Cover artwork

Although the music of Sgt Pepper was a major step forward for popular music, the cover concept was also a considerable innovation. It nearly didn’t happen, however. The Beatles had to be talked out of using an illustration by The Fool, the design group that painted the mural on the side of the Apple shop in London.

The whole mood of that was quite interesting, because the original part of the commission was based on the fact that Robert [Fraser, art director] absolutely hated the original of the cover by this group called The Fool. He thought it looked like psychedelic Disneyland, which it did. It was a mountain with all these little creatures on it, slightly cartoony. Robert said to The Beatles, ‘You just cannot have this cover, it’s not good enough. You should get Peter and Jann to do it.’
Jann Haworth
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner

Alternative cover artwork for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, designed by The Fool

Peter Blake and Jann Haworth were married at the time, and had exhibited separately at the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke Street, Mayfair. Fraser was a key figure in Swinging London’s art scene, and had an unerring knack for spotting important artistic talent at an early stage.

Once The Fool’s original cover concept had been discarded, McCartney, Fraser and the artists worked on another concept which began by marrying The Beatles’ northern roots with the world of celebrity in which they now resided.

I had the name so then it was, ‘Let’s find roles for these people. Let’s even get costumes for them for the album cover. Let them all choose what they want.’ We didn’t go as far as getting names for ourselves, but I wanted a background for the group, so I asked everyone in the group to write down whoever their idols were, whoever you loved. And it got quite funny, footballers: Dixie Dean, who’s an old Everton footballer, Billy Liddle’s a Liverpool player. The kind of people we’d heard our parents talk about, we didn’t really know about people like Dixie Dean. There’s a few like that, and then folk heroes like Albert Einstein and Aldous Huxley, all the influences from Indica like William Burroughs, and of course John, the rebel, put in Hitler and Jesus, which EMI wouldn’t allow, but that was John. I think John often did that just for effect really. I first of all envisioned a photograph the group just sitting with a line of portraits of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Einstein and everyone around them in a sitting room, and we’d just sit there as a portrait.

We were starting to amass a list of who everybody’s favourites were, and I started to get this idea that Beatles were in a park up north somewhere and it was very municipal, it was very council. I like that northern thing very much, which is what we were, where we were from. I had the idea to be in a park and in front of us to have a huge floral clock, which is a big feature of all those parks: Harrogate, everywhere, every park you went into then had a floral clock. We were sitting around talking about it, ‘Why do they do a clock made out of flowers?’ Very conceptual, it never moves, it just grows and time is therefore nonexistent, but the clock is growing and it was like, ‘Wooah! The frozen floral clock.’

So the second phase of the idea was to have these guys in their new identity, in their costumes, being presented with the Freedom of the City or a cup, by the Lord Mayor in all his regalia, and I thought of it as a town up north, standing on a little rostrum with a few dignitaries and the band, above a floral clock. We always liked to take those ordinary facts of northern working-class life, like the clock, and mystify them and glamorise them and make them into something more magical, more universal. Probably because of the pot. So we would be in presentation mode, very Victorian, which led on from the portrait. When Peter Blake got involved, the portrait idea grew. We had the big list of heroes: maybe they could all be in the crowd at the presentation!

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The widely-imitated artwork, directed by Robert Fraser and designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth, saw The Beatles positioned beneath a collage of famous names, standing among a floral display and behind the iconic Sgt Pepper drum – painted by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave.

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album artwork

Among the figures in the cover’s background collage were Aleister Crowley, Mae West, Carl Jung, Edgar Allen Poe, Bob Dylan, Stuart Sutcliffe, Aldous Huxley, Marilyn Monroe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, Marlene Deitrich and Diana Dors.

I asked them to make lists of people they’d most like to have in the audience at this imaginary concert. John’s was interesting because it included Jesus and Ghandi and, more cynically, Hitler. But this was just a few months after the US furor about his ‘Jesus’ statement, so they were left out. George’s list was all gurus. Ringo said, ‘Whatever the others say is fine by me’, because he didn’t really want to be bothered. Robert Fraser and I also made lists. We then got all the photographs together and had life-size cut-outs made onto hardboard.
Peter Blake

Some of the figures were chosen by the album’s art director, gallery owner Robert Fraser.

