Four Men and a Zebra.

On a quiet street in north London there's a zebra crossing that attracts almost as many tourists as Buckingham Palace.

One sunny morning in 1969 a small group of people went outside the EMI studios in North London. Road traffic was stopped while a photographer shot a few pictures. It took just ten minutes to immortalize Abbey Road for one of the most famous album covers in the history of pop music. Ever since, the otherwise unremarkable zebra crossing has been a place of pilgrimage for generations of Beatles fans. Let's follow in the footsteps of the "fab four" in London.

The best place to start is Carnaby Street. Although it does not have any obvious connection with The Beatles it is synonymous with London in the "swinging sixties". The small shops with colourful clothes and accessories set trends for the younger generation all over the world. The street's heyday is long gone but fashionable and extravagant costumes can still be found there, as well as sixties memorabilia.

Hysterical crowds

Then off to the Palladium Theatre where The Beatles played in October 1963. The place was besieged by fans for the entire day of the concert and the police could hardly control the crowds. This show was the turning point in their career and the beginning of "Beatlemania", as one paper dubbed what happened that day. The next morning the front pages of every newspaper had long stories and large pictures of the hysterical crowds. The news hardly mentioned how well or how badly the group had played but simply how much chaos they had caused.

A few weeks later during a cha.rity concert at the Prince of Wales Theatre, John Lennon made his famous remark: "Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands" and looking up to where the Royal family was sitting, he added: "All the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery". From starting out simply as an interesting pop group, The Beatles had become a sensation everybody was writing about, even the quality dailies which considered themselves too serious to cover pop stories. Sociologists and psychologists started to analyse the phenomenon; Parliament debated the consequences of employing thousands of extra policemen to keep order during their concerts. Manufacturers all over the country competed to get concessions to use the word 'Beatles' on their products. Even leaders of the Church of England at their annual meeting discussed whether it was all simply "healthy fun" or whether the Beatles were a "psychopathic group" of young men who should be stopped before they did too much damage. It was also pointed out that one week's worth of their income could finance the building of a cathedral in Africa.

From the Palladium it is only short walk to 3 Saville Row - headquarters of Apple, the company that ran the growing Beatles empire. In the basement the famous "White Album" was recorded and on the rooftop the band played their last-ever concert. After forty minutes the police stopped it.

Star-struck studio

The next destination is Abbey Road, the best-known Beatles landmark in London and arguably the best-known rock landmark in the world - not to mention the fact that it's crossed by the only zebra crossing ever to become a tourist attraction. EMI studios opened in 1931 and soon become renowned worldwide. The list of stars who have recorded there is very impressive - from a multitude of famous classical musicians to Cliff Richard, Eric Clapton, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, The Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead and Oasis. The best-selling album ever recorded by a British group, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, was recorded there, as well as the soundtrack to the film Star Wars.

But let's get back to The Beatles. The album they were recording in 1969 was originally to be called "Everest" and the cover photo was to have been taken in the foothills of the highest mountain on earth. But nobody could really be bothered to fly all the way to the Himalayas and, as London's sunshine was so tempting, the "four lads from Liverpool" just went outside the studio for the photo shoot. As a result the final album was simply named Abbey Road.

Is Paul dead?

The picture not only enshrined the zebra crossing in our hearts and minds but also added to some crazy rumours circulating at the time that Paul McCartney was dead. The proof was apparently that only he was walking barefoot and that the band looked like a funeral procession: John Lennon being the priest, Ringo Starr looking like an undertaker, Paul - a corpse, and George Harrison - the gravedigger. And for those for whom this wasn't enough, there was further proof: the registration number of the car parked in the background was 28IF, apparently meaning that Paul would have been twenty-eight if he had lived.

EMI studios are not open to the public, as music is still recorded there. But visitors leave graffiti on the studio's walls and often take their own version of the famous album cover while crossing the street. Nowadays, however, it can be dangerous and is certainly annoying for drivers. If, after all this traffic-hopping, you feel in need of refreshment, visit the Abbey Road Cafe located in the St. John's Wood tube station just a few minutes' walk from the studios. There, while enjoying an excellent cappuccino, you can browse through a wide selection of musical memorabilia and of course listen to the music recorded round the corner. You can even learn that the first zebra crossing was painted in 1951 in Slough as part of a new road safety programme. Soon afterwards zebra crossings spread across the whole of Britain.

There are many more places connected with the "fab four" in London. Houses they lived in, registry offices where they married, locations of their movies etc. But probably the best place to finish our trail is the New British Library. There, among some of the most precious music manuscripts of history, next to Handel and Bach you can see several original Beatles lyrics, including the words of their most enduring song "Yesterday", written by Paul McCartney on the back of an envelope.

PaweĊ‚ Kubisztal