I was just 19 years old at the time when in October 1963 a job came in to photograph a little group who were playing an end-of-term concert at Stowe Public School For Boys in Buckinghamshire. The name of the group was The Beatles. They’d had a record out and they became enormous, mega-famous stars. But Brian Epstein, their manager, being the honourable man that he was, honoured every one of their existing contracts. And so Stowe Public School got The Beatles.
Forget the brilliance and sophistication that they showed later on, at that point they were just four guys from Liverpool, great fun and nice to be around.
We got on well, and over the years I did more and more things with them. That led to the amazing experience of 50 years ago. I was there with my camera at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road) on June 25, 1967 when they recorded their song All You Need Is Love for the first time during a live TV broadcast for the BBC programme Our World, closing the two-and-a-half-hour programme. It was the world’s first live international satellite television production, and it was watched by an incredible 400 million people around the globe.
The photos I took on that occasion are all the more poignant because Brian Epstein is there with them, and two or three months later he died. And then, of course, everything changed when new managers came in and, as everyone now knows, the four band members went their separate ways.
The Beatles Unseen: Photographs by David Magnus is at Proud Chelsea, March 16 – May 14, 2017. More information at www.proud.co.uk.
The exhibition opens in America, and over there they didn’t choose a single photo showing anybody smoking. That’s quite interesting if you think about it. Almost everyone smoked in 1967. The band were there in that studio for the whole of Saturday and most of Sunday, and there was a lot of downtime, so it’s only natural that they’d need some relaxation.
I love this one of George, John and the tea lady. I can imagine her going home and telling everyone: “I served tea today to The Beatles”, and nobody believing her. Well, here’s the proof that it was true.
In this whole exhibition there are no posed photographs. Everything was taken from a distance with a long lens, and it captures them in very natural situations. There are thousands of photos of the four of them smiling into a camera, but you don’t see too many of these special moments.
John was fond of wearing funny things and using balloons and streamers to create a party-ish effect. Mick Jagger andd Marianne Faithful were there, and so was actress Jane Asher, The Hollies, Keith Moon and model Patty Boyd; there was quite a guest list. The Beatles were doing some silly things to make the event fun.
It was 1967, and people smoked a lot more back then. Looking at the pictures, you really notice that fact. Cooped up in a studio, that now seems a little strange, because people really don’t smoke anywhere near as much. Here’s Ringo having a quick puff.
This is quite an incredible picture because it shows two titans of the music business together. They were just chatting. You can see that they are professionals who respect each other, and that’s because they knew how difficult it is to get on in the entertainment world. They look very casual together, and that’s how the atmosphere was – until the music started and they went live to 400 million people.
This is possibly my favourite photo of the collection, the four guys at the canteen at EMI Studios. You’ve got to remember that this is four or five years after they burst on to the scene and took the world by storm, but they are still sitting down together and having a cup of tea – and nobody is bothering them. They look so normal. The commissionaire is there minding his own business with the bloody Beatles in front of him.
I believe that if you can play one instrument, you can more or less get a sense of how to handle another. Whether it’s pushing a button, banging something or strumming strings, it’s making music. I took this photo when the orchestra went on a tea break and the guys stayed in the studio to fool around. It wasn’t posed – you would never ask The Beatles to do anything premeditated – it was just a bit of fun to pass the time. And manager Brian Epstein looks like he was enjoying it.