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Dear Sir or Madam...

The John Lennon Series
by Jude Southerland Kessler

Hello, Goodbye

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Reference Library: Help Cover Picture

From: (saki)
Subject: Re: Semaphore

This was posted some months ago by one


There has been some discussion about the cover of Help! and whether or not the Beatles' hand positions spell anything. So I dug out my old Boy Scout manual, found the semaphore table, and compared it to my CD, which, as I understand it, reflects the original British album cover. Now, by various accounts, the boys' images may have been reversed, reordered, or even flipped before being committed to the album cover, so there are several possibilities. I'll leave it to those of you with more insight than I to determine what they MEANT to say, but I can tell you what they ARE saying.

First and foremost, no matter what order or left-right orientation they are arranged in, they do NOT spell H-E-L-P. However, in a mirror- image, to a lenient eye, they do come close to spelling L-P-U-S, though they wouldn't win any merit badges with their form. This has been suggested as the real intented message, so I'd be inclined to believe the image is indeed reversed. (Added clue: both Ringo and Paul appear to be wearing watches on their RIGHT arms. (Yes, I know Paul's left-handed, but it seems more likely he'd wear his wristwatch on the left than that Ringo would wear his on the right (unless they do that backwards in England too, just like they drive on the wrong side on the road ;-)).))

My interpretation of their signals is as follows:

1) George: George's form is very poor. Accepted semaphore arm positions radiate outward at 45-degree angles from the breastbone. George's arms sag somewhere between being straight out and pointing down at 45 degrees. If we interpret them as pointing straight out, then he's signaling an "R"; if they're pointing down 45 degrees, it's an "N". Both of these are the same in mirror- image. If we are very forgiving and assume that his right arm is intended to point down 45 and his left to point straight, then it's an "M", which in mirror-image becomes an "S".

2) John: John is easiest of all. His arms both point up 45 degrees, which represents a "U" in both regular and mirror-image.

3) Paul: Paul's form is good, too. Right arm straight up and left arm straight out. That's a "J", or a "P" in reverse.

4) Ringo: Ringo appears to have his right arm up at 45 degrees and his left arm down at 45 degrees. If the picture is not reversed, then this is very bad form indeed, as that does not signal any letter at all. If we assume that one arm or the other was intended to point vertically, then the signal could variously be "D", "C", or "V"; but if we assume instead that the photo was reversed, then he is signaling an "L" properly.

Based on this, I believe the "mirror-image spelling LPUS (Help us)" carries the most credibility. As some have pointed out previously in this thread, the boys' order was reversed on the American album for some reason, from George-John-Paul-Ringo to George-Ringo-John-Paul, which yields PULS. If there is a meaning to this, then I'm stumped!


From: (Richard Hanson)
Subject: "Help!" Album Cover: Semaphore Message
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 1995 02:41:28 GMT

[Regarding the above article,] I'm convinced that the cover picture is indeed a mirror-image of the original picture for the following reasons:

1. If you look at the picture on the "Help!" album cover, the Beatles' jackets have the buttons on the wrong side of the jackets. This is because the picture has been reversed.

2. In the "Help!" picture, on his left-hand Ringo is wearing a big ring with a red stone, which is shown in the film. I haven't got a copy of the film at the moment, but I'm sure that Ringo wears this large ring on his right hand in the film.

3. A photograph on page 63 of Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions" shows the Beatles lined-up from left-to-right as Ringo, Paul, John, and George, and (see below) this would have been the correct line-up for the album cover picture. This photograph was not necessarily taken just before or after the album cover photograph, but it seems likely, and this photograph is certainly the right way round because there is a sign which reads "TOBOGGAN HIRE".

So I think that the original picture was intended to show the semaphore message "L-P-U-S", which is really much more interesting than "H-E-L-P": "L-P-U-S" not only means "help us!" but is a play on the fact that the picture was on the cover of an "LP" by "us" (the Beatles), and exclaims "long play us" to the owner of the record.

