Sgt Pepper costume man now in Stody churchyard
Noel Howard, the man who designed and created the iconic bandsmen’s costumes worn by the Beatles on the Sgt Pepper album sleeve, hailed from Stody, near Holt in North Norfolk, and is buried in the church graveyard there. Chris Sadler takes up the story.
The album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released by The Beatles on 1st June 1967. Generally considered one of the greatest records ever made, it heralded the psychedelic “Summer of Love” and had an immediate and immense cultural impact. Notable not only for its range of songs, the sleeve cover design, featuring the Fab Four in pastel bandsmen’s outfits surrounded by a collage of famous faces, remains instantly recognisable and won a Graphic Art Grammy for its designers Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.
A little-known fact is that the famous pastel bandsmen’s outfits worn by John, Paul, George and Ringo were designed and created by costume designer Noel Howard, who hailed from the small village of Stody, just south of Holt.
After the triumph of the album’s release, the original suits remained with The Beatles. Unfortunately, some years later at least one of the suits had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono sought to celebrate these iconic designs and commissioned Mr Howard to make a full set of replicas in 1999 based on the original designs.
Mr Howard confirmed this later in a letter stating: ‘In November of 1999, I was found and contacted by Yoko Ono’s office to recreate an exact copy of the costumes, as I had done some 35 years earlier, for a museum in Japan. To ensure that I re-created perfect matching costumes, in colour, fabrics and sizes, I was flown out to New York to inspect the originals, three of which were made available to me at that time. This costume is the closest any private collector will come to owning an original.’
In addition, Mr Howard was permitted to make a further set for his own use. A set of replica suits ‘created by Noel Howard’, possibly the ones made for Yoko, was sold in a US auction for over $25,000 in 2016. Soon afterwards, The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool put a ‘full set of authentic’ suits on display, so these marvellous creations finally became viewable in the public domain.
Sadly, Mr Howard died in 2008. Not many people create something so iconic and well-known, and in the marvellous Sgt Pepper cover he has a lasting and appropriate tribute - and his place in musical cultural history is assured.
But, for us in Norfolk, there is one final reminder and memorial. Mr Howard did eventually find his way home and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Stody. His final resting place suitably marked with a simple yet stylish headstone. RIP Noel James Howard (1940–2008).
The images of Stody church and gravestone are courtesy of Chris Sadler.
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