Saturday, 15 July 2017

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

It was likely one of the most highly-anticipated TV shows of 1965—and it was not on the prime time schedule. It was on Saturday mornings.

It starred the Beatles.

Or, rather, animated versions of them.

The Fab Four had just released A Hard Day’s Night and ABC made a deal with Al Brodax’s King Features to air at least 26 half-hours “keyed to the non-sequitur humor” in the feature film, and including four songs per show (Variety, May 26, 1965).

Obviously, any deal involving the world’s biggest rock band would be for major coin, so it would seem logical that ABC would have wanted to take advantage of it in prime time, especially considering Saturday mornings had been a dumping group for old cartoons up to that point. But if the idea had been considered, ABC would have no doubt looked at the failure of Jonny Quest in prime time and how The Flintstones was saved only because it was moved to a different time slot. Animation in prime time was out (Fred, Barney, et al lasted only one more season).

Back Stage, a English-based trade publication, of June 25, 1965 revealed the first voice recording sessions had taken place in London a few weeks earlier and Brodax was in the city supervising the second recording. Animation had begun at London-based TV Cartoons, Ltd., under studio head George Dunning. Some of the cartoons were also made in Canada; ten full-time artists worked out of the Canawest studio on Burrard Street in Vancouver (Boxoffice, Sept. 27, 1965); condos now stand on the property. The series debuted on September 25, 1965 at 10:30 a.m. with the first two episodes being A Hard Day’s Night and I Want to Hold Your Hand. The show immediately garnered a 7 rating and a 51.9 per cent share opposite Linus the Lionhearted on CBS and Underdog or other shows on NBC stations; in New York City, the Beatles ran on two different stations at two different times.

John, Paul, George and Ringo didn’t play themselves. Joey Sasso’s column in the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal of July 24, 1965 filled in potential viewers, and gave a unique explanation:
BACKSTAGE ON TV When you hear the Beatles speak on their new cartoon show on ABC-TV next fall, it will be two other fellows. As explained by Al Brodax, director of TV for King Features Syndicate producer of the show, the Beatles' Liverpudlian accents are too difficult for U. S. audiences to catch in a cartoon. And even if they were readily understandable, they don't have enough "separation" between one and the other. In a cartoon, explained Brodax, each of the principal voices must be unmistakably different from the other. Brodax announced he's signed Lance Pervical, English TV personality, to do the voices of John and George. The voices of Paul and Ringo and many bit parts will be played by Paul Frees, an American voice specialist. But when you hear the Beatles sing on their cartoon show (four numbers per stanza) that's really them. The show debuts Sept. 25.
And another newspaper publicity blurb revealed:
The shrieking of the Beatles fans that viewers will hear in many of the "Beatles" cartoons is authentic. The producer, Al Brodax, recorded the shrieks with portable equipment while attending the Beatles' concert in New York City's Shea Stadium this past August. (Rochester Democrat, Oct. 3, 1965).
Here’s an item from—could it be coincidence?—King Features Syndicate published in papers on November 5, 1965.
Beatles Cartoon Hits The Top

