Photographer Kieron ‘Spud’ Murphy counts the shot of John and Yoko on the bed as one of his favourite photographs. ‘He’s yacking away, clearly in full motormouth mode, and she’s smoking a cigarette, just kind of looking down. I can still hear her saying, “Yes John, yes dear.”
In the aftermath of The Beatles’ break-up, and still in the first bloom of his love affair with Yoko Ono, John Lennon threw himself into a new life. The couple moved to Tittenhurst Park, a 26-room Georgian mansion in Berkshire, and in the summer of 1971 Lennon started his second solo album, Imagine, having installed a state-of-the-art recording studio in the grounds. The couple’s everyday existence quickly came to resemble a never-ending art project, as Lennon recorded with producer Phil Spector and Beatles colleagues George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and the couple embarked on an accompanying film.
The new book, Imagine John Yoko, collects intimate photographs from that time. Soon the couple would depart for New York, never to return to the UK in Lennon’s lifetime, but the book captures a time when a white mansion became a hub for their world-changing art.
‘Imagine John Yoko’, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with contributions from the people who were there, is published by Thames & Hudson on Oct 9.
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Visitors to Tittenhurst Park found that Lennon and Ono were inseparable. ‘When I met Yoko is when you meet your first woman and you leave the guys at the bar and don’t go and play snooker and billiards. The boys became of no interest, other than that they were like old friends,’ said Lennon, above. ‘Yoko really woke me up to myself. She didn’t fall in love with a Beatle, she didn’t fall in love with my fame. She fell in love with me for myself, and through that, brought out the best in me.’
Photographer Kieron ‘Spud’ Murphy says he expected Yoko Ono to be ‘this dreadful woman who broke up The Beatles’, and instead found ‘an absolute sweetheart’ whom Lennon clearly adored. Murphy counts the shot of John and Yoko on the bed as one of his favourite photographs. ‘He’s yacking away, clearly in full motormouth mode, and she’s smoking a cigarette, just kind of looking down. I can still hear her saying, “Yes John, yes dear.”’
Julian, Lennon’s eight-year-old son by first wife Cynthia, had seen little of his father since his parents’ 1968 divorce. ‘When Dad moved to Tittenhurst, it was the first time he’d called me in quite a long time,’ recalled Julian. ‘It was an exciting thing for me to go and see him again after not seeing him for such a while. Tittenhurst was this enormous, palace-like place with 99 acres, golf-cart buggies, a lake, a little island. It was like a house of fun.
The grand house, with its vast master bedroom, below, was John’s choice – and somewhere he clearly felt comfortable enough to be photographed in the bathroom (far left). Yoko thought it was too large. ‘She wanted to live in New York in a loft,’ Lennon recalled. ‘I said, “Look kid, you were born rich; I was born poor, and I fought and made it.” But I sat in that house for a year, and I was not happy. I had all the possessions I wanted, but none of it was giving me any fun.’