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.
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.
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner
The cover photoshoot
Sgt Pepper’s cover photograph was taken by Michael Cooper, at his studio in Chelsea, London, on 30 May 1967. The Beatles also posed for the pictures used on the back cover and inside gatefold.
The Beatles arrived during the evening of March 30. We had a drink, they got dressed and we did the session. It took about three hours in all, including the shots for the centre-fold and back cover. I’m not sure how much it all cost. One read exaggerated figures. I think Robert Fraser was paid £1,500 by EMI, and I got about £200. People say to me, ‘You must have made a lot of money on it,’ but I didn’t because Robert signed away the copyright. But it has never mattered too much because it was such a wonderful thing to have done.