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November 24, 2023

Paul Cole, the ‘Mystery Man’ on the Cover of The Beatles’ Famous “Abbey Road” Album

The Beatles’ famous Abbey Road album cover features probably the greatest photobomb of all time – and it was a complete accident. But did you ever spot it? On the cover of the 1969 album, the Fab Four walk in a line across a zebra crossing in North West London. And in the background, a mystery man stands at the side of the road.

The Abbey Road photobomber is ringed in this picture – fans have spent decades trying to work out who he is.

The man is wearing a brown jacket and white shirt and appears to be looking across to where the musicians are having their picture taken. It was spotted by fans soon after the album’s release in 1969 – and it’s prompted a flood of people claiming to be the man in the photo. It’s widely believed the man in the photo is an American tourist called Paul Cole.

Mr Cole was tracked down by reporters years after the release of the Abbey Road album, revealing that he wound up in the background of the shoot by complete chance.

In a 2004 interview with the Daily Mirror, Mr Cole said he was standing on the street waiting for his wife to finish exploring a museum.

“‘I’ve seen enough museums. I’ll just stay out here and see what’s going on outside’,” he recalled telling her. “I like to just start talking with people. I walked out, and that cop was sitting there in that police car. I just started carrying on a conversation with him.”

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road one way for the photoshoot.

The band had hired a policeman to block traffic while they completed the photo shoot, with the whole thing taking roughly 10 minutes, according to the photographer Iain Macmillan.

“I remember we hired a policeman to hold up traffic while I was up on the ladder taking the pictures,” Macmillan said. “I took a couple of shots of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road one way. We let some of the traffic go by and then they walked across the road the other way, and I took a few more shots.”

He said the photo that was eventually chosen was number five of six, the only one that had their legs in a perfect ‘V’ formation.

The cover of Abbey Road has no printed words. It is a photo of the Beatles, in side view, crossing the street in single file.

With all the planning that went into the photo the idea that Mr Cole just stumbled into the back ground is amazing.

“I just happened to look up, and I saw those guys walking across the street like a line of ducks,” Mr Cole said. “A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn’t walk around in London barefoot.”

What is almost as astonishing is Mr Cole, aka photo bombing professional, had no idea who they were until six months later when he was back home in America.

“My wife used to play the organ and a couple wanted her to play a song off the album at their wedding,” he said. “I saw the album and I recognized myself right away. I had a new sports jacket on and I’d just bought new shell-rimmed glasses. I said to my children, ‘get a magnifying glass out and you’ll see me’.”

Paul Cole recognized himself as soon as he saw the album.

Ironically, Mr Cole said he has never even listened to the album and “couldn’t name a single song”.

He died in 2008 aged 98 and there is still speculation around whether he really was the “mystery man” in the famous photo. But it is pretty safe to say, whoever it is, it is going to be hard to top that photo bomb.


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