Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart’s Club Band: Who's who on The Beatles' iconic album cover explained

26 May 2022, 14:49

By Mayer Nissim

Mae West, Lenny Bruce and Oscar Wilde, but no Hitler, Gandhi or Jesus.

As well as being one of the best albums of all time, The Beatles' Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band also had one of the most striking covers in pop.

It almost never happened: The band actually already had a cover designed by Dutch group The Fool, but gallery dealer Robert Fraser nudged Paul McCartney to use a "fine artist" instead.

The iconic Beatles sleeve was designed by pop-artists husband and wife partnership Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, with the photograph snapped by Michael Cooper.

It was apparently the first sleeve to feature printed lyrics and a designed inner bag, as original pressings had an inner sleeve designed by Sion and Marijke of The Fool.

It was also one of the first gatefold sleeves, and came with a card of cool Pepper cutouts – Blake's original idea for a packet of badges and pencils would have cost too much.

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Picture: EMI/Alamy

Supposedly loosely based on some pen and ink sketches by Paul McCartney (though Jann denies this), it features John, Paul and George and Ringo in their full Sgt Pepper garb, backed by over 80 cardboard cutouts and wax models.

"Paul and John said I should imagine that the band had just finished the concert, perhaps in a park," Peter Blake said in the 2009 reissue notes.

"I then thought that we could have a crowd standing behind them, and this developed into the collage idea."

The band themselves pitched some ideas, with Blake and Fraser filling out the crowd with their own choices.

As you can imagine, it wasn't all straightforward. Wary of legal complaints from living stars, Brian Epstein had his assistant contact everyone who was still around.

Mae West originally declined ('What would I be doing in a lonely heart's club?" she apparently said. The Beatles wrote her a personal letter and she changed her mind.

Artist Peter Blake Reopens The Holburne Museum
Artist Peter Blake Reopens The Holburne Museum. Picture: Getty Images

John Lennon, ever the iconoclast, wanted to have Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi.

EMI understandably said no to the first two (this was shortly after "more popular than Jesus" after all), and despite his original inclusion, Gandhi was painted out.

In front of it all was the world BEATLES made out of flowers

"I hated the idea of lettering, or a graphic designer taking Peter and my artwork and slapping their lettering on it,' Jann told the BBC in 2017.

"We were standing in my studio when that idea came up.... I suggested that as another form of lettering, besides the drum, that would keep the integrity of the cover."

So no Hitler or Gandhi... but who's who on the immortal cover, photographed at Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, London on Thursday, March 30, 1967.