NEW YORK — The most successful new show of the season, according to the ratings, is a cartoon series called "The Beatles" seen every Saturday morning on ABC. It boasts a better than 30 per cent share of sets in use (over 33 per cent is excellent), and its over-all rating at 13 tops any other daytime show except for the World Series.
All the Beatles had to do to start this phenomenal show in motion was agree to accept a big bundle of money, allow their records to be used on the sound track, and then let the pros take it from there. And they call that "A Hard Day's Night?"
Produced and distributed by King Features, the program is the brain-child of executive producer Al Brodax who readily admits he wasn't the only one out to sign the Beatles as a TV cartoon feature. But his proposed formula was the most practical and apparently appealed to Beatles mentor Brian Epstein, so he received the nod.
"I knew it would be a hit," explained Al, "but I think it has gone way past my estimates. Of course we're working very hard trying to meet the deadlines, but now that we're rolling I think the next series will be a lot easier."
Produced In England
"The Beatles" is primarily done in an English studio so Brodax is virtually a London-New York commuter. The voices are provided by British Lance Percival and American Paul Frees who record their contribution in England.
The cartoons, which run about five minutes each, are all based to Beatle recordings which are used for background. The pace of the episodes and even the style of presentation are quite similar to the highly successful Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night." Brodax does not deny the similarity and he's quite pleased when a viewer notices it.
Flushed with success, Mr. Brodax has now embarked on a campaign of signing teen-age musical stars for future shows. He now has Herman's Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers ready to go, one in animation and the other live.
"I watch those top 40 record lists like a vulture," he laughed. "If we can get them inked before they hit the top we'll save a lot of money. The fact that 'Shindig' and similar shows are fading in the ratings this year actually encourages me. The major difference between our presentation and that of a 'Shindig' or a 'Hullabaloo' is the incorporation of a solid storyline. In effect, we do a musical comedy — a weekly 'Fantasia,' so to speak, starring the Marx Brothers. We know from record sales and our own show's ratings that the youngsters still want to hear the music so we can only assume they want a new style of presentation and we think we've got it."
The Beatles series had a huge impact, CBS began talking in November about revamping its entire Saturday morning line-up because of it. Brodax announced four feature cartoons for television. But they were not to be. Instead, he turned his attention to the feature film cartoon Yellow Submarine. No Herman’s Hermits or Freddie and the Dreamers, either.

The Beatles’ music and fashion sense was changing. The simple chords of “Love Me Do” were passé; psychedelia was in. The cartoon series carried on for three seasons, with fewer made each year, before moving to Sunday morning rerun-land. And new shows were coming along that kids wanted to watch. The ones who wanted a music fix could switch the dial to CBS and see “The Archies,” though Ron Dante and his session musicians are no Fab Four.

Let’s be honest. The cartoons aren’t good. The direction is slow and the voice tracks are almost amateurish, despite the presence of Paul Frees, of all people. The best thing about them (aside from the music) may be the clever caricatured Beatles designs that could still seen here and there when the actual cartoons weren’t anywhere to be found for years. But despite their faults, they’re still an interesting little time capsule of how animation mixed with the most successful band of the mid-‘60s and one of the greatest of all time.


  1. Upon retrospect, I'd have to say that had Brodax gone ahead with his plans for Herman's Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers, he would've lost his shirt. The Dreamers ceased having hits in America earlier in 1965, although a tv show may have revived their career, like Where the Action Is did with Paul Revere and the Raiders.
    Herman's Hermits, on the other hand, did okay until the end of 1966 but sales became harder and harder to come by in 1967 and were done by 1968.

    1. The Hermits were helped a bit by a couple of movies: "Hold On," which was their answer to "A Hard Day's Night," and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," not as successful a film, about the band coming into possession of a dog named Mrs. Brown.

  2. Didn't Percival play Paul and RIngo, and Frees as George and John? Joey Sasso has it the other way around.
    The Beatles passed on voicing themselves in "Yellow Submarine" (scripted by Jack Mendelsohn, who wrote several of the TV episodes) because they thought it would be as bad as the TV cartoon. But they were surprised at how well it turned out, and filmed the live-action bit tacked on to the end.

  3. Did the band sing the theme song or did fress or did they just use a recording of Help?

  4. You left out a couple of salient details. First is John Lennon's opinion; when he saw the cartoon, he groused that his group looked like "the bloody Flintstones." And the reason the cartoon is no longer available for viewing is that it was quietly bought up by Apple Corps, the Beatles' company, who probably does not want this lesser version of the Fabs to be seen anymore.

  5. I was a big fan, still am, of the Beatles and cartoons so this was about as good as it could get for an eleven year old Beatles fan! The Beatles had fond feelings for those old cartoons as time went on. I mean, John said the most awful things about his own songs depending what mood he might be in. I don't
    believe anyone liked George and John's voices as presented on the cartoons then or now to be honest! The songs were from The Beatles recordings as rights permitted. Peter Sander did a fab job drawing the boys and his work holds up to this day! The entire series is available on ebay and can be watched on Youtube so they are not being hidden by anyone very well.

  6. You can read all about the making of the show in my book "Beatletoons - The Real Story Behind The Cartoon Beatles."

  7. Yep, this nine year old was there every Saturday. Never missed an episode. When Al Brodax passed last year, The Beatles cartoon was the first thing I thought about.