Photographic Reflections – 13 April 2023


Every picture tells a story and not only is there genius behind some iconic shots, there’s also hard work and endurance. I was put in mind of that when catching up with my old friend the photographer Harry Benson. One of his most famous shots is the Beatles pillow fight at the Ritz in Paris. It’s arguably what set him on the road to stardom.

Ironically he hadn’t wanted to be sent on that task. Due to go to the Congo to cover the war there he’d objected, not really knowing just who they were and certainly not how big they’d become. But he was ordered to do it by the editor and off he went.

The shot came about when he and others in the press pack went back to one of the suites the Fab Four had in the classy hotel. The pillow fight first took place when all were there but no shots were taken. Hanging on until all other press had gone he encouraged them to restage it for him to capture the moment which they gladly did.

That was by then well into the small hours and it had already been a long day. This was also long before digital cameras and laptops allowed for speedy connections. The spool needed developed in his hotel room bathroom turned into a makeshift darkroom and phone lines obtained. It would be many weary hours before the developed pictures could be despatched and he could catch a few hours sleep.

The photos were prized by the editor even the. and he was instructed to go with the band who were off to the USA. News that they’d gone to number one in America had broken by then but the reception they received was still beyond anything they could ever have expected. Harry was there taking their photo and that of the screaming hordes that met them. He knew then that they’d be huge and that he’d not be returning to Scotland.

There’s a montage in his apartment showing the photos from the spool taken at the hotel. Set together they’re a fascinating testament to genius hard work and endurance.