1. Sri Yukestawar Giri, guru

Sri Yukestawar Giri
Sri Yukestawar Giri. Picture: EMI/Alamy

2. Aleister Crowley, dabbler in black-magic

Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley. Picture: EMI/Alamy

3. Mae West, actress

Mae West
Mae West. Picture: EMI/Alamy

4. Lenny Bruce, comic

Lenny Bruce
Lenny Bruce. Picture: EMI/Alamy

5. Karlheinz Stockhausen, composer

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen. Picture: EMI/Alamy

6. W.C. (William Claude) Fields, comic

W.C. (William Claude) Fields
W.C. (William Claude) Fields. Picture: EMI/Alamy

7. Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist

Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung. Picture: EMI/Alamy

8. Edgar Allen Poe, writer

Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe. Picture: EMI/Alamy

9. Fred Astaire, dancer/actor

Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire. Picture: EMI/Alamy

10. Richard Merkin, artist

Richard Merkin
Richard Merkin. Picture: EMI/Alamy

11. The Varga Girl, by artist Alberto Vargas

The Varga Girl
The Varga Girl. Picture: EMI/Alamy

12. Leo Gorcey, actor – painted out because he requested a fee

Leo Gorcey
Leo Gorcey. Picture: EMI/Alamy

13. Huntz Hall, actor, with Leo Gorcey, one of the bowery Boys

Huntz Hall
Huntz Hall. Picture: EMI/Alamy

14. Simon Rodia, creator of Watts Towers

Simon Rodia
Simon Rodia. Picture: EMI/Alamy

15. Bob Dylan, musician

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan. Picture: EMI/Alamy

16. Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator

Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley. Picture: EMI/Alamy

17. Sir Robert Peel, politician

Robert Peel
Robert Peel. Picture: EMI/Alamy

18. Aldous Huxley, writer

Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley. Picture: EMI/Alamy

19. Dylan Thomas, poet

Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas. Picture: EMI/Alamy

20. Terry Southern, writer

Terry Southern
Terry Southern. Picture: EMI/Alamy

21. Dion (di Mucci), singer

Dion (di Mucci)
Dion (di Mucci). Picture: EMI/Alamy

22. Tony Curtis, actor

Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis. Picture: EMI/Alamy

23. Wallace Berman, artist

Wallace Berman
Wallace Berman. Picture: EMI/Alamy

24. Tommy Handley, comic

Tommy Handley
Tommy Handley. Picture: EMI/Alamy

25. Marilyn Monroe, actress

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe. Picture: EMI/Alamy

26. William Burroughs, writer

William Burroughs
William Burroughs. Picture: EMI/Alamy

27. Sri Mahavatara Babaji, guru

Sri Mahavatara Babaji
Sri Mahavatara Babaji. Picture: EMI/Alamy

28. Stan Laurel, comic

Stan Laurel
Stan Laurel. Picture: EMI/Alamy

29. Richard Lindner, artist

Richard Lindner
Richard Lindner. Picture: EMI/Alamy

30. Oliver Hardy, comic

Oliver Hardy
Oliver Hardy. Picture: EMI/Alamy

31. Karl Marx, philosopher/socialist

Karl Marx
Karl Marx. Picture: EMI/Alamy

32. H.G. (Herbert George) Wells, writer

H.G. (Herbert George) Wells
H.G. (Herbert George) Wells. Picture: EMI/Alamy

33. Sri Paramahansa Yoganandu, guru

Sri Paramahansa Yoganandu
Sri Paramahansa Yoganandu. Picture: EMI/Alamy

34. Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy

Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy
Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy. Picture: EMI/Alamy

35. Stuart Sutcliffe, artist/former Beatle

Stuart Sutcliffe, artist/former Beatle
Stuart Sutcliffe, artist/former Beatle. Picture: EMI/Alamy

36. Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy

Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy
Anonymous, wax hairdressers' dummy. Picture: EMI/Alamy

37. Max Miller, comic

Max Miller
Max Miller. Picture: EMI/Alamy

38. The Petty Girl, by artist George Petty

The Petty Girl
The Petty Girl. Picture: EMI/Alamy

39. Marlon Brando, actor

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando. Picture: EMI/Alamy

40. Tom Mix, actor

Tom Mix
Tom Mix. Picture: EMI/Alamy

41. Oscar Wilde, writer

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde. Picture: EMI/Alamy

42. Tyrone Power, actor

Tyrone Power
Tyrone Power. Picture: EMI/Alamy

43. Larry Bell, artist

Larry Bell
Larry Bell. Picture: EMI/Alamy

44. Dr. David Livingstone, missionary/explorer

David Livingstone
David Livingstone. Picture: EMI/Alamy

45. Johnny Weissmuller, swimmer/actor

Johnny Weissmuller
Johnny Weissmuller. Picture: EMI/Alamy

46. Stephen Crane, writer

Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane. Picture: EMI/Alamy

47. Issy Bonn, comic

Issy Bonn
Issy Bonn. Picture: EMI/Alamy

48. George Bernard Shaw, writer

George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw. Picture: EMI/Alamy

49. H. C. (Horace Clifford) Westermann, sculptor

H. C. (Horace Clifford) Westermann
H. C. (Horace Clifford) Westermann. Picture: EMI/Alamy

50. Albert Stubbins, soccer player

Albert Stubbins
Albert Stubbins. Picture: EMI/Alamy

51. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, guru

Sri Lahiri Mahasaya
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya. Picture: EMI/Alamy

52. Lewis Carroll, writer

Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll. Picture: EMI/Alamy

53. T. E. (Thomas Edward) Lawrence, soldier, aka Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia. Picture: EMI/Alamy

