The “Mad Day Out” photo session

Sunday, July 28, 1968

About

From beatlesbible.com:

In the early summer of 1968, Paul McCartney telephoned esteemed war photographer Don McCullin to ask him to spend a day photographing The Beatles. The group was in need of new publicity images, and wanted to get away from the recording studio temporarily.

The chosen day was 28 July 1968. The Beatles and McCullin were joined by five others with cameras – Ronald Fitzgibbon, Stephen Goldblatt, Tom Murray, Tony Bramwell and Mal Evans – plus Yoko Ono, McCartney’s girlfriend Francie Schwartz, and Gary Evans, Mal’s six-year-old son.

There were seven key locations around London in what became known as the Mad Day Out.

From The Mad Day Out Photo Session | The Beatles:

In the summer of ’68 The Beatles were in the midst of recording ‘The Beatles’ (The White Album). To produce a new set of more contemporary publicity images, Don McCullin, predominantly a photographer of war zones, was commissioned for a day-long shoot around various locations in London. He practically “levitated two inches off the ground” he was so surprised and thrilled to receive The Beatles’ invitation. On Sunday 28th July, having just photographed them for a Life Magazine cover, they set out on a jaunt now known as The Mad Day Out.

Their itinerary took them from the Sunday Times building on Gray’s Inn Road to Cable Street in the East End (McCullin claimed they’d feel comfortable there – the river and surrounds might remind them of the docks of Liverpool. Anyway, he knew parts of Whitechapel like the back of his hand). From there, McCullin and the band went to Old Street roundabout, on which they posed, much to the surprise of the taxi drivers who waved whilst whizzing round for second looks. After that, to Limehouse and the beautiful Georgian sea captains’ houses around there. Then, a community hall back in the East End, playing with a parrot for a while before heading back to Paul’s house in St. John’s Wood and his geodesic-domed glass ceiling.

From The Beatles Monthly, September 1968, N°62:

The idea was to get together a whole new collection of pictures, really good ones, from which the fan clubs could have fresh supplies. this time The Beatles were determined to do something a bit better than just putting their four heads together in front of a wall. After all, a selection of pictures would be going all the way around the world to more than 40 different branches of The Beatles fan club so it was worth a bit of special effort to turnout good ones.

Mal Evans

From Tom Murray’s Mad Day Out Photographing the Beatles | The New Yorker:

[…] Don McCullin—a distinguished war photographer and a Sunday Times colleague—asked [Tom] Murray if he’d drive him around while he photographed a musical group. “I knew more about music than he did,” Murray recalled. “I thought I might get a few snaps, so I grabbed a Nikon and two rolls of Ektachrome.” When they arrived at the Times, Murray said, he heard someone playing ‘Lady Madonna’ on a piano. “We went in, and there were the Beatles, and I said, ‘Oh, shit.’ Don said, ‘Didn’t I tell you?’ ”

McCullin took a picture that appeared on the cover of Life two months later, and then they all went looking for interesting locations—an adventure known to Beatles scholars as the Mad Day Out. “They were recording ‘The White Album,’ and they hated their publicity photos,” Murray said. “John wanted to be photographed next to Karl Marx’s tomb, but when we got to Highgate Cemetery the gate was locked, so they stood in front of a little house nearby, and we shot them there.” Murray learned later that two young girls inside the house had shouted, “Dad! Dad! It’s the Beatles outside!” But their father hadn’t believed them, and by the time he got to the window they were leaving.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, and on Sundays in those days London was shut, literally shut,” Murray said. “If there had been mobile phones, we’d have been surrounded in thirty seconds, but that never happened. George would suggest something, and then Paul would suggest something, and we just drove around. We did cause two slight rear-end accidents, but nobody else noticed.” Murray shot the same things that McCullin shot, but from different angles—including an unforgettable scene of the Beatles sitting next to and leaning over an oldish man seated on a park bench, sound asleep. […]

