David Magnus was once told that he’d never make a photographer. But, at the age of 19, in 1963 he was invited to photograph the Beatles at Stowe School — the first of many assignments he’d undertake for the band.
“They were absolutely charming. They were great fun to be with and I found them very easy to work with throughout,” says Magnus, a member of Stanmore and Canons Park Synagogue
Magnus went on to photograph everyone from Gerry and the Pacemakers to Cilla Black for NEMS Enterprises, the management company formed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
For the first time in his career, Magnus’s photographs, many of which have never been seen, are being exhibited. And at the heart of The Beatles Unseen, at Proud Chelsea, is his exclusive shoot from the historical live recording of All You Need Is Love for the BBC’s Our World on 25 June 1967, watched by 400 million people worldwide.
Magnus took unusually candid photographs of The Beatles relaxing backstage. “The best pictures that I ever took of them were that weekend. I think that was the closest I ever got to the Beatles photographically because it is natural and unposed as you see it.
“These photos reveal, even in 1967, when they were at the height of their fame, how personable, easy-going and down-to-earth they were.
“I worked with them on numerous occasions and they trusted me. I was there so I sort of blended in.”
Looking at the photos — the psychedelic costumes, abundance of flowers and balloons, and their smiles — gives a sense of the jovial party atmosphere that weekend. Mick Jagger hangs out with John Lennon (the band had invited an audience of starry friends), Paul McCartney and Lennon enjoy a cigarette break, George Martin is in the control room, and there are some of the last photos taken of Epstein before he died weeks later.
“From the moment it started, it became a party”, recalls Magnus. “People were joining in and singing along — including me when I wasn’t taking pictures. When it finished, we all realised we’d witnessed something very special. In life, you do have to have a bit of mazel; you have to be at the right place at the right time.”
Travelling with the band, he saw Beatlemania close up. One encounter stands out: “I had been in one of the back dressing rooms and one of the female studio staff put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I must touch you — you’ve been in the same room as The Beatles.’ It was as if I carried this aura, this magic, tangible thing. That, to me, was Beatlemania.”
It was only when his agent pointed out the 50th anniversary of the BBC recording that he agreed to an exhibition. Go to his home and you’ll find pictures of his grandchildren, not the Beatles. You also won’t find Beatles memorabilia. He recalls how, in the early days, the band would often do interviews in the office.
“The Beatles would be with the journalists and they would be writing notes to each other, drawings, and at the end of the day everybody would leave, and Tony’s secretary would come in with a waste basket and pick up all these bits of paper and throw them away.”
It’s hard to fathom quite how much those plastic sacks full of Beatles doodles would be worth today. “It was a momentous time,” says Magnus. “I now look back at this exhibition and think how lucky I was to be involved.”
‘The Beatles Unseen: Photographs by David Magnus’ is at Proud Chelsea, 16 March to 14 May