Although they had been persuaded by Robert Fraser not to use The Fool’s illustration for the front cover of Sgt Pepper, The Beatles wanted it to appear on the inside gatefold. It was Fraser’s intuition, obstinacy and creation of a prototype sleeve that eventually helped changed their minds.
Right up until the end we knew the cover was going to be Michael Cooper/Peter Blake, but we wanted this inside cover to be The Fool’s drawing. Robert kept saying, ‘I don’t think you should use it.’ I’d say, ‘Well, Robert, it’s our album and we’re gonna use it.’ And the other Beatles were quite adamant too. A week would go by, then Robert would say, ‘I really don’t think you should use it. It’s just not well drawn. It’s not right. It’s bad art.’ We said, ‘Let us be the judge of that. It’s our album cover, not yours. You’re just the art director. We don’t have to listen to you.’ In the end he came round with the cover as it exists now, with the four of us gleaming hopefully out. Give everyone a love vibe. He’d come round, saying, ‘I say, I think, this should be the inside cover. It’s much better. Works with the front, works with the back.’ And he put the package together as it eventually was and persuaded us finally not to use The Fool’s artwork. And he was right. I’ve seen it since and he was really right. With things like that he was pretty right. He had an opinion and stuck to it. He could be a little bit too arrogant – luckily not to me. I would just say, piss off or whatever. I had a little way of deflating him, which was all right. I can see what my kids didn’t like about him. It was just Eton overbearing, I’m just superior to you, which is what you’re taught at Eton.
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner
One person, however, remained unconvinced by the sleeve design. Brian Epstein worried about the permissions that needed to be sought from the public figures whose photographs were to be featured on the front cover.
EMI realised that because many of the people we were depicting were still alive, we might be sued for not seeking their permission. So the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, who was very wary of all the compications in the first place, had his assistant write to everyone. Mae West replied, ‘No, I won’t be on it. What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?’ So The Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.
Epstein’s nervousness over the album’s spiralling costs became a preoccupation. Prior to taking a flight from America to England he had a premonition that the aeroplane would crash, and left a note with his business partner Nat Weiss stating: “Brown paper bags for Sgt Pepper.”
This album was a big production, and we wanted the album sleeve to be really interesting. Everyone agreed. When we were kids, we’d take a half-hour bus ride to Lewis’s department store to buy an album, and then we’d come back on the bus, take it out of the brown paper bag and read it cover to cover. They were the full-size albums then, not like CDs: you read them and you studied them. We liked the idea of reaching out to the record-buyer, because of our memories of spending our own hard-earned cash and really loving anyone who gave us value for money. So, for the cover, we wouldn’t just have our Beatle jackets on, or we wouldn’t just be suave guys in turtlenecks looking like we did on Rubber Soul). It would now be much more pantomime, much more ‘Mr Bojangles’.
The gatefold sleeve also featured, for the first time on a modern pop record, the lyrics printed on the back cover, and the package included cardboard cut-outs based on the Sgt Pepper concept. The total cost for the cover was £2,868 5s/3d, an immense sum for the time.
The album sleeve was the first to feature printed lyrics, and it was one of the first to have a gatefold sleeve. It was also the first to have anything other than a plain inner bag too, the first pressing coming in a slightly psychedelic sleeve designed by Simon and Marijke of The Fool. And we also had a card with the cut-outs, which I had originally intended to be a small packet with badges and pencils and such like. That was stopped because it would have caused EMI big marketing problems.
Also on the back sleeve was a photograph of The Beatles, with McCartney turning his back to the camera. This picture later became a part of the ‘Paul is dead’ myth, along with the OPP badge he wore on the inner sleeve. It stood for Ontario Provincial Police, though some misread it as OPD and took it to mean ‘officially pronounced dead’.
For our outfits, we went to Berman’s, the theatrical costumiers, and ordered up the wildest things, based on old military tunics. That’s where they sent you if you were making a film: ‘Go down to Berman’s and get your soldier suits.’ They had books there that showed you what was available. Did we want Edwardian or Crimean? We just chose oddball things from everywhere and put them together. We all chose our own colours and our own materials: ‘You can’t have that, he’s having it…’
We went for bright psychedelic colours, a bit like the fluorescent socks you used to get in the Fifties (they came in very pink, very turquoise or very yellow). At the back of our minds, I think the plan was to have garish uniforms which would actually go against the idea of uniform. At the time everyone was into that ‘I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet’ thing; kids in bands wearing soldiers’ outfits and putting flowers in the barrels of rifles.