Location 1 – Thomson House, Gray’s Inn Road

From The Beatles Monthly, September 1968, N°62:

We met at Paul’s house around lunchtime and set out in a little cavalcade of vehicles. John came with me in my car and I’d brought my small son Gary along for the ride. The others piled into Ringo’s white Mercedes and a van carrying all the different costumes and clothes trailed behind us at as we crossed London from Saint John’s Wood through the West End to Fleet Street and beyond. First stop was the Sunday Times building where we used the roof to do the first set of pictures. And we used a wind machine to get nice effects on the fellows’ hair. In fact I think it helped to produce some of the first group photographs to show all four Beatles foreheads uncovered beneath wind-swept hair!

Mal Evans

It was quiet and they came to the Sunday Times building on Gray’s Inn Road. At the top of the building was a photo studio that had been created by Tony Snowdon. There was no agenda except they wanted to give Life magazine a cover picture, which I photographed in colour. I used Ektachrome, and Ringo’s chrome yellow shirt jumped out of the blue of his suit. I turned on the wind machine…

The wind machine was throwing their hair around and their famous faces looked like the figures on Mount Rushmore. To my amazement it worked and we got a beautiful cover. Thinking back on it, Life used to pay five hundred quid for a cover so maybe I actually lost out on it, but I was thrilled.

Don McCullin – A Day In The Life Of The Beatles

The Beatles had previously been in Thomson House, for another photo session with American photographer Richard Avedon, in August 1967.

From The Mad Day Out Photo Session | The Beatles
From The Mad Day Out Photo Session | The Beatles
From The Mad Day Out Photo Session | The Beatles

Location 2 – Mercury Theatre, 2 Ladbroke Road, Notting Hill, London

From The Beatles Monthly, September 1968, N°62:

Next we turned West again and headed for Bayswater. Our destination was a little place called the Mercury Theatre which is situated not too far from the headquarters of The Beatles Monthly. Good job it was Sunday with all this town travelling to be done. to try criss-crossing London by road on a weekday would have meant spending half the afternoon getting out of traffic jams!

At the mercury we dug out loads of strange costumes, had tea in the theatre bar and then did some more pictures. A zoological man brought along a brightly coloured parrot which settled peacefully upon Ringo’s left shoulder and didn’t mind having his picture taken!

Mal Evans

We found ourselves in a strange community hall somewhere in the East End. Somebody produced a parrot. The light was terrible and I was struggling with reloading my cameras. There was an old upright piano and they started fooling around with it.

Don McCullin – A Day In The Life Of The Beatles

Location 3 – Highgate Cemetery, North London.

From The Beatles Monthly, September 1968, N°62:

From there we went East again stopping in a suburban residential area to do a few street shots in front of houses before heading for the London Docks.

Mal Evans

From there, we went to Highgate. Actually, we just started driving around and Don suggested Highgate, because it had nice squares. We did a lot at Highgate before the crowds got too big. There’s a picture of The Beatles sitting round an old man on a park bench. We would call him a ‘wino’. He just sat there, sound asleep. George and Ringo sat down next to him, and Paul looked down, as if he was ‘Tut-tutting’. John just stood in the background. I wonder if anyone tapped the old man on the shoulder and said, ‘Did you know that you were just pictured with The Beatles?’ Contrary to belief, this was not a staged photo. He had been sitting there a long time, and, if you look very closely, you can see the newspapers he had been reading. He never once looked up. He was dozing … asleep. The picture was a pure fluke. The Beatles had a very good rapport. They almost seemed to understand each other. One would sit and one would stand. They automatically made a good shot.

Tom Murray – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman
From Tom Murray’s Mad Day Out Photographing the Beatles | The New Yorker – Photograph by Tom Murray / Courtesy Soho Contemporary Art

Location 4 – Old Street

At around 2pm, we went round to Old Street Station, where we took the pictures of The Beatles on top of the station’s canopy. We actually had to get a plank in order to get them on top of there. They had to crawl up the plank, and the brave walked. They, more or less, grouped in the pictures you see. The first ones were a bit static, but then, by the third picture, they picked up a boxing stance, which was really good. Then, they went to another pose, which looked like Paul was falling off the edge of the building, which, actually, he damn near did. He was very near the edge.

