How I'd pep up Sergeant Pepper! As the man behind pop's greatest album cover creates a 2012 version, a Beatles confidant picks the cultural heroes he SHOULD have included

When The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967 at the height of their fame, it was a wonder of its age - and not only for its songs. Almost as important was its packaging - that ornate gatefold sleeve that showed the four Beatles in fancy dress at the centre of a flowery, hippy montage of characters from Karl Marx to Bob Dylan, Oscar Wilde and Laurel and Hardy.

The most expensive and famous cover ever designed, it was to change the artwork on albums for ever, as well as bringing everlasting renown to its designer, pop artist Peter Blake. Unfortunately, it didn’t also bring him commensurate remuneration, in that, as the agent who negotiated for him was high on pot at the time, Blake received only a one-off £200 fee (worth less than £3,000 today).

Ah, well, it was the Sixties!

Roy Connolly's lonely hearts club band
Roy Connolly's band of heroes

In a couple of months’ time, Blake will be 80, and in recognition he’s designed a new Sgt Pepper cover, 2012-style, replacing the original images, including those of The Beatles - who, as I remember, were rather proud of the inventiveness of the album cover - with old friends and people he admires and whom he believes celebrate British culture.

It’s a terrific idea, claiming back an idea that he so cheaply sold. But his choice of the people portrayed in his new montage (which was featured in yesterday’s Mail) is where he and I might not completely agree. In fact, some of his choices are decidedly rum.

Understandably, being an artist, the visual arts, and especially  fashion, figure prominently, so I’ve no particular grumble here.

For example, it’s nice, if surprising, to see Justin de Villeneuve again. He was Twiggy’s forgotten former manager and boyfriend, and, despite her Olympic team designs, Stella McCartney isn’t an unwelcome choice. Nor are film directors Ridley Scott and Alfred Hitchcock.

Presumably, though, sculptor Anish Kapoor and the artist-in-the-frock, Grayson Perry, made the cut only because they are good mates with Peter Blake. Fair enough, I suppose.

What really puzzles me, though, is the plethora of restaurateurs and chefs. I know the entire nation has gone potty about food, with an endless succession of books and TV programmes (so cheap to make), but are Rick Stein, Michael Chow, the late Fanny Cradock and three other kitchen potentates really icons of British culture. Or are they just cooks with big hats?

It’s all personal, of course. It has to be in any list that includes Tommy Steele and Shirley Bassey. But sometimes Blake’s choices seem just plain random.

How could he choose Mick Jagger without Keith Richards, when we all know that without those Richards guitar riffs, Mick Jagger may well have stayed at university and ended up running a City bank? Surprisingly, because I know Blake was interested in wrestling for a time, what is completely missing from his updated new montage are any sporting heroes, although boxer Sonny Liston was in his original.

There’s no David Beckham or my own favourite footballer, the ever reasonable former England and Liverpool player John Barnes - and not even Bobby Moore, who gifted the nation with the only World Cup we’ve ever won.

He might even have found a  place here for comedian Eddie Izzard, if only for his heroic marathon running feats for  charity, or Lewis Hamilton for his Formula One exploits.

And while playwrights Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Terence Rattigan are all included, with the exception of children’s authors J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl, there are few novelists.

What about David Nicholls, whose brilliant novel One Day became an admittedly unbrilliant movie, or Helen Fielding, who tapped into the minds of a generation of women and invented Bridget Jones?

Similarly, what about Robert Harris (author of Fatherland), Adrian Mole creator Sue Townsend, the one-off and very brave Terry Pratchett, and the wonderful graphic artist Posy Simmonds. All these, and Michael Morpurgo, the man who wrote War Horse, would have made my list.

The original Sgt Pepper included several comedians, but with the exception of Nick Park, whom everyone admires for his creation of Wallace & Gromit, and Richard Curtis, who gave us Blackadder, Four Weddings And A Funeral and much else, there aren’t any intentionally funny people.

Splendid: The original Sgt Pepper sleeve

Splendid: The original Sgt Pepper sleeve

Which is surprising because one of the things we Brits particularly excel at is being funny. Thirty-five years after Fawlty Towers, we’re still laughing at John Cleese as Basil, while Jennifer Saunders’s Ab Fab creation of Edina Monsoon was wickedly inspirational. They should be there. Then there’s Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse who’ve created whole casts of funny characters.

To be honest, I rather like the idea that, as The Beatles company Apple has never offered to make reparation for the fact that Blake was, albeit accidentally, ripped off for his work on the original Sgt Pepper, the artist puts himself and his family - instead of The Beatles - front and central in his new illustration. Good for him.