The other part of my concept was to get everyone in the group to mention their heroes. You’d have a portrait of someone and around him would be all the little portraits of Brando, James Dean, and Indian guru, whoever you were into. Or rather the alter ego’s heroes. There’d be HG Wells and Johnny Weissmuller, Issy Bonn and all those people, and Burroughs would have been a suggestion probably from Robert and there were a few kind of LA guys that Robert had slipped in. He’d slip in people that we didn’t even know but we didn’t mind, it was the spirit of the thing. Those ideas developed and combined, so that instead of a mayoral presentation it became that famous cover.
Paul McCartney
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner

Neither Blake nor Haworth were drug users, putting them at odds with The Beatles, Fraser and much of Swinging London. Furthermore, they worked on the cover without having heard the completed album.

They [McCartney and Fraser] happened to come to the studio one night and were just on a trip, you know, they were seeing things that weren’t there – seeing colours and seeing things that simply weren’t there and persuading me that I had to do it! You know, saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to, you’re not living a full life unless you experience these things.’ I don’t know how I ever insisted on not doing it, because the pressure to participate was enormous, but I just never did, you know. Which I am not particularly proud of. I mean, I am glad I didn’t, but it would have been a great deal easier to. The idea of that amount of responsibility being taken away from you. I never mind getting drunk and I never mind losing that sense, but LSD did frighten me. That was probably a good thing.
Peter Blake
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner

Although Blake and Haworth worked diligently on the cover concept, there remained some initial uncertainty as to whether it would come to fruition.

The cover that The Fool had done looked quite groovy and I don’t think George was too happy about abandoning it. I thought it was fun, quite entertaining, and if you’d heard the music, which I hadn’t, probably apt, in terms of the psychedelia. I don’t think the final Sgt Pepper cover is at all psychedelic. Neither Peter nor I had anything to do with drugs and it was very much a continuum of both his work and mine.

We didn’t know until quite late on whether they would actually use our cover or not. We went over to EMI and were shown this cover and the three of us were discussing what might be possible, rather briefly. Then Paul came over to the Chiswick flat one evening and discussed it further and really progressed it.

Jann Haworth
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner

A visit by the two artists to EMI Studios at Abbey Road led to further progress on the concept, although it also laid bare the cultural differences between them and The Beatles.

A very strange scene met us the first time we went over to the studio. The Beatles were recording, and their ‘court’ of Marianne Faithfull and all these weird spaced-out people sat around the walls. Peter and I were probably the only people who were stone-cold sober. It was really funny, two very upright people doing this psychedelia.

Paul played us the tape of Sgt Pepper, which was still being worked on, and Peter thought the idea of making a Lonely Hearts Club would be interesting, a group of people with The Beatles in front. Early in the Sixties Peter had done some things, cutting out Victorian heads, engravings, sticking them down, then doing a circus act in front of that. He maintained at that time that Paolozzi nicked that idea from him, the collage effect of people and things, dissimilar but in the same environment.

The part that’s very much my own was that I always hated lettering on things. I loved the idea that lettering could be an integral part, and I was into fairground lettering at the time. So I thought it would be nice to have a real object with lettering on it, instead of lettering the cover. So I thought about the drum, then about the civic lettering that was around at that time. We pointed out to Paul the Hammersmith lettering: You could do it like that.

What I wanted was that very tight, little ice plants, a very tight floral near-to-the-ground thing. I discussed all this on the phone with the florists. Then they turned up with all these dumb plants – hyacinths. And then only a quarter of what we needed to cover the whole thing. After all these instructions. At least when they set it out you could read the word ‘Beatles’, but it was very much a failure in terms of the original concept.

The other part I felt very strongly about was that when you went from the front, you wanted to have that connecting point of 3D things that bled into the 2D things, as we were not doing it as artwork. This bothered Peter a lot later on, because it was so retouched, so messed about, the photograph, it ended up looking like artwork, a collage done on paper, rather than a set that was built.

Madame Tussaud’s were very generous, lending us some figures, and then The Beatles were going to be in front of the crowd, and I put some of my figures in, and that blended the 3D world into the 2D world.

Jann Haworth
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner