Press Release: 5th April 2011

Never Seen Before UK Visit Images of Yuri Gagarin, The First Man in Space

But Who Commissioned Them?

Photo: Yuri Gagarin at Heathrow, RIA NOVOSTI/SPLPhoto: Yuri Gagarin driving through London, RIA NOVOSTI/SPLPhoto: Yuri Gagarin with police escort, RIA NOVOSTI/SPL

Left: Yuri Gagarin at Heathrow, RIA NOVOSTI/SPL
Centre: Yuri Gagarin driving through London, RIA NOVOSTI/SPL
Right: Yuri Gagarin with police escort, RIA NOVOSTI/SPL

Science Photo Library, the world's leading provider of scientific and specialist imagery and RIA Novosti, Russia's leading news agency, have a number of rare, some of them unseen, images of Yuri Gagarin visiting the United Kingdom in July 1961, three months after his historic trip into space. Being the first man in space, he became a worldwide celebrity overnight and his trip, something akin to a state visit.

Science Photo Library and RIA Novosti are attempting to trace the person who owns the rights to these images! Were you the man who was asked to lend his open-top Rolls Royce to take Yuri Gagarin around London in July 1961? Or maybe you think it was your father or grandfather? This man may have cunningly changed his license plates to "YG1" which obviously makes tracking him down all the more tricky! Has your father regaled you about his time with Yuri, showing you photo after photo? Or maybe you have the famous license plate in your attic?

During preparations for the photography exhibition, 'Poyekhali! Yuri Gagarin & The Dawn of Space Exploration', opening at the Royal Albert Hall on 9 June 2011, RIA Novosti re-discovered these fascinating images. There is Yuri leaving Heathrow Airport waved off by crowds similar to those that greeted the Beatles in New York, meeting the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, and emerging from the lift he got stuck in at Earl's Court. To see the selection, visit

Ralph Gibson, photo librarian at the London bureau of RIA Novosti said, "The prints were sent to our photo library many years ago. Apparently the photographer who was commissioned to take them felt our archive was the most suitable place for them. Since we are doing an exhibition about Yuri at the Royal Albert Hall in June and early July, I certainly thought they were worth considering. Although no final decisions have been made as to what to include in the exhibition, the story behind these particular images is intriguing. My understanding is the commission came from one of the organisers of his trip - and they are certainly close up and personal, so he must have had special access."

Gary Evans, Manager of Scientific Relations at Science Photo Library, added, "The British Government was rather wrong-footed by Gagarin's popularity. He had been invited to Manchester by a foundry workers' union - Gagarin had trained as a foundryman before becoming a pilot. Initially meant to be a low-key visit, he was however mobbed by crowds of well-wishers. What was the protocol for welcoming him, a mere Major, when Khrushchev himself had not been given a state banquet? In the end, a luncheon with the Queen was hurriedly arranged and Gagarin's visit extended to allow it. Even so, not everyone was impressed - Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was heard to remark that the crowds would have been twice as large had the Russians sent over Laika the space dog!"

Notes for Editors:

'Poyekhali! Yuri Gagarin & The Dawn of Space Exploration'
The exhibition is available to those attending performances at the Royal Albert Hall between 9th June and 4th July 2011. There are also free open days for anyone interested on 25th June, 2nd July and 3rd July. Excitingly, there will also be a talk over wine on Sunday 26th June at 6:30pm in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. 'The First Man in Space... and the Man Who Put Him There' by Piers Bizony. Piers will explore the complex relationship between Gagarin and Sergei Korolev, the brilliant but mysterious scientist behind the Soviet space programme who, until his death, was never mentioned publicly by name.

Science Photo Library
Science Photo Library is the world's leading provider of scientifically themed imagery. Independent and privately owned, SPL is renowned for the quality of its collection of over 350,000 images and 20,000 video clips created by photographers, illustrators, scientists and medical experts.

The Russian News & Information Agency RIA Novosti
RIA Novosti is Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media. Integrated multimedia newsroom, vast network covering over 45 countries of the world and the Russian regions allow RIA Novosti to deliver news and information in all possible formats, including video, animated infographics and cartoons to professional clients and the end user in 14 languages. RIA Novosti has proven expertise in creating tailored interactive news & information services for mobile operators and content providers. Day after day RIA Novosti combines media expertise with innovative technologies to effectively reach its audience of millions. Main multilingual news website: / Photo website: