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.
|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