John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, names that will live forever in the annals of music as The Beatles, conquered virtually every arena save for one, as ABC saw it: Saturday morning. Al Brodax, head of King Features' animation division (subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation) who had done made-for-TV cartoons of Popeye, Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat, (the latter three known in syndication circles as the King Features Trilogy) was awarded the task of creating a Saturday morning cartoon series of the Beatles. Toymaker A.C. Gilmer bankrolled the first season, and the concept art was prepared by Peter Sander at TVC-London, the animation studio that would make Yellow Submarine in 1968. As time was short, animation was farmed out to TVC-London (all three seasons episodes and season 3 opening), Artransa Studios in Sydney, Australia (season 1 episodes), Canawest Studios in Vancouver, Canada, (season 1 episodes) and Los Dibujos Animados Studios in Mexico City (bumpers, singalong host segments, season 1 and 2 openings). TVC-London would parcel out animation to Cine-Centrum studios in Holland for a few episodes in season 1 and some to Group Two Animation in London in seasons 2 and 3. Artransa would parcel out animation for some season 1 episodes to Graphik Studios in Sydney.
In spite of artistic liabilities, due in part to tight deadlines and meager budgets, The Beatles cartoons--powered in largest part by the group's music--were a smash hit, making it Saturday morning's top show and even garnering better ratings than ABC's daytime Monday-through-Friday shows. Each half-hour consisted of two cartoons, each one's title that of the title of a Beatles song, and each cartoon's premise co-related to the title in some fashion. In between were the Sing-Alongs, in which (in turn by week) George, Paul and John entreated us to sing along with two Beatles songs with the words flashed on the screen. Ringo would appear in the Sing-Along host segments to generally make a mess of things as he dressed the stage to compliment the song. The show had bumpers (short bridges from commercial to feature) that had a storyline. Season 2 and 3's bumpers were self-contained comedy sketches. The show's scripts were by Jack Mendelsohn, Dennis Marks and Woody Kling. The show was such a smash hit that Al Brodax considered doing cartoons of the pop groups Herman's Hermits and Gerry & The Pacemakers. Hanna-Barbera had plans for a cartoon of the Beach Boys. Needless to say, none of the projects bore fruit (although Herman's Hermits was referenced in the cartoon "Nowhere Man").
Up to around 1980, the Beatles cartoons had never been screened in England. The reason is that voices Paul Frees and Lance Percival were to make the boys' voices more understandable to American audiences, and Beatles' manager Brian Epstein took umbrage. As a result, he ordered the cartoons to never be screened in England. That edict had since been lifted as ITV aired the show in some of its regions around Great Britain.
The show was canceled in April of 1969 as it aired Sunday mornings by that time, and the Beatles' music and demeanor had changed. It went into syndication in selected markets that fall (John even admitted to watching them in the 1970s as he was a stay-at-home dad to son Sean), and then MTV and Disney Channel would run them in the late 1980s. Because of the climate of TV at the time, the first season opening of the show was omitted due to the scene of Ringo impersonating a Chinaman, and a number of episodes were omitted due to ethnic stereotypes (Japanese, Mexican, Arabic). The series has not been shown anywhere since, but bootleg DVDs of the cartoons have turned up online and at comic book conventions. The show was first syndicated by Firestone Television, then was later distributed by Gold Key Entertainment. The cartoons are now owned by Apple, the Beatles' corporate entity, having acquired them from the Hearst Corporation (King Features division). There was talk as early as 2004 of putting the series on DVD but it has not been pursued since.
|Paul Frees||John Lennon||*||*||*|
|Lance Percival||Paul McCartney||*||*||*|
|John Lennon||Himself (singing)||*||*||*|
|Paul McCartney||Himself (singing)||*||*||*|
|George Harrison||Himself (singing)||*||*||*|
|Ringo Starr||Himself (singing)||*||*||*|
|Carol Corbett||various female characters||*||*||*|
|Season One||September 25, 1965||March 19, 1966||26|
|Season Two||September 10, 1966||October 22, 1966||7|
|Season Three||September 16, 1967||October 21, 1967||6|
At a Glance: Additional information about the series
There are no DVD releases for this show.