John Cockcroft - Master Retoucher 1934 -2008

I found out much later in life, when I started working with my Dad in his studio that he had retouched the Beatles Abbey Road album cover, Rolling Stones magazine's 14th greatest album of all time.
Abbey Road was shot by Scottish photographer  Iain Macmillan (1938 - 2006), Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the shot and its  ironical that it has become one of the most famous and imitated album covers in recording history.
Iain used Colorcel, a London dye transfer and Print Processing Service with a strong retouching department of which dad was the head.
Did they retouch stuff back in 1969, I hear you ask?

Indeed they did, in fact prior to this album coming out a major shake up had occurred for retouchers with  the introduction of a new Kodak technique called the Dye Transfer process,
a continuous-tone color photographic printing process. The dyes used in the process are very spectrally pure compared to normal coupler-induced photographic dyes,The dye transfer process possesses a larger colour gamut and tonal scale than any other process. Another important characteristic of dye transfer is that it allows the practitioner the highest degree of photographic control compared to any other color print process, and for a retoucher was a development as dramatic as digital.

Previously retouching was predominantly darkroom / montage and airbrush territory but this new process allowed the retoucher to bleach out unwanted areas of the image and draw in with brush using the same set of dyes used in the print, making the work undetectable in the hands of a master.

So what did John do on this cover? On the back cover the lettering " Beatles" did not exist, shots were taken of street lettering in and around london that matched the Abbey Rd signage. From these shots a composite was created of the  Beatles lettering and then combined and used to mask this area out on the master set of dye matrixes so that when a new dye was made the combined lettering would be part of the image. Whatever imperfections then existed ( masking lines etc) where bleached out and the detail tickled back in with a fine brush using dyes mixed and matched by John to recreate the colours needed, the infamous crack in the s was bleached back and then drawn in, if this was John's input or a request from the art director i don’t know, but it helped the lettering look real. The front cover had no lettering or title just the fab four walking across the rd as Apple art director Kosh felt  it wasn't needed. A controversial decision at the time ( reportedly the head of EMI was not pleased). Abbey rd was also the start of the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theories, with some saying the crack in the S was there to represent troubles in the band! I think my dad just drew it in to make the letters look like they where The print worked on was a dye transfer produced by the lab  from Iain's transparency film using separation negatives. Dye transfers where the only colour photography prints accepted by museums because they where very archival, with an estimated life of 100 to 400 years, depending on who you talked to. I wonder if the original retouched dye still exists buried somewhere in Apples archives. In 1994 Kodak officially discontinued the dye transfer process.
                         the original shot without lettering and with lettering.
Later, as Colourcel expanded they opened a branch in Milan, Italy, which Dad went out to run. Later in life he was offered a trial in the USA for the infamous National Enquire but didn't take to Florida or the ethics of the publication ( he was always and remained his entire life a yorkshire boy raised on country values) and instead chose Johannesburg , South Africa his alternate job offer ( in those days being a brilliant retoucher was a bit like being a rock star, people came and offered you gigs, and we as a family got to go too).  In the 70's he was head hunted for a retouching Studio in Sydney, Australia before going solo again at which time I came to study retouching under him.  The digital revolution occurred ironically a year after I had become competent in this very precise art-form and I had to reinvent myself in the world of digital.