Tom Murray is an award-winning photographer whose storied career spans magazines, theater, portraits, and newspapers. At 25, he was the youngest person ever commissioned to photograph the Royal Family and went on to capture some of the world’s most influential artists and designers, including Elizabeth Taylor and Ralph Lauren.
Yet among that huge body of work, one particular day stands out to Beatles fans; a legendary shoot in July, 1968, which he coined their “Mad Day Out.” A 25-year-old assistant on the assignment, Murray caught some of the most vibrant and authentic images of the Beatles ever taken.
With the help of writer Simon Weitzman and designer Paul Skellett, Murray has chronicled that day in a new book, Tom Murray’s Mad Day Out, which debuted at the August 2016 Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago.
REBEAT recently spoke to Murray from his home in England about his work, his new book, and how a chance assignment turned into one of the Beatles’ most iconic photo shoots.
REBEAT: How did you become a photographer, and how did you find yourself on this assignment that day?
TOM MURRAY: I started working for local newspapers. I worked the linotype, the press, and whenever we could we rushed outside to take pictures. I did 4 ½ years in newspapers, then one day I photographed someone who worked for United Press International, and he asked if I’d like to work abroad, but I thought nothing of it. Then about six months later he said, “There’s a job going in what was Northern Rhodesia in Africa.”
At the end of four and a half years [in Africa], I asked my boss if I could have an extra two weeks off with pay to go home by ship and he said no, so I told them where to shove their job. And when I was leaving, one of their directors said, “You remind me of Lord Snowdon.” I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you’re arrogant, opinionated, and quite a brilliant photographer.” (Ed. note: Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, is one of the UK’s most renowned photographers; there are more than 100 in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. In the 1960s, he was the Sunday Times magazine’s Artistic Advisor.)
So when I got home I wrote to the top four photographers in England, and Snowdon was the one that answered. Lord Snowdon said that there were two available jobs: one at Vogue, and one at the Sunday Times magazine, which was the country’s first color supplement. And he said, “I think you should take that one.” So I whizzed around to the Sunday Times and got the job. They wanted me to start on April 1, 1968 and I said, “No, it’s April Fool’s Day; I’ll start April 2.”
How did you end up photographing the Beatles?
A couple of months later, on the 28th of July, 1968, one of the other photographers said he was photographing a pop group, and would I drive them around? I said sure; I never thought to ask who. They said, “Oh, we’re gonna use the studio, bring your camera.” So I picked up my camera, which I still use today, and for some reason I put two rolls of color film in my pocket — never knew why. And we turned up at this rehearsal room and I said, “Oh, someone’s playing ‘Lady Madonna’ on the piano. I went in and — oh shit, it was Paul McCartney! And there was George and Ringo!
I had none of my usual paraphernalia. I had the one camera and we just traveled all over London. I only took 23 images, and I actually threw out the ones I didn’t like.
Tell me about the atmosphere of the day.
London in the late ‘60s was a buzzy place. Hair was an award-winning musical, Carnaby Street was buzzing with the Stones walking down one side, the Beatles down the other. I mean, London in the mid- to late-’60s was incredible. People were wearing uniforms, girls were in mini skirts, I was wearing trousers that were so tight you couldn’t sit down and platform shoes, frilly shirts — it was all so different.
But on that Sunday, wherever we went it was very quiet. A lot of shops didn’t open on a Sunday, pubs didn’t open ’til the afternoon, so it was quiet for quite a while.
This collection of photos are some of the most vibrant and expressive shots that were taken of the Beatles during that era, despite the internal strife in the band and their general weariness of publicity at the time. What do you think happened on that day that allowed you to capture such authentic and free-spirited images?
I just think it was the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be there. If you’ve seen pictures of me, it didn’t even look like I’m 25 when I shot them. I was as old as they are, and they just ignored me, and that was great.
I didn’t know what I was going to do, and so I just thought, “Right, here we go, I don’t have any black-and-white film, I don’t have any flash, I have the one camera with one lens. I’ll do what would look nice.” And that was it. It was a gift from God in heaven; He said, “Right, you little photographer: we will give you something fantastic to do, see what you can do with it.”
