1965 – The Beatles’ Saturday-morning cartoon series premieres on ABC. It’s canceled in 1969.
The series premiered on ABC on Saturday, September 25, 1965 at 10:30 am. Each show was a half-hour long and consisted of two “adventures” and two sing-a-long songs. Lyrics were flashed on the screen so that viewers could join in. The show was an instant success.
The show was produced by King Features Productions. The voices of the Beatles cartoon characters were supplied by voice actors Lance Percival (Paul and Ringo), and Paul Frees (John and George). Animation was done overseas at TVC of London and Astransa, an Australian company. TVC is also the company that produced the animated movie “Yellow Submarine”. The scripts were relatively easy to develop, as the episodes were based on popular Beatles songs.
The cartoons remained on ABC for three more years, with the final two seasons being reruns of previous episodes. After receiving previously unheard of daytime television ratings in its first season, its second season, however, lost ratings to CBS’s Saturday morning line-up. Apparently The Beatles couldn’t compete with the likes of “Space Ghost”, “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles”, “Mighty Mouse” and “Mighty Heroes”.
In the fall of 1968 the series was moved to Sunday mornings, where it remained until its final broadcast on September 7, 1969.
There were a total of 39 episodes made. They have been rebroadcast in the past by MTV.
A Word With Richard Jones
I was fortunate enough to get into contact with Richard Jones, and artist from the ARTRANSA studio in Sydney. Richard detailed what he knew about the tunes, a few stories behind the scenes, and what ended up happening to ARTRANSA. Here are his answers to some fairly broad questions:
1. Where did the cartoons originate?
I was never sure. Some attributed the idea to the Beatles themselves, though I suspect that they probably originated in the bowels of King Features during one of their “How do we make more bucks?” meetings.
2. How did I become involved?
At the time I was 18 years old and living in a small country town called Quirindi in northern New South Wales. The only thing I wanted to do was to animate.
I had been pestering ARTRANSA PARK TELEVISION in Sydney about a job for 2 years. Sending letters, gags, drawings, cells made out of plastic shirt box topes, finally I wore them down and they agreed to give me a job for their next television series.
I received a telegram from Graham Sharpe, “Starting Beatles series – need you Sydney next week”.
When I arrived in Sydney, Artransa was putting the finishing touches to the Beetle Baily and Krazy Kat cartoons. I remember it was several months before we started on the Beatles. I punched a hell of a lot of paper cell in that time!
3. Who proposed the idea?
No idea. (Actually it was Al Brodax.)
4. Sources for modelling Beatles characters.
We watched interviews with the Beatles. We had discussion meetings with Abe Goodman as to what he required from us. We watched the film A Hard Days Night. We drew and discussed mannerisms and movement from model sheets supplied from the states. We discussed guitar types and Ringo’s rings. We also did some pencil tests.
5. Procedures for making the cartoons.
As I remember, we worked two animators on a title with an inbetweening. Cel paints were imported from the US, as they were unobtainable here and there had to be colour continuity.
We received storyboards, voice and music tracks from the US.
I do not remember if the tracks were read, direction timed and charted here.
The layout backgrounds commenced
Trace and paint in one area, about a dozen girls headed by Zora Janjic.
Oxberry 35mm animation camera, one main operator.
Rushes and reshoots.
Editing, added canned music and FX.
6. The cartoons were made at ARTRANSA PARK TELEVISION, French’s Forest. I believe there was some subcontracting to Ron Campbell and Zoran Janjic.
7. The scripts were written and storyboarded in the States by King Features, or associates, subject to Beatle representative approval. I have no proof of this; it is what I was told.
8. We did not have any say in the scripts, they were taken as read by the time we had received them. Sometimes we were allowed to draw incidental characters.
I remember one episode where an animator had drawn a bosomy flying bat lady. There was some discussion about the shape of the offending creature and androgyny was decided on. My friend had to take to his scenes with an eraser. He was not amused.
9. Do I have any favourite episodes?
I don’t remember half the episodes. I guess A HARD DAYS NIGHT. It was my first animation. The song is one that was popular at the time and easily identified with the Beatles.
10. Was there to be four one-hour Beatles specials?
There were always rumours around the studio and I seem to remember one about specials. Abe Goodman was the consummate businessman and everyone’s uncle, he would always tell us about the great year we would have next year. ARTRANSA lived a hand to mouth existence; it needed US specials to survive. There was dissent among animators in America because work came to Australia, this maybe one of the reasons much of the work we were promised did not eventuate.
11. Why didn’t the cartoons last longer?
The cartoons were for the time, I do not think they had any lasting value, apart from collectors like yourself (Darren English). The stories, design and animation were adequate, but crude. As animators, we were all pretty green. I believe as with most animation, it was a case of ‘make a buck while you can’. It was fun while it lasted.
Richards full interview will be published in the upcoming Beatle cartoons book.
BEATLES MONTHLY STORY ON CARTOONS
The Beatles Monthly magazine recently featured a new item on the Beatles cartoons stating that Apple now owns the rights to the series. Apple is looking at releasing a video compilation of the cartoons. The date of this release is unclear.
MOJO STORY ON BEATLES CARTOONS
The October 1996 edition of Mojo magazine included a 40 page Beatles special. Included was an interview with Neil Aspinal, the complete words to Revolution #9, an interview with Ron Nasty (from the Rutles), and an interview with Paul McCartney.
Most importantly, for me anyway, was an article the magazine did on the Beatles Cartoons.
Mojo states that Apple now owns the Copyrights for the series. Fans can only hope that Apple would buy the series so that they could release it in some format.
Tragically someone at Kings features sanctioned the incineration of many of the scripts from the series a few years ago.
Featured within the article are character templates of the Beatles. My scanner is down and out, so if someone can scan this for me, that would be cool!