This post was originally an article for my 60s fanzine that existed in the mid-nineties. There has been some mild editing for corrections and to remove outdated information.
By 1965 The Beatles were a worldwide phenomenon with record-breaking sales, sell-out concerts and various bits of merchandising coming out of their ears – was there anything else to do to appease the growing demand for all things fab four? Of course there was – immortalise them in animation!
In September 1965 US television station ABC-TV saw the debut of the Beatles cartoon series. The show was produced by Al Brodax who would go on to make the far more superior cinematic Beatles animated feature Yellow Submarine.
The Beatles cartoons seem very twee by modern standards and it’s hard to imagine them even being commissioned. Perhaps the most notable thing is the voices. The Beatles had neither the time nor inclination to voice the shows themselves so UK actor Lance Percival and US voice artist Paul Frees were brought in to provide the voices. Fearing that the US audience wouldn’t understand if authentic scouse accents were used, they Americanised them with what can only be described, from a UK point of view, as hilarious results. In fact, this contributed to the series not being shown in the UK till many years later!
The shows themselves were (at the time) inoffensive fun. There were 39 shows spanning three series, each featuring two adventures loosely based around a song lyric. With 78 stories to come up with most of the plots were understandably far from earth-shattering. The two tales were bridged each week by the sing-a-long section where John, Paul or George with the help of Ringo standing in for the constantly absent propman would introduce a couple of Beatles songs for the audience to join in with. The songs would be accompanied by a simple animation and the words on the screen – though occasionally the lyrics that appeared weren’t quite correct and the songs were often edited too.
The cartoon extended beyond the “moptop” era and the change in style and music of the band didn’t really fit in with the cartoon imagery. Also, the influx of superhero cartoons influenced by the success of Batman and its cartoon-like qualities saw the eventual demise of the more innocent, non-super-powered Beatles animations.
The rights to the cartoons recently reverted to Apple Corps and we presume they will sit on these gems for some time despite being quite happy to merchandise the cartoon likenesses of the fabs on t-shirts and as action figures.