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Tuesday 1 September 2015

H is for Help!

Being an avid Beatles Fan I have many favourite songs, albums too - Help being one of my top choices.

Robert Freeman designed many of The Beatles album covers including "Help."
The photo was taken in the Twickenham Film Studio near London, where the Beatles were finishing the last scenes from their second movie Help!. Freeman had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP, with every Beatle another letter. He got the inspiration from a scene he witnessed shooting in the Austrian Alps, with the Beatles, all dressed in black, fooling around in the snow. They were waving their arms in the air, while the music played. Freeman took publicity pictures while these scenes were shot in mid march 1965 in Obertauern.

Publicity pictures like this inspired the Help! album cover

In the studio a specially constructed platform was erected, with a white painted background. The four young men wore the black hats, coats and capes from the film wardrobe. "But when we came to do the shot the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn't look good," remembers Freeman, "So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms."

Ringo poses for the album cover while Victor Spinetti looks at him.

Within half an hour the pictures were taken.
Afterward, Freeman reversed some of the images, to get a more satisfying composition. For proof of this: look at John, George and Ringo’s jackets: they have the buttons on the wrong side.

John, George and Ringo reversed back again

Different poses for John and Ringo - session outtakes
The Beatles actually spell out "NUJV"
This is how "HELP" would have looked like with real semaphore.
In Holland, another version of the Help! sleeve was manufactured, with a giant Shell logo in the background. Most of the vinyl and all of the sleeves that make up this legendary item were manufactured in Holland but a few copies of the vinyl were also pressed in Sweden. This LP with its alternate picture sleeve was only ever issued to Shell employees and was never available to purchase in the shops.

The famous Dutch / Swedish Shell Help! LP cover, 1979.

During the years, there has been some discussion whether or not the Beatles' hand positions spell anything. It didn’t help that, in the US, the photos on the front cover were rearranged, from George-John-Paul-Ringo to George-Ringo-John-Paul (so that Paul appeared to be pointing to the Capitol logo?). And the image of George is reversed again. By all accounts, the semaphore remains gibberish: the various semaphore messages and their interpretations which have been ascribed to the HELP! cover, over the years are unfounded. The intention behind the arm positions was good "graphic positioning", not good semaphore.

USA Help! album

To accommodate lettering advertising the songs, the pictures of the Beatles were shrunk on the cover of the Capitol version of Help!.

There are no sleeve notes , but like on the back cover of A Hard Day’s Night, there are again four head shots taken by Freeman.

Help! back cover - Robert Freeman
What is your favourite Beatles song?



  1. Thank you for this post about the Beatles

  2. What a wonderful post !

    I am not a Beatles-fan but i admire artists in general for their talent and what they do with it.

    Your passion is very obvious and that i like the most and i can relate to 'passion' for something in music.

  3. The Beatles were my favorites way back when. I screamed with all my junior high friends when they came to the U.S. I remember watching the Ed Sullivan show and was so taken by them along with every other kid...

    1. I've got lots of favorites, this year since I turned 64 we've been singing When I'm 64 all the year long!

  4. It may be Tomorrow Never Knows, but the title song from Help! is in my Top 5'

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  6. My sister and I loved the Beetles too and Help was quite a favourite.

  7. I don't really have a favorite !

  8. My favorite song is definitely "I wanna hold your hand" =)

    Greeting, Dana

  9. It hadn't even dawned on me that they may been signaling help. lol. Wonderful post! Choosing my favorite Beatles song is impossible.

  10. What can I say about the Beatles that hasn't already been said? They were a phenomena,
    I have written so much about them, as many people know I was a Liverpool lass in the '60's
    when they hit international fame., they were part of the wonderful heady days of the Cavern
    This is a most interesting and well researched piece about them and I didn't know about the Shell
    connection. All I can remember is queuing up at Brian Epstein's music store to get the first release
    of' 'Please Please Me'........ the rest is history.... Golden days and golden memories.
    Help was a good album but I have other favourites including 'From Me to You' and of course Sgt.
    Pepper, which was, I think, the Beatles 'Marmite Moment', (you either love or loath it).
    Aye golden days indeed !

    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.

  11. The popular singing stars everywhere have such formidable following especially among the young!

  12. Help is a wonderful word. We all need it!
    I love many songs of Beatles! Huge list :)

  13. Help is one of my favorite Beatles song, but had never seen the thought process behind the album cover design. As an artist, I found this extremely interesting. Thanks!

  14. Interesting information. Well, choosing one song it would be "Nowhere Man" as it is currently in my playing list.

  15. Great intro, interesting! Three fave Beatles songs: Penny Lane; Norwegian Wood; Michelle :-)
    My "H" stands for "Honey" and "Honeybee"

  16. Help, I need somebody, not just anybody. I can hear that song in my head.

  17. "Let it Be" is a fave Beatles song...
    My "H" stands for HEXAGON

  18. My favorite song of the Beattles is Yesterday - because of the reminiscent tone in this song. One of the art critics I know gave a lecture one time about all the warning signs of this day and age represented in their songs - after that, I started listening what they were really saying with their songs.

  19. Loved the H concept....for me H IS HONOUR

  20. I was and am a Beatles fan. In that place and time my close knit world wanted Elvis.

    I learned much today. Thank you.