for £81,500. The waxwork of Sonny Liston is the property of Peter Blake.     Diana Dors waxwork
5th June - Had a great email from a guy named Steve. He has also been playing around with the cover in Photoshop for some time and has uncovered some interesting stuff. He provided the source pic for the little girl in 'A' and 'B' and it is indeed, as seemingly everybody but me was already convinced, Shirley Temple from the 1937 'Heidi' movie.   Shirley Temple - Heidi 1937
5th June - Sergey has sent in the source pic for the Johnny Weissmuller 'Tarzan' image .   Johnny Weissmuller - Tarzan
5th June - The Great Sergey has done it again!! How the guy finds this stuff out I'll never know, but he's just sent an image from Vittorio De Sica's 1965 movie 'Marriage Italian-Style' which identifies the couple in image 'C' as Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Sergey, you should be a detective. You're not ex-KGB are you?! Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni
23rd June - Sergey has found the source photo for Bette Davis. Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth 1st on Sgt Pepper cover.
Corrections or further info gratefully received