But, although Paul McCartney is still there (this time in the third row), surely there should have  been a place for all four Beatles, without whom Blake’s career would have been a little different.

Equally, had I been doing it, I would have found a central spot for The Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin, who did as much as almost anyone to create the Sgt Pepper album in the first place. Obviously, as Peter Blake admits, it’s impossible to get everyone into a montage, and I suspect some of his friends might have been feeling a bit put-out when they discovered that they hadn’t been included.

Among those significant absentees I would like him to have included are David Dimbleby for the way he tells loquacious Cabinet ministers to shut up on Question Time, Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman for his pantomime indignation when facing the froth of the mighty and powerful, and Melvyn Bragg for his career-long battle to bring culture to the masses.

Then there’s Gareth Malone, who taught the Military Wives and many children to sing, as well as Mary Portas, whose C4 programme recently took a group of unemployed young people and set up a company making lacy knickers and, in so doing, changed their lives.

These people, like Camila Batmanghelidjh (whose Kids Company works with vulnerable and disadvantaged children in London), are inspirational, as is the telegenic scientist Brian Cox, who even managed to make physics sexy - not a phrase you will often hear.

Of course, everyone would have a different list. Since I could scarcely care less about fashion, there would be no room for Peter Blake’s favourites of Vivienne Westwood, Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki in mine, but we would agree on including Sir David Attenborough - although I might add his film-making brother Richard, too.

And I would insist on the Tardis as a reminder of the genius of Russell T. Davies, who has reinvented Doctor Who for a new generation, and Rob Brydon, if only for creating the TV comedy Marion And Geoff. Also, no mosaic that captured contemporary Britain would be complete without Julia Donaldson’s creation of the Gruffalo.

Last, though by no means least, and as delightful as Kate Middleton (another of my choices) is, it seems to me that no pictorial account of Britain is complete without the Queen.

Some of my more cynical friends will mock me, but I believe she bridges generations, class (in that she’s so far removed from everyone else that she’s classless) and politics. Sixty years on from her Coronation, still working and probably regarded with more affection now than at any time in her reign, she is totally remarkable. She should be on anyone’s list.

I can remember when Sgt  Pepper came out, rushing to buy one of the first copies, and  then sitting by my Dansette record-player listening to the songs - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, She’s Leaving Home, When I’m Sixty-Four and the rest, and studying the faces on the cover, trying to make out who they all were.

I never did identify all of them, and I’m sure millions of hours have been spent by others in the same pursuit. Which, when you consider it, was an enormous contribution that an artist called Peter Blake made to all our lives 45 years ago.

I hope he has a very happy birthday.

Artist Peter Blake's 2012 list from yesterday's Mail

Sgt Pepper

Amy Winehouse; Paul Smith, fashion designer; Ian Curtis, Joy Division singer; Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit; Robin Day, furniture designer; Lucienne Day, textile designer; Francis Bacon; Roald Dahl; Alfred Hitchcock; Lucian Freud; Kate Moss; Paul Weller, rock musician; Tom Stoppard; Danny Boyle, film director; Mick Jagger; Fanny Cradock, TV cook; Michael Chow, restaurateur; Sir David Chipperfield, architect; Harold Pinter; David Bailey; Mary Quant; Anish Kapoor, sculptor; J.K. Rowling; J.R.R. Tolkien; Robyn Hitchcock, musician; Terence Conran; John Peel, DJ; Martin Parr, photographer; Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of World Wide Web; John Hurt; Rick Stein; Jonathan Ive, Apple designer; David Lean, film director; David Attenborough; Bridget Riley, painter; Terence Rattigan, playwright; Richard Curtis, comedy film writer/director; Tommy Steele; Mark Hix, restaurateur; Vidal Sassoon; Ridley Scott, film director; Justin de Villeneuve, Twiggy’s ex-manager; Norman Foster, architect; Peter Saville, graphic designer; Tracey Emin; Paul McCartney; Gavin Turk, artist; Barbara Hulanicki, fashion designer; Agatha Christie; Delia Smith; David Bowie; Twiggy; Audrey Hepburn; Gary Oldman, actor; Damien Hirst; Stella McCartney, fashion designer; Mary McCartney, photographer; Alexander McQueen, fashion designer; Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer; Helen Mirren; Grayson Perry, artist; Wreckless Eric, rock singer; David Hockney; Eric Clapton; Ian Dury, singer; Elton John; Chris Corbin, restaurateur; Jeremy King, restaurateur; Shirley Bassey; Noel Gallagher, rock musician; Richard Rogers, architect; Elvis Costello, rock musician; Peter Blake; Liberty, Rose and Daisy Blake (daughters of Sir Peter); Chrissy Blake (Sir Peter’s second wife); Foot from Monty Python animations.


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