The photos of Paul McCartney are especially open and playful. How did you bring that out of him?
He would look to see if I was looking, and I’d pretend I wasn’t looking. It’s a trick I learned years ago; I pretend I’m not really paying attention. So I just played the game with Paul — he’d look to see if I was looking and I’d be watching out of the corner of my eye. That’s how I got the really great one of him squirting water — which got all over the camera. I think a lot of it was they didn’t realize what I was doing.
What happened after the shoot?
At the end of the day, I sent the film in, went home, and my mum said, “So what did you do?” I said, “Oh, I photographed this group.” She said, “Who were they?” I said the Beatles; she shut the door and started screaming. She asked what it was like, and I said, “It was a mad day out… everywhere was amazing!”
That was basically it, and I did nothing with the photos for almost 20 years until John was shot in New York. I was working in New York at that time and was out for dinner. When we left the restaurant people were running by saying Lennon was dead. I said, “Lenin’s been dead for years, since the revolution.” And they said, “No, John Lennon.” And I went, “Oh my God.” It was so sad.
And then I remembered the pictures, so I got them sent over — and Time magazine considered them. There was one of John lying, pretending to be dead, and they thought it was too spooky. So we just put them back in a drawer.
I later moved to LA, and when I was working there, I was asked to donate to a charity, Project Angel Food. I offered them [a photo from the shoot] and we got over $1,000 for it. And the charity work just went from there. We’ve now raised over $8 million worldwide. We try and donate a print every time we do an exhibition — we donated one to Yoko’s charity.
And this year I’ve raised over £12,500 already. It’s usually for things like Make a Wish, children’s charities, babies’ charities. Paul and Ringo would sign my pictures, and we’d get just a tad more if they sign it. Paul signed one to me and said, “In case Tom’s a bit broke, I won’t sign it to Tom Murray, I’ll just put ‘cheers,’ and if he’s broke, he can sell it.”
One of the charity gigs was at Abbey Road Studios, for Cancer UK. And this DJ said, “Oh, this guy wants to meet you.” And I turn around and it was Sir George Martin. And he wanted to know about working with the Beatles and I wanted to know about recording with them. So we cleared off. We disappeared into a sound studio and shut the lights down, and we sat there yakking away and everyone was looking for us.
How did the idea for the new book come about?
[Tom Murray’s Mad Day Out with the Beatles author] Simon Weitzman phoned up out of the blue about nine months ago, and said he’d be interested in doing a book. Paul Skellett’s done a brilliant design and Simon’s done the writing. I chatted away with Simon for several hours…and hours and hours. And he put it all together. It’s gorgeously designed; it’s not sort of snuggly and meant to languish on a coffee table. It’s going to be read and looked at.
When they did the first draft of the book, I only made 12 changes out of the whole 120 pages — that’s how well it was done. And the changes were only because I was very fussy about how my work is cropped. And then the clever thing, which was Simon and Paul’s idea — we went back to all the locations. And then we had pictures of me with the pictures, at the locations, and those panorama shots, which were brilliant.
This is a first edition book with very limited quantities. Is it sold out?
Almost. We don’t know whether we’ll do a second edition. There’s other things in the works, about adding in more photography and changing a few things. It was so successful I don’t know what Simon and Paul are coming up with next. There’s something in the wind, but it’s still in the wind. Whatever happens will happen in the next few months or so.
This was your first Fest for Beatles Fans [the 2016 Chicago Fest]. What did you think of the event?
There’s so much adrenaline coming from everybody; it’s great fun! I’d never realized that Beatles fans were so fantastic. They’re all such marvelous people. I was thrilled. I don’t normally go to things like that — I always thought it’s for young people. But then we met people there — an eight year old and a 96 year old — and I thought, “Oh!”
I’m a great believer in right place, right time. That book came out when it did, I got to go to the Beatles Fest, got to speak to you…it all sort of knits together. I have a great belief in all that. Even my whole career has been right place, right time. And then once you’re there you’ve got to deliver the goods though. No good saying you make the best cakes in the world if you can’t bake. And I’m pretty good behind the camera.