What the New Sgt Pepper Cover Tells Us About Modern Britain

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the Independent/UK

What the New Sgt Pepper Cover Tells Us About Modern Britain

Where once stood Marilyn, now stands Delia, in a Norwich City scarf. HG Wells has been ousted by JK Rowling, Marlene Dietrich bumped by Kate Moss. As for John, George and Ringo – they're nowhere to be seen.

This week Sir Peter Blake unveiled a new version of his Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Created to mark the artist's 80th birthday, it features a jostling crowd of today's great and good, sprinkled with Sixties nostalgia: Amy Winehouse and Mick Jagger, Alexander McQueen and Mary Quant, Danny Boyle and Alfred Hitchcock, Jonathan Ive and Terence Conran. There are artists, too – Freud, Hockney, Emin and Hirst, to name but four. It's a babyboomer's dream dinner party, in cut-and-paste.

Blake's 1967 original is glorious - a bonkers, psychedelic snapshot of the zeitgeist. Shimmering Diana Dors, Karl Marx poking out from behind Oliver Hardy's pork pie hat and, center stage, the Fab Four themselves, resplendent in rainbow satin.

The 2012 collage is an altogether tamer affair – more old rockers and national treasures than bombshells and mystics. There are 14 sirs, three dames and two lords in the club band now and no sniff of a rumor of Jesus, Hitler or even Gandhi lurking behind the palm tree. The latest version is resolutely apolitical and areligious: it says it all, perhaps, that Paul McCartney is the only Beatle allowed back for a second appearance.

There are more women this time (22 to the original's six) but ethnic minorities have just three representatives - Michael Chow, Anish Kapoor and Shirley Bassey - in the 79-strong crowd.

So what to glean from this homogenous crew of over-achievers? "I've chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends. I had a very long list of people who I wanted to go in but couldn't fit everyone in", says Blake. "That shows how strong British culture is."

It's a lovely birthday card for the granddaddy of pop art but a portrait of a generation? I'm not sure. Where are the politicians or the comedians, the journalists or the campaigners?

There is, really, just one timeless truth that emerges. Blake gives six, no less, chefs/restaurateurs - Rick Stein, Delia Smith, Mr Chow, Mark Hix, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King - their place in art history. Which just goes to show, famous faces may come and go but a true artist always knows the value of a slap-up meal.

Alice Jones

Alice Jones is Deputy Arts Editor of The Independent.

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