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School assignment led to experience of a lifetime for Burnaby man

Roy Kerwood looks through some of the slides he shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Roy Kerwood looks through some of the slides he shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 'bed-in' for peace in a Montreal hotel room in 1969. Kerwood was a young photography student who parlayed an assignment to shoot someone at work into a week-long gig documenting the famous event that attracted celebrities of every stripe and produced the song Give Peace a Chance.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A school assignment and a bold suggestion put Roy Kerwood into John Lennon's bed.

And now, almost 45 years later, the Burnaby man is hoping to raise enough money through crowd sourcing to publish a book telling the tale.

But this won't be some lurid tell-all.

Kerwood, 64, was a young photography student at the now-defunct School of Modern Photography in Montreal when he was assigned a class project to shoot someone at their workplace. Kerwood called Roger Scott, a disc-jockey at a radio station near his home, and asked if he could hang out in the studio for a shift.

During the course of their photo session, Scott mentioned he'd be doing a live remote from a room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono, were holding a week-long "bed-in" to promote peace. It was the second such supine protest by the newlywed couple, a follow-up to their week's stunt in Amsterdam, during their honeymoon.

Kerwood, who considered himself "the most devout Beatles' fan" swallowed his usual shyness and suggested to Scott he tag along and document the remote in photographs. Scott agreed, as long as he could get clearance from Lennon's press agents.

Kerwood called his mentor, Gerry Dieter, a Montreal fashion photographer with connections in the music industry, and explained his situation. Dieter put him in touch with a contact at Capitol Records who granted the student photographer 15 minutes in Lennon's hotel room.

"That's how I opened the door," said Kerwood.

When he went in, Kerwood found the bedroom scene anything but intimate. While Lennon and Yoko Ono held court from their bed, about 100 people, including celebrities, journalists, record company executives and supporters crowded the anteroom.

"Everybody was excited," said Kerwood. "We were in the presence of one of the most well-known people on Earth."

As Scott spun records and chatted with Lennon between songs, Kerwood moved quietly about the room shooting photos, worrying more about light and composition than the company he was keeping. He quickly burned through the one roll of Tri-X black-and-white film he'd brought, and had to borrow money from a radio producer so he could run to a drugstore and get more.

Kerwood's 15-minute deadline passed unnoticed.

"Once you were in, you were okay," said Kerwood.

During the course of that initial photo shoot, Kerwood said he and Lennon struck up a rapport.

"As soon as we were introduced, it became two people talking to each other," said Kerwood. "It was a very casual environment."

When he packed up at the end of the day, one of Lennon's assistants asked Kerwood if he could return with contacts of the photos he'd taken. He called a friend with a darkroom, bought a box of Ilford photo paper and got to work.

"I was so nervous rolling the film onto the canister," said Kerwood, who also processed the two rolls of film he'd shot.

Kerwood returned to the hotel the next morning and Lennon asked for prints of each of the frames he'd shot on the second roll of film - 36 in all. Kerwood said they'd cost $10 each and Lennon dispatched his bodyguard to get the cash from the hotel's front desk.

"It was enormous money," said Kerwood of his payday.

It was also his ticket to stick around for the bed-in's duration. He bought a box of Ektachrome slide film, borrowed a studio strobe that he attached to his Leicaflex camera with a 50-foot cable and shot about 700 photos over the course of the week.

He met Tommy Smothers and Dick Gregory, was introduced to his teenage crush Petula Clark, took Timothy Leary shoe shopping at Eaton's. He witnessed the creative origins and eventual recording on Lennon's peace anthem Give Peace a Chance.

"I knew this was something virtually nobody else had an opportunity to be a part of," said Kerwood. "Talk about winning the lottery."

When the bed-in ended, Kerwood made copies of all the photos he'd shot and offered to sell them to Apple, the Beatle's record company. A representative said they'd look at them in London and let him know.

Kerwood never heard from them.

But the experience did open some doors for him. He shot concerts for various bands and publications, he did some stringing for a wire service agency, he worked for a photo studio.

As time passed and Kerwood changed careers, endured some health challenges and moved to British Columbia, his brush with history became little more than a cool story from his past. Some of his original slides were lost in a fire at his father's house, where they were stored.

It wasn't until he reconnected recently with his original mentor that he realized there might be a new life for the 40 or so photos he still has. He wants to publish a coffee table book as his legacy.

"If I do this book, it becomes part of the permanent public record," said Kerwood, who's hoping to secure $10,000 in funding through Kickstarter so he can enlist an editor and pay for the printing of a limited run. "We'll see what happens."

To learn more about Kerwood's experience at the bed-in, as well as a link to his Kickstarter fundraising campaign, go to www.johnlennonbedin.com.

 

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