When John, Paul, George and Ringo walked across a zebra crossing in Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood at 11.35am on August 8th 1969, they created one of the most iconic album covers in history. It spawned conspiracy theories, the renaming of a famous studio, and turned Abbey Road into a place of pilgrimage for Beatles fans from around the world. Everyone from Jon Bon Jovi and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Woody Harrelson and Johnny Depp has recreated this famous cover on the Abbey Road zebra crossing. It even has its own webcam!
Over 50 years later, interest in the band remains incredibly strong. As fans of The Beatles ourselves, we asked renowned Fab Four expert Richard Porter to answer the 5 biggest questions about Abbey Road. As co-author of The Guide To The Beatles London, host of our London Walks Beatles tour and a fan since he was 13 years of age, there is no better person to give us an insight into The Beatles and Abbey Road.
Abbey Road was The Beatles’ last recorded album (even though Let It Be came out later, Abbey Road was recorded last). It was nearly called Everest after a brand of cigarettes. It was even suggested that The Beatles go to Mount Everest to shoot the cover. They refused and instead made the decision to call the album Abbey Road, shooting the cover outside the studio it was recorded in.
Someone, most likely Paul McCartney, had the idea of posing on the Abbey Road zebra crossing, a minute’s walk away from their recording studios. Paul’s sketch of how it should look exists to this day. The photographer was Iain MacMillan, friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The photoshoot took place very early in the morning for John, Paul, George and Ringo, who usually only arrived at the studios late in the afternoon. With Iain perched on a stepladder to get the necessary angle, just 6 photos were taken in all with one selected as The Beatles Abbey Road cover that we know and love today. On August 8th 2019, I, Richard was part of a group who organised the 50th anniversary of the iconic cover, complete with a Beatles lookalike group and worldwide press attention.
Many people believe that The Beatles’ Abbey Road album was named after Abbey Road Studios, but that isn’t the case at all. In 1969, the studios where the Beatles recorded 90% of their material — an epic 12 albums in 7 years, and over 200 songs —was at EMI (based at 3 Abbey Road). It was only after Abbey Road, The Beatles’ final album, came out that EMI became Abbey Road Studios.
As well as The Beatles, many of the greats have recorded at Abbey Road Studios. By way of example, Glen Miller and Pink Floyd, who produced Dark Side Of The Moon here. The music for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings was also recorded at Abbey Road Studios. [Editor’s Note: Be sure to ask Richard about the time George Lucas joined the London Walks Beatles tour!]
In 1966, a rumour began circulating that Paul McCartney was dead and to protect their fame The Beatles had replaced Paul with an imposter. Conspiracy theorists believed that the ‘surviving’ Beatles — George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon — were guilt-stricken at the duplicity and attempted to ease their conscience by placing clues in their album covers to ‘out’ the ‘truth’. So in a fanciful sense Paul McCartney was the first Beatle who ‘passed.’
For Abbey Road, a student called Fred LaBour came up with the theory that The Beatles walking across the zebra crossing represented a funeral procession. John as the preacher, Ringo as the undertaker and George as the grave digger. Paul, being barefoot, was walking to his own funeral, said Fred. Another clue, he said, was Paul holding a cigarette in his right hand when he’s left handed, and the white Volkswagen’s LMW number plate standing for ‘Linda McCartney widowed’. The 281F part of the plate was said to signify that Paul would have been 28 if he was still alive. In truth, Paul was 27 in 1969. Having met Paul many times — indeed several times on his Beatles’ London Walking Tours — Richard (affectionately known to his London Walks colleagues as ‘the sixth Beatle’) is better placed than just about anybody to set the record straight about ‘the funeral procession’ saga. Which he does — scotches it I mean, refutes it — regularly and happily.
Abbey Road is a thoroughfare in the City of Westminster. To get to Abbey Road, come out of the Underground station at St. John’s Wood. That station is on the Jubilee Line. From the tube station cross onto Grove End Road, walking down the hill until you reach Abbey Road. Take a right turn and the shrine to The Beatles, the Abbey Road zebra crossing, can be found right in front of you. This is the exact spot where the Fab Four from Liverpool created the iconic cover for their final album by crossing Abbey Road.
If travelling by car, the postcode is NW8 9AY. This area of North West London is also home to Lord’s Cricket Ground. But beware, there are lots of Abbey Roads in London, and there’s even an Abbey Road station. Richard’s advice…don’t let the red herrings catch you out. Stick to our steps and you’ll be at the famous London landmark in no time.
One of the most common questions Richard gets on his Beatles tours is if Abbey Road has ever moved. His answer is a resounding no! Contrary to popular belief, Abbey Road was not moved slightly to the south east in the 1970s, closer to the Grove End Road junction. Nor was it moved ‘a little to the north’ as was suggested by English Heritage in 2010 when Abbey Road became Grade II listed as a place of historical interest.
No, this famous zebra crossing is in exactly the same place as it was in 1969. Richard even has the photos to prove it! Abbey Road was, however, resurfaced in 2018 with many Beatles fans taking the opportunity to take a piece of the old road home with them as a memento. In 2020, Westminster Council took the relative quiet period on London roads during the global pandemic as an opportunity to repaint the white zebra stripes, which had been worn away from all of The Beatles fans walking across them.
Believe it or not, even with Grade II listed status and thousands of visitors — up to 1,000 per day according to our Beatles expert Richard — the Abbey Road crossing is still a working pedestrian crossing. Yet, at all times of the day, you will see Beatles fans standing in the middle of the road to recreate the famous album cover.
The prime time to visit if you want the best chance of getting a good replica photo, and staying safe, is at sunrise before the London traffic gets started. And after your early start, warm up with a coffee at a local café.
This one is easy. In the company of the foremost Beatles expert in the world, Richard Porter, on a London Walks Abbey Road Tour. Don’t worry, he has plenty more Beatles and Abbey Road insider stories to share!