Tom Murray – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

We reached Old Street roundabout and I just asked them to get up on it. Once they were on the roundabout they obviously thought they might as well do something and performed completely spontaneously for me. You can’t direct people like that. The choreography was theirs. The taxi drivers couldn’t believe it as they came round and caught this free show.

Don McCullin – A Day In The Life Of The Beatles
From Tom Murray’s Beatles Photo Collection The Mad Day Returns To New York (udiscovermusic.com) – Photograph by Tom Murray / Courtesy Soho Contemporary Art

Location 5 – St. Pancras Old Church and Gardens, Regent’s Park, London

From The Mad Day Out Photo Session | The Beatles

Location 6 – Wapping Pier Head and Wapping High Street, London

We got to a nice Georgian square with cobbled stones in Wapping at around 3.30pm. Originally, we were going to head for St Catherine’s Docks. At Wapping, we went down to the edge of the river. Paul had taken his shirt off and he did a gag shot, where he chained himself to some railings. The spookiest shot of the lot was when John suddenly threw himself to the ground, and the three boys looked down at him, as if he had fainted or died. They were looking very concerned. I took two pictures in colour. One with John’s eyes open and the other with his eyes closed. George is seen wearing John’s glasses. He just quickly picked them up. It’s a very strange shot. I don’t know why he did it. It was over in seconds. One minute he was standing, and the next he was down. Ringo’s got his hand on his head, and that was it. Just two shots. The Beatles were swapping clothes. John wore Don’s battle jacket because he just wanted to wear it. When we were leaving Wapping, we could hear this funny noise. It was actually hundreds and hundreds of people running to be there. They saw the cars and they were screaming. That’s what it was like everywhere. That’s why we couldn’t stay long anywhere.

Tom Murray – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman
From 28 July 1968: The Mad Day Out: location six (beatlesbible.com)
From Tom Murray’s Mad Day Out Photographing the Beatles | The New Yorker – Photograph by Tom Murray / Courtesy Soho Contemporary Art

Location 7 – Paul McCartney’s house, Cavendish Avenue, St. John’s Wood, London

From The Beatles Monthly, September 1968, N°62:

Finally, we returned to St. John’s Wood and Paul’s house for more tea and the last lot of photographs. this time Paul’s massive dog Martha got into the act like she always does. Not that anyone minded because she’s a great dog and very photogenic what’s more!

Paul had the ideal spot for picture-taking. We trooped down to the foot of his garden. There, hidden away behind all the trees, Paul has this fantastic glass-domed something. I know there’s a special word for it but I’m sure you know what I mean anyway! It’s quite a high, square building at the bottom with glass walls. Four pillars go right up to the glass roof and there’s a round hydraulic lift. You just stand on the step and up you go into the Dome. Got some great pictures up there with Paul, Ringo and Martha plus a few shots of all the four fellows. Anyway, if and when you start collecting the new set of photographs which the fan club is offering, you will know all about the background to them. Oh yes… and the ones in goggles and crash helmets were done on The Sunday Times roof, too. So now you know!

Mal Evans

We went back to Paul McCartney’s house in St John’s Wood, and after having tea we went out into his garden where there was this dome, like something out of James Bond or Doctor Who. We all lay around with a huge floppy dog in this strange science-fiction-like space.

Don McCullin – A Day In The Life Of The Beatles

I used to sit round at my house with Robert Fraser, the gallery owner, listening to music. I’d started talking to him about having a folly. I loved the idea of follies and he put me in touch with an English architect who came up with my geodesic dome. It was my meditation platform. The dome is still there with a little Japanese garden leading up to it. So that’s where we all ended up, in the dome.

Paul McCartney – A Day In The Life Of The Beatles, Don McCullin
From Laurent The Walrus sur Twitter : “#TheBeatles posing at Paul’s home in Cavendish for their Mad Day Out photo shooting, 28th July 1968 https://t.co/cnuY2d3Lj7” / Twitter

From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°62, September 1968:

[…] It’s handy having Paul’s house so near the EMI studios. Sometimes if we’re feeling a bit peckish by midnight or thereabouts, we troop round to his place for a nosh break. George is getting great at cooking fry-up suppers and his speciality in the kitchen line is a hearty blend of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and fried bread, which stimulates everyone in readiness for the rest of the night’s recording!

FABULOUS

Incidentally, talking about George reminds me about the fabulous new guitar he gave to our great little Apple singer, Mary Hopkin. Mary came along to one of the LP sessions and, on the spur of the moment, George decided to go out and get her a guitar as a gift. It was a really good one, too. When he came back to the studio with it he must have felt a bit shy about handing it over. So, when we were leaving I gave Mary the guitar saying, very simply, “It’s a present from George”. She couldn’t say “thank you”, but her six-foot-deep smile seemed to fit the bill.

Before I finish off for this month it must tell you a bit about the very special photo session we had one Sunday just a few weekends ago.

The idea was to get together a whole new collection of pictures, really good ones, from which the fan clubs could have fresh supplies. This time the Beatles were determined to do something a bit better than just putting their four heads together in front of a wall, After all, a selection of pictures would be going all the way round the world to more than 40 different branches of the Beatles Fan Club, so it was worth a bit of special effort to turn out good ones.

We met at Paul’s house around lunchtime and set out in a little cavalcade of vehicles. John came with me in my car and I’d brought my small son Gary along for the ride. The others piled into Ringo’s white Mercedes and a van carrying all the different costumes and clothes trailed behind us as we crossed London from St. John’s Wood through the West End to Fleet Street and beyond. First stop was the Sunday Times building where we used the roof to do the first set of pictures. And we used a wind machine to get nice effects on the fellows’ hair. In fact I think it helped to produce some of the first group photographs to show all four Beatle foreheads uncovered beneath wind-swept hair! Next we turned West again and headed for Bayswater. Our destination was a little place called the Mercury Theatre which is situated not too far from the headquarters of The Beatles Monthly. Good job it was a Sunday with all this town travelling to be done. To try cross-crossing London by road on a weekday would have meant spending half the afternoon getting out of traffic jams!

At the Mercury we dug out loads of strange costumes, had tea in the theatre bar and then did some more pictures. A zoological man brought along a brightly-coloured parrot which settled peacefully upon Ringo’s left shoulder and didn’t mind having his picture taken!

From there we went East again stopping in a suburban residential area to do a few street shots in front of houses before heading for the London Docks.

Finally, we returned to St. John’s Wood and Paul’s house for more tea and the last lot of photographs. This time Paul’s massive dog Martha got into the act like she always does. Not that anyone minded because she’s a great dog and very photogenic what’s more!

GLASS THINGY

Paul had the ideal spot for picture-taking. We trooped down to the foot of his garden. There, hidden away behind all the trees, Paul has this fantastic glass-domed sun-thingy. I know there’s a special word for it but I’m sure you know what I mean, anyway! It’s quite high, a square building at the bottom with glass walls. Four pillars go right up to the glass roof and there’s a round hydraulic lift. You just stand on the step and up you go into the dome. Got some great pictures up there with Paul, Ringo and Martha, plus a few shots of all the four fellows. Anyway, if and when you start collecting the new set of photographs which the Fan Club is offering, you’ll know all about the background to
them. Oh yes… and the ones in goggles and crash helmets were done on the Sunday Times roof, too. So now you know!

Mal Evans – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°62, September 1968
From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°62, September 1968

Last updated on October 2, 2021

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