The original picture would have shown the Beatles lined-up from left-to-right as Ringo, Paul, John, and George. Maybe whoever was responsible for reversing the image thought that it would be unusual to have Ringo "leading" the group, so instead decided to use the mirror-image line-up of George, John, Paul, and Ringo.


From: Doctor Fang []
Subject: Re: New "Help!" cover information
Date: 21 Dec 1995 01:09:40 GMT

[Regarding the above articles,] evidence is available which shows that the cover photo on the HELP! album (both the US and UK versions) was *not* intended to spell HELP, nor any other message, in semaphore. Furthermore, simple research shows that the cover photo as a whole is *not* a mirror-image of the original photo, although some of the Beatles' individual images are reversed.

The photographer who conceived of and executed the photo, Robert Freeman, confirms that no semaphore message was intended. Freeman writes:

...I had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP. But when we came to do the shot the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn't look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms. (Freeman, Robert _The Beatles_, Barnes & Noble, NY, p. 62)

This improvisation of arm positions probably explains the Beatles' "bad form", as described in an article above. The intention behind the arm positions was good "graphic positioning", not good semaphore. Thus, some liberties probably were taken in arm positions, and adherence to "good form" semaphore was a secondary priority (or possibly not of any concern whatsoever).


Regarding the use of reversed images on the covers, neither the US nor the UK cover photo is reversed in its entirety. However, the individual images of John, George and Ringo are reversed on the UK cover, while Paul's image is not. (Note that on the US cover, only John and Ringo's images are reversed, and the order in which the Beatles are standing is altered.)

The use of reverse images (and non-reversed images) on the UK cover can be confirmed by comparison with film footage and other photos taken during the filming of HELP! as follows:

1. The previous article mentions the fact that the Beatles' jackets have the buttons on the "wrong" side, indicating a reversed image. This is absolutely true for John, George and Ringo. Paul's coat, however, is *zippered*, and has no buttons from which to draw such a conclusion.

2. Further confirmation that Ringo's image is reversed can be found in: (1) the location of the ring (on his right hand in film footage and photos) (2) location of his watch (on his left wrist in film footage and photos)

3. Paul's image is not reversed, as the following items correspond correctly to those as shown in HELP film footage and photos: (1) the location of the part in his hair (consistently his left side) (2) the location of his watch (on his right wrist in every photo in which the watch is visible) (3) his facial features (his face is asymmetrical -- his right eye and eyebrow are higher and more arched than the left)

4. Further confirmation that Paul's image was not reversed along with those of John, George and Ringo is the direction from which the "sunlight" (actually studio lighting) strikes each Beatle. The light hits George, John and Ringo from their right (from the left side of the UK cover), while it hits Paul from his left (from the right side of the UK cover).

As an additional note, previous arguments have cited the order in which the Beatles are standing as evidence that the cover photo was reversed. Comparisons between the line-up on the cover and similar line-ups in location photos in Austria supposedly proved what the "original" standing order was (the assumption being that the location photos and the cover photo probably were taken during the same photo session). However, the cover photo was *not* taken on location in Austria; it was taken much later in a studio near London, as described by photographer Robert Freeman:

The shot was set up at the film studio near London where the Beatles were finishing the last scenes. They stood on a specially constructed platform with a white painted background wearing the black hats, coats and capes from the film wardrobe. (Freeman, p. 62)

For this reason, any photos taken on location in Austria cannot be used as evidence of the "original" standing order of the cover photo.

Thus, the various semaphore messages and their interpretations which have been ascribed to the HELP! cover, while creative, are unfounded in light of the words of the man who conceived and created the photo. Examination of extensive photographic and film evidence corroborate his words.

Sue Ohara

P.S. For those still intrigued/tortured by this issue, some good photographic evidence (in addition to the covers themselves and film footage) can be found in the following books:

Freeman, Robert _The Beatles_, Barnes & Noble, pp. 62-63, pp. 128-145

Delano, Julia _The Beatles Album_, Smithmark, 1991, pp. 128-141

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