John Lennon pretends to be an engine driver backstage at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester on October 14 1964. The band were in the final stages of recording Beatles for Sale, their fourth studio album.
For much of his professional life, British photographer and documentary-maker Paul Berriff has survived on luck. During his career he has jumped from a sinking ship, escaped a helicopter crash and survived the collapse of NYC’s World Trade Centre. Yet it was the serendipitous discovery of 38 never-before-seen images of The Beatles, found in the in the 65-year-old’s attic 18 months ago, that really made his name.
The photos captured the attention of Liverpool museum The Beatles Story and spawned the travelling Hidden Gallery exhibition. The collection, on show at Harvey Nichols in Mall of the Emirates until Thursday May 31, also includes Madame Tussauds waxworks and a pop-up shop selling limited-edition prints.
November 29 1963, on stage at the ABC Theatre in Hudderfield, Yorkshire. Paul and George harmonise during ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, which had been released that day.
The rare photographs, which are in perfect condition, were taken by Berriff at the start of the band’s career, as they broke onto the pop scene – alongside The Rolling Stones, Helen Shapiro and Marianne Faithful –
during their UK tours of 1962 and ’64, well before the onset of Beatlemania.
Berriff, who was just 16 years old at the time and was working as an editorial trainee on a local newspaper, used his theatre contacts to gain entry backstage and snap the artists before and during the shows. ‘The ’60s pop scene was bursting upon us, and as teenagers it was quite an exciting time,’ says Berriff. ‘One of the groups was called The Beatles who, at the time, were at the bottom of the billing list. I built up a good relationship with Paul McCartney. He always used to come up to me when he saw me with my camera to ask how my photography was going, and he posed for me on several occasions.’
George takes a piece of popcorn offered to him by Ringo before their show at the Odeon Theatre in Leeds, Yorkshire on October 22 1964.
Building a rapport with your subject is something that Berriff swears by, and it has certainly come in handy during his career: he has several times been nominated for BAFTAs for his documentary work, which includes US series Animal Cop. In fact, he says the relationship between photographer and subject is the key to creating a quality photo or documentary. ‘I don’t just spend two or three days with someone. I’ll spend a year on location if necessary, with a group of people or an individual, so we build up a trust with each other and I get to know the subject very well,’ says Berriff. ‘If you spend more time with a subject, they become less conscious of the camera and you become part of the team. They forget you’re there with a camera crew, and start to relax and just do their work as they should do.’
That’s exactly what happened when Berriff tracked a group of Manhattan firemen weeks after September 11 2001 at Ground Zero. He spent a year filming the group as they tried to come to terms with their loss and the search for their colleagues. But Berriff admits that only a fortnight earlier he was lucky to be alive himself: he was the man behind one of the most widely broadcasted videos of the World Trade Centre collapse that day.
‘A Perfect Moment’
A happy John Lennon at the Leeds Odeon Theatre on June 5 1963. His son Julian had been born only eight weeks previously.
‘We had an apartment in Manhattan and were filming Animal Cops for the Discovery Channel. When I heard that a plane had gone into the towers, I went down to the Trade Centre and met up with the deputy fire commissioner, who was sitting at the control point. I started filming him for about 20 or 30 minutes, when the South Tower collapsed on top of us. We heard this loud bang – I was in the middle of a shot – and I panned the camera up to see the top of the tower coming down towards me. I stood there for about five seconds; the others started running down the street. After about five seconds I started to run.’
What happened next is anyone’s guess, as Berriff awoke crawling through debris. ‘I didn’t know at the time, but I’d been knocked unconscious and the North Tower had come down on top of me. I was lucky to crawl out with just a minor head injury,’ he says.
The boys relax backstage before their evening Christmas performance at the Gaumont Theatre in Bradford, Yorkshire on December 21 1963.
Berriff was one of only six survivors of the 28 firefighters he was with that day, and he puts his luck down to chance. ‘I think it just depended on how you ran down the street. Those that went to the left and those that went to the right were killed, but those of us that went straight down the street managed to survive it.’
That’s not the first time Berriff has danced with death. ‘I’ve been in a helicopter crash, I’ve been blown off a volcano and I’ve jumped from a sinking ship.’ Luck, it seems, is on his side.
It’s fitting, then, that after 44 years in TV and a stint working alongside German filmmaker Werner Herzog in the ’90s, the chance discovery of The Beatles negatives has resurrected Berriff’s interest in still photography. He says it’s an incredible feeling to see people appreciate his decades-old snaps. ‘It’s amazing that people are looking at the work I did all those years ago. I never knew my photos would become this famous.’
So what’s next on his schedule? Berrif says there are a few projects in the pipeline. Let’s just hope they don’t involve helicopters, volcanos or tall buildings.
Exhibition: The Beatles Story’s Hidden Gallery, until May 31 at Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates (04 409 8888).
Photographer: Paul Berriff.
Price range of works: From Dhs10,250 to Dhs11,850.