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Sneak Peek: Behind the Scenes With the Beatles

Terry O’Neill’s book is packed with never-before-seen photographs of the Fab Four in their earliest days and after

spinner image George Harrison with an acoustic guitar on the grounds of his Friar Park property in 1975; a pair of Beatles sing into a shared microphone together during a rehearsal for a TV special at Wembley Studios; Ringo Starr makes a peace sign with a cigar in his mouth
(Left to right) George Harrison on the grounds of his home, Friar Park, near Henley-on-Thames, south Oxfordshire, England; The Beatles rehearse for a TV special at Wembley Studios in April 1964; Ringo Starr makes a peace sign outside 10 Downing Street in London.
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

Kids were quicker to catch on to Beatlemania than parents and newspapers were. But on July 1, 1963, London tabloid The Daily Sketch dispatched Terry O’Neill, 24, to photograph a Liverpool pop group recording at EMI Studios on Abbey Road.​

When O’Neill walked in, they were recording “She Loves You.” During a break, he snapped them in the backyard with their instruments — Ringo Starr held his drumsticks and hoisted a cymbal stand. With the photo on the front page, the issue sold out: a wake-up call that these lads were shaking up youth culture … and the world. 

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The famous image is on the cover of The Beatles by Terry O’Neill: The Definitive Collection (out June 13), a 256-page hardcover crammed with photos spanning the private and public lives of the Fabs from the 1960s to the 2000s. Many are rare, previously unpublished or recently unearthed after being missing for decades.

Terry O’Neill and the Beatles

spinner image The Beatles in a group photo with their instruments on the book cover for The Beatles by Terry O'Neill: The Definitive Collection
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

O’Neill, who died of cancer at 81 in 2019, became legendary, capturing iconic images of notables ranging from Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn to Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. He was also known for photographing the biggest rock stars of the era, including Elvis Presley, Elton John, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. But he earned a distinguished status in the Beatles camp after arriving at that opportune moment in 1963.​

O’Neill was granted broad access, not only in studios and on stages, but backstage, in rehearsals, at home and during private functions. The band is glimpsed performing, goofing off, smoking cigarettes, chilling with family, mingling with celebrities and enjoying solitude. O’Neill, a jazz drummer himself, was especially close to Ringo Starr, who enlisted O’Neill to photograph his 1981 wedding to actress Barbara Bach. The extraordinary results include McCartney at the piano serenading guests and Starr playing guitar at the reception.

Sneak peek: photos from 'The Beatles by Terry O’Neill'

spinner image George Harrison tuning his guitar with Ringo Starr seated at his drum set in the background while recording She Loves You at Abbey Road Studios in London
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

July 1, 1963: During the studio session for “She Loves You” and B-side “I’ll Get You,” George Harrison plays the Gretsch Country Gentleman electric guitar he bought a few months earlier in London for 234 pounds. Even in a casual recording setting, the guys wore dress shirts and ties.​

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spinner image The Beatles combing their hair backstage in a Manchester dressing room
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

Sept. 1, 1963: O’Neill took this photo backstage in a Manchester dressing room where the Beatles were recording a performance for TV show Big Night Out. The photo was published in “The Daily Sketch” on Sept. 7, then lost for 45 years. In 2008, photographer and art curator Terence Pepper discovered the photo in a 1964 issue of “Photoplay,” had the image restored and returned it to O’Neill’s archive.

spinner image Paul McCartney surrounded by cigarette smoke and other people at a party in London in 1964
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

Nov. 4, 1963: Women flock to Paul McCartney backstage during “The Royal Variety Performance” at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. During their rehearsal, Marlene Dietrich, 61, twisted in the aisles, and the Queen Mother reportedly tapped her feet during “Twist and Shout,” and said, “It is one of the best shows I’ve seen. The Beatles are most intriguing!” Onstage, Lennon quipped, “People in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.”

spinner image George Harrison sitting in a chair while Paul McCartney stands next to him with his arms crossed at a Beatles rehearsal for a TV special at Wembley Studios in April 1964
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

April 28, 1964: While rehearsing and filming the TV special “Around the Beatles” at Wembley Studios in London, the Beatles were playful and unpretentious, says O’Neill. “In the evening we’d all have dinner together — actors, musicians, designers, photographers and models — and chat about our work. We never stopped to ask what it meant, we were simply having a great time.”

spinner image Paul McCartney and John Lennon sing into a shared microphone during the Beatles rehearsal for a television special at Wembley Studios
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

April 1964: “Around the Beatles” ended with a 15-minute set that included “Twist and Shout,” "Roll Over Beethoven,” “Long Tall Sally” and a medley of “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Shout.” The performance was almost drowned out by screaming girls in the audience.

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spinner image The Beatles with Sir Laurence Olivier during a performance at a special midnight show, The Night of a Hundred Stars
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

July 23, 1964: In matching jackets, the group is captured with Sir Laurence Olivier during rehearsals for “The Night of a Hundred Stars” at the London Palladium. The darkroom print is the only surviving example of the photograph.

spinner image Ringo Starr makes a peace sign while squatted outside on a street with a cigar in his mouth
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

October 1964: Ringo Starr was invited to participate in “Fabulous” magazine’s “General Election Special,” which profiled stars as future ministers of state and envisioned the drummer as Sir Winston Churchill. “Ringo was always a fan of Winston Churchill and he’d adopted Churchill’s ‘V for Victory’ sign,” O’Neill writes. “I took him to the Prime Minister’s residence in London and posed him outside No. 10 Downing Street.”

spinner image George Harrison sitting on the ground with his acoustic guitar nearby gravestones on the grounds of his home in Friar Park
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

Undated: Harrison strums an acoustic guitar in the cemetery on the grounds of Friar Park, his Victorian-era mansion and gardens in Henley-on-Thames. O’Neill observed that Harrison’s “idyllic” manor “had everything, including a full studio that was reportedly better than Abbey Road, at least in terms of equipment.”

spinner image Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach taking a photo in front of their wedding cake alongside Bach's son Gianni, George and Olivia Harrison and Paul and Linda McCartney
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

April 27, 1981: Newlyweds Ringo Starr and model/Bond girl Barbara Bach beam during their wedding cake-cutting ceremony. They’re flanked by Harrison and wife, Olivia Arias, and Paul and Linda McCartney. The photography film was conveyed by motorbike to be processed immediately; at the reception, Starr and Bach reviewed contact sheets and approved images to be distributed to the press.

spinner image Linda McCartney biting the ear of Paul McCartney for a portrait
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

1984: O’Neill shot several photos of Paul and Linda McCartney, whose moods shifted from serious to silly.

spinner image George Harrison in a portrait taken in 1991
Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images

1990s: O’Neill did this portrait shoot with Harrison in the latter part of the decade. Harrison died in 2001 after a long battle with cancer.

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