54. Sonny Liston, boxer

Sonny Liston
Sonny Liston. Picture: EMI/Alamy

55. The Petty Girl, by artist George Petty

The Petty Girl
The Petty Girl. Picture: EMI/Alamy

56. Wax Model of George Harrison

Wax Model of George Harrison
Wax Model of George Harrison. Picture: EMI/Alamy

57. Wax Model of John Lennon

Wax Model of John Lennon
Wax Model of John Lennon. Picture: EMI/Alamy

58. Shirley Temple, child actress

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple. Picture: EMI/Alamy

59. Wax Model of Ringo Starr

Wax Model of Ringo Starr
Wax Model of Ringo Starr. Picture: EMI/Alamy

60. Wax Model of Paul McCartney

Wax Model of Paul McCartney
Wax Model of Paul McCartney. Picture: EMI/Alamy

61. Albert Einstein, physicist

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein. Picture: EMI/Alamy

62. John Lennon, holding a French horn

John Lennon with a French Horn
John Lennon with a French Horn. Picture: EMI/Alamy

63. Ringo Starr, holding a trumpet

Ringo Starr, holding a trumpet
Ringo Starr, holding a trumpet. Picture: EMI/Alamy

64. Paul McCartney, holding a cor anglais

Paul McCartney, holding a cor anglais
Paul McCartney, holding a cor anglais. Picture: EMI/Alamy

65. George Harrison, holding a flute

George Harrison, holding a flute
George Harrison, holding a flute. Picture: EMI/Alamy

66. Bobby Breen, singer

Bobby Breen
Bobby Breen. Picture: EMI/Alamy

67. Marlene Dietrich, actress

Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich. Picture: EMI/Alamy

68. Mohandas K Gandhi, Indian leader – painted out at the request of EMI

Mohandas K Gandhi
Mohandas K Gandhi. Picture: EMI/Alamy

69. Legionnaire from the Order of the Buffalos

Legionnaire from the Order of the Buffalos
Legionnaire from the Order of the Buffalos. Picture: EMI/Alamy

70. Diana Dors, actress

Diana Dors
Diana Dors. Picture: EMI/Alamy

71. Shirley Temple, child actress

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple. Picture: EMI/Alamy

72. Cloth Grandmother Figure, by Jann Haworth

Cloth Grandmother Figure
Cloth Grandmother Figure. Picture: EMI/Alamy

73. Cloth Figure of Shirley Temple, child actress by Jann Haworth

Cloth Figure of Shirley Temple
Cloth Figure of Shirley Temple. Picture: EMI/Alamy

74. Mexican Candlestick

Mexican Candlestick
Mexican Candlestick. Picture: EMI/Alamy

75. Television Set

Television Set
Television Set. Picture: EMI/Alamy

76. Stone Figure of Girl

Stone Figure of a Girl
Stone Figure of a Girl. Picture: EMI/Alamy

77. Stone Figure

Stone Figure
Stone Figure. Picture: EMI/Alamy

78. Statue from John Lennon's House – used by Peter Blake as the basis for the cut-out of Sgt Pepper

Statue from John Lennon's House
Statue from John Lennon's House. Picture: EMI/Alamy

79. Trophy

Trophy
Trophy. Picture: EMI/Alamy

80. Four-Armed Indian Doll

Four-Armed Indian Doll
Four-Armed Indian Doll. Picture: EMI/Alamy

81. Bass Drum Head, Designed by Joe Ephgrave

Bass Drum Head
Bass Drum Head. Picture: EMI/Alamy

82. Hookah, water tobacco pipe

Hookah
Hookah. Picture: EMI/Alamy

83. Velvet Snake

Velvet Snake
Velvet Snake. Picture: EMI/Alamy

84. Japanese Stone Figure

Japanese Stone Figure
Japanese Stone Figure. Picture: EMI/Alamy

85. Stone Figure of Snow White

Stone Figure of Snow White
Stone Figure of Snow White. Picture: EMI/Alamy

86. Garden Gnome

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome. Picture: EMI/Alamy

87. Tuba

Tuba
Tuba. Picture: EMI/Alamy