Fab Four in the frame - one photographer tells all of The Beatles backstage
As a teenager determined to practise his photography skills back in the swinging sixties, Paul Berriff was lucky enough to find willing muses down at his local theatre.
However, far from being pantomime dames or chorus line dancers, the ‘models’ 16-year-old Paul managed to get backstage to test shot sizes and aperture on ended up becoming one of the most iconic bands in the history of pop music.
The photographer, who is exhibiting his recently discovered photographs as part of the ‘Beatlemania’ event at Harvey Nichols, in Dubai, explains how he managed to get up close and personal with The Beatles almost 40 years ago.
“I left school at 16 and went to work as an editorial assistant on a newspaper. I was deciding whether I wanted to be a photographer or a reporter, going to night school for shorthand and typing and, in my spare time, going around with my still camera taking photographs to practice. This was 1963, pop had just burst on to the UK scene and I decided that I would use the pop groups as a photo essay to practise my skills. I got to know the managers of the local theatres in the areas near my house and persuaded them to let me go backstage with my camera to practise photography.”
From The Rolling Stones to Marianne Faithfull and Roy Orbison, Paul managed to snap all the stars but remembers the first time he saw The Beatles: “They were at the bottom of the billing and Helen Shapiro was the headline act. There were many names and then, at the bottom, in this small type, was The Beatles. As soon as they went on stage they had this magic though, the music was fantastic, different to anything I’d ever heard before.”
After that, 16-year-old Paul went backstage with The Fab Four many times and says they were always a delight to photograph. He adds: “Paul McCartney used to come up to me and say ‘Hi Paul, how’s your photography doing?’ I’d tell him and ask could I take a picture of him. I was trying to master the camera, the apertures and speeds. I even have a picture where George (Harrison) and Paul are leaning in to me probably asking about shutter speeds! Paul would pose and so would the others.
“They were just another pop group although they seemed to be coming on fast and each week there would be more publicity about them. Each week they’d bring music out and it would go straight to number one.”
Unlike the antics of modern-day rock bands, there was no heavy drinking, fighting or smashing of guitars backstage with The Beatles.
Paul explains: “There was always a lot of humour, someone would say something and they’d all bounce off each other. They made a lot of jokes and liked to mess around. On one occasion they put four chairs in the dressing room together to play trains (see picture top left). John (Lennon) wanted to be the engine driver so they put Paul McCartney as the guard at the back. That’s the sort of thing they’d do. Rather than having a posey picture they wanted to do something a bit different.”
After growing up and finally getting a ‘proper job’ as a cameraman with the BBC spending decades travelling around the world, it wasn’t until two years ago that Paul remembered the shots he had taken of The Beatles all those years ago. Pulling the box of ‘junk’ they were stored in from the attic and believing there was only a couple of negatives of questionable quality, he was stunned to find 40 negatives in fantastic condition. He adds: “I’d forgotten about them until recently.
“We’ve lived in six houses and the boxes these negatives were stored in had been kept outside in the rain in a box covered in tarpaulin. I never expected there to be so many and in such pristine condition!”
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The Beatles ‘Hidden Gallery’ will be displayed in Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates until mid June.
Special Beatles memorabilia will be sold at a unique pop-up shop and the journey continues throughout the store with exclusive visuals and the chance to purchase the unique photographs. Four original Madame Tussauds waxworks of the famed band are also being exhibited.
There will be a calendar of activities marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles, including live music performed by a tribute band and a draw to win a trip to Liverpool. Paul Berriff continues taking photos with the original camera he used to take his Beatles shots. To enquire about commissions, email email@example.com