Early Beatles Photos by Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson was invited to photograph the Beatles by Jeremy Banks, an associate editor at Queen magazine, the principal outlet for Parkinson’s fashion photography after he had jumped ship from Vogue in 1959. Parkinson’s carte blanche to photograph the Beatles at work over several hours in the studio was unprecedented, and only a select few photographers would ever again enjoy such extraordinary access to the band in Abbey Road. The week was a typically busy one for the Beatles – at the weekend, they had recorded an appearance for Saturday Club at the Playhouse Theatre in central London, performed a show that evening at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, then travelled to Blackpool the following day for another concert. Parkinson captured images of overflowing ashtrays and the band’s instruments – Lennon was playing the Rickenbacker 325 Capri he’d had repainted black from a natural finish earlier that year; McCartney his lefthanded 500/1 Hofner bass; and Harrison a Gretsch Country Gentleman.

Parkinson and assistant David Searle had arrived at the studio carrying only black-and-white film, since the shops had shut for the day and they hadn’t been able to purchase any colour. At 6.30pm work stopped for a statutory 30-minute tea break. The focus moved on to Lennon and McCartney’s Little Child, originally written with a view to Starr making a cameo appearance as lead vocalist, following a pattern established by Boys on Please Please Me. But instead, Lennon and McCartney elected to sing a version together. The session eventually wound up around 11pm, the group retiring to the President Hotel, Russell Square, London where they grabbed some sleep before their journey north the next day to perform at Preston’s Public Hall, while the photographer drove home to Twickenham. Parkinson’s images of The Beatles appeared in Queen, among them one of the famous ‘shish kebab’ shots from the President Hotel that pictured The Beatles as if they’d been skewered together from ear to ear. The session would mark the beginning of a lasting friendship between the photographer and Paul McCartney in particular.

The Beatles at the President Hotel, Russell Square in London, on 12 September 1963.

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