April 23, 2016


(ABC, September 25, 1965-October 21, 1967)

King Features Syndicate, Artansa/Graphik, Canawest Studios, TVC London


        The Beatles actually began as the Blackjacks--and later as the Quarrymen--formed by a teenaged John Lennon with his friends from Quarry Bank School in 1957. Paul McCartney joined a few months later, and so did his friend, George Harrison, the following year. The group toured and performed locally under several different names before finally settling on The Beatles. In 1962, Ringo Starr came on as the band’s drummer just after the group was led to their first taste of success under producer George Martin and EMI’s Parlophone label.

As The Beatles’ popularity grew in their native land, their manager, Brian Epstein, worked hard to get them exposure overseas in the United States. Initially, their label’s American subsidiary, Capitol Records, refused to issue their music and rights issues had further complicated any sort of prominent commercial release to the American market. So, Epstein went directly to radio disc jockeys while launching a $40,000 marketing campaign. By early 1964, American radio listeners had finally gotten their first samples of The Beatles and clamored for more. In February, the band came to America to make their historic live American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. The appearance netted a record viewership of 73 million people.

With “Beatlemania” in full swing and showing no signs of stopping, United Artists Records pushed for their film division to give the band a three-motion-picture deal as a way to commercialize on those films’ soundtracks. The first, A Hard Day’s Night, and the accompanying album were well-received by critics and fans alike; although the follow-up, Help!, was a bit more mixed in reception by everyone--including the band. With their dominance of music, film and late-night television, there was only one market left to tap: Saturday mornings.

"I don't think that's what they mean by being on TV, lad."

After the Ed Sullivan Show, an ABC executive approached producer Albert Bordax of King Features’ film division with the idea of producing a cartoon based on the Fab Four. Bordax then spoke to Epstein about bringing the band to animation, and with permission granted he set about enlisting the crew needed to bring a series to life. London-based TVC Studios was contracted to handle the animation along with Australia’s Artransa/Graphik company and Canawest Studios. Envisioning a merchandising goldmine, toymaker A.C. Gilmer financed the series. The series was largely inspired by A Hard Day’s Night, utilizing the styles and elements introduced in it along with the silly nature of the narrative. The band themselves, however, had nothing to do with the series beyond signing off on the use of their names and likenesses.

John, Paul and George prepare to give Ringo a haircut.

Peter Sander and Jack Stokes handled the character designs, making caricatures of the Fab Four inspired by the moptop-and-suit look they wore in the film. Lennon (Paul Frees, who recorded in America) was depicted as the group’s leader; although he rarely took his role seriously. He was shown to be sarcastic, lazy and laid-back, but would do anything for his bandmates. McCartney (Lance Percival, who recorded in London) was depicted as the most poised and stylish of the band members, although he did get excited to suggestions Lennon would make. He was also sarcastic and laid-back with a happy-go-lucky demeanor and was always willing to help someone in need. Harrison (Frees) was the most easily-influenced of the group, succumbing frequently to peer pressure and was very superstitious. Starr (Percival) was the most na├»ve and dimwitted member of the group, which often left him the butt of a joke or prank to serve as the show’s comic relief. He was also a bit of a jinx, falling victim to bouts of bad luck. But, despite it all, he maintained a calm and gentle demeanor as well as a deadpan sense of humor. Epstein was also mentioned and featured briefly, however his characