I sit and watch as they step into the street: two girls and two guys, walking and then deliberately freezing with limbs outstretched, posing for the camera. Drivers impatiently tap their horns. “Honk! Beep beep!” One car almost runs them down as the pedestrians scurry across, laughing excitedly. And then, further annoying the motorists, the group crosses back to do it again.
The place all this happens is London’s Abbey Road. The reason it happens is to recreate the Beatles’ iconic album cover by the same name. And what makes it so cool is that we can watch it all unfold from the comfort of our computer.
The Abbey Road Crossing Cam is a live webcam overlooking the striped crosswalk outside the studio’s entrance in London, where the Beatles recorded their last album in 1969. Installed in 2010, it captures thousands of Beatles fans flocking to the site, most with their own cameras. If they don’t have one, there is often a guy there in a florescent vest willing to take your picture for you. The fans arrive daily, in all kinds of weather, sometimes in groups numbering in the hundreds. And more often than not, they stand in the middle of the street causing a traffic jam.
This is live, folks, and anything can happen. In fact, the very first time I tuned in to watch this streaming video and audio, my heart skipped a beat as I thought I was about to see someone die on the spot—or at least suffer serious injuries. But then, after reading various message boards, I learned that these near-misses are a common occurrence.
“It’s quite incredible that you seem to be able to view it at any time during the day and witness at least one near-accident within 30 seconds of watching it,” wrote one message board poster.
“I’m surprised no one has been deliberately run over or murdered in a road rage attack here,” commented another poster.
“Watched for about 90 seconds and saw 4 different groups posing in the crosswalk,” said a webcam viewer. “There was almost a fifth, but they decided against getting run over.”
“People must get pissed with people always walking across it when they are trying to get to work,” another viewer commented.
“Yes we are, and enjoy running the idiots down…in a British accent,” replied a cranky yet witty Londoner.
Besides the live feed, it’s also fun to watch the many YouTube videos capturing fans at the site.
“It’s really funny if you’ve been there and tried to make the crossing,” wrote YouTube viewer Michael Lewis after seeing some of the videos. “It’s not as easy as it looks…Lots of traffic.”
I corresponded with Michael through email and learned that he was “Ringo” in a Beatles tribute band named “Revolver” from 1993 until 2003. He crossed Abbey Road in June 2002 during the Queen’s 50th Jubilee.
“I met the Beatles with the first Ed Sullivan show and have been a fan since,” said Lewis, 58. “One of the kicks of playing drums in Revolver was playing out what was a fantasy come true. I consider it a lifetime accomplishment.”
Lewis produced a video called “Visit to Abbey Road”, in which we are taken on a virtual walk across the zebra striped street, and even up the steps of Abbey Road Studios. (Too bad a “no visitors” sign prevents us from entering the building.) We also get a look at the graffiti-filled low walls outside the facility, where fans have paid homage to the group—so much so that they are regularly repainted.
“At first glance I was appalled,” said Lewis of the walls. “But as I took a closer look, I changed my mind. It is actually covered in messages from fans all over the world who have been there to pay tribute. I lingered a long time, fascinated by what had been written. Many used the Beatles own lyrics to express appreciation for a pop cultural phenomenon that was so much of their past.”
In fact, the site is so popular that some may find themselves there even if they’re still a bit fuzzy as to who the Beatles actually were. A YouTuber named Leigh (“Skyhawkerleigh”), his wife and their three young daughters set out from their home in Somerset a few years ago for a day trip to London, with a goal to visit Abbey Road before anything else. Leigh is a long-time Beatles fan, but his daughters knew next to nothing about the group.
“We all had great fun doing it on the day,” he said. “We had several attempts as you can see in the video, but we got there in the end. The girls enjoyed it, too, even if they didn’t really know who the Beatles were. I had shown them the Abbey Road Beatles photo before, so they knew what we were trying to do.”
Their video, The Beatles, Abbey Road Crossing is a delight to watch. We see it from the point of view of the webcam, recorded from their home computer. The girls are so cute, dutifully posing as they are told, while their parents make sure to keep them safe from traffic—which fortunately was light at the time.
YouTuber Naru Pii came all the way from Japan to experience the crosswalk. She had a friend record her from his home computer. The 28-year-old has been a fan since childhood, when her father played the Beatles.
“These songs are just familiar to my ears, and I like them very much. Their songs are fun to listen to,” she said.
Naru had done “extensive googling” to make sure she could locate the crossing.
“Since I read that finding the road was pretty tricky, I tried to confirm everything through the Internet before I came to the UK,” she said.
Others, however, have learned the hard way that there is more than one Abbey Road in London. Some have traveled for miles only to find that they were in the wrong spot—a docklands light railway station with the same name. The East End station has been confusing tourists who are looking for the northwest suburb of St. John’s Wood more than ten miles away, where the tube station is a five minute walk from the studio. So transportation officials finally put up a helpful and entertaining sign at the station, interspersed with the names of Beatles tunes, to send fans in the right direction (and passengers will need a Ticket to Ride to do so).
Road safety still seems to be the primary issue for tourists and motorists alike, however. As I earlier mentioned, near-accidents are common, with many people calling the crossing a “nightmare”.
“Just watch the live webcam feed sometime,” said one poster. “Idiot people posing in the middle of the crosswalk and expecting a two-ton car or huge bus to stop for them? Let’s use some common sense.”
Kurt Benbenek: “The black cabs and red buses have grown used to the minor delays at the crossing. It’s impatient commuters who lay on their horns as tourists cross.”
Domas Mituzas: “In some places those who constantly walk back and forth to cause disruption in traffic would be arrested for hooliganism, or beaten up by anxious drivers.”
There has been talk of removing or relocating the crossing, but in December 2010 it was awarded a special status for its “cultural and historic importance”, and the Abbey Road studios themselves were given similar status earlier in the year.
So it looks like the crossing is here to stay, much to the dismay of impatient motorists, and even some people who just can’t understand why anyone would want to take their picture in that spot at all. I came across a blogger named “Mrs. Tsk” who hates the word “iconic” and who says that imitating the Abbey Road album means we “know how to recreate but not how to create”, and claims that we are now “miserable, dismal epigones” unable to be here and be now. Or something like that.
Another poster asserts that those who try to recreate the album are “uninteresting.”
“Why do it when it’s so obvious that hundreds of people a day are doing it? Like the ‘holding up the tower of Pisa’ photo, it has to be obvious that there is nothing unique or clever about your photo, and therefore nothing interesting—except perhaps as evidence of how stunningly uninteresting you are,” they wrote.
Well harrumph! Actually I understand what both of these people are saying, but I prefer to look at it another way, in that what makes each and every picture interesting is the people that are in it! Every person or group contributes their own specialness to make their photograph and/or video unique. People pose in all kinds of outfits and costumes, from bridal gowns to police uniforms to dress-up clothes or sloppy jeans. They may be retracing the steps of the Fab Four, but with every step, pose, outfit and click of the camera, they are creating something new, and in the here and now. That alone is what makes it worth it. I’ve never been to England but if I had the chance, I’d try to recreate this picture myself, dodging double-decker buses and all.
But for now I’ll just watch the webcam. It’s so entertaining! I would watch it all day if I had the time. London is about six hours ahead so I have to catch it early enough in the morning to see fans in the daylight there. But it seems no matter what time you tune in, there is always a car, bus, cyclist and the occasional pedestrian—even at 3:00 in the morning their time. There is also an archive section where you can look at photos from their “wall of fame” and submit your own.
On the webcam, especially at odd hours such as in the evening when not many people are around, it looks like just an ordinary pedestrian crossing on an ordinary street. Yet it means so much to so many people. And I can see why. Everyone who crosses has a smile on their face. Even the ones “loitering” look excited to be there. Those reading the wall of graffiti look quietly respectful and reflective, taking pictures to remember their visit and the words written there. I see no sullen faces, just people happily doing something fun for them. Sometimes tourists even wave up at the camera, and it’s all I can do not to wave back! How can anyone be sad with this going on?
Henryxmusic commented on one video: “It’s fun to see all the smiles. That’s exactly the way I felt when I crossed.”
And upon watching “Crossing at Abbey Road” I think YouTube viewer Karen P. put it best: “After viewing this beautiful video, I believe this may be the happiest place on Earth!”
Please be sure to watch the videos I have linked in this article—they will give you a great appreciation for what the crossing is like. And here are a few more selections; I’m amazed at how good some of these productions are! We have some talented YouTubers out there! If you have stumbled across this blog and have a video and/or photo you’d like to share, please post a comment!
More Abbey Road Videos:
Abbey Road, the Actual Crossing (short, cute video with A Hard Days Night music)
The Beatles: Rock Band Abbey Road Commercial (promoting video game)
Beatles Abbey Road 40th Anniversary (hundreds of Beatles fans at the crossing in 2009)
Abbey Road (scary Yoko)
Blame Ringo: Garble Arch (A Day in the Life of Abbey Road) (Really cute video, fast motion when people aren’t crossing, regular motion when they are)
Abbey Road—Classic Picture (“Look, Beatles!”)
Mike’s Webisodes: Abbey Road (Interviewing tourists)
Abbey Road Fail (“You big twit!”)
Beatles London Abbey Road Crossing (documentary with Richard Jones)
The Beatles—Abbey Road, London (cute scenes taken on the street)
Abbey Road—The End (very well done video by “grabrone” with good music and lots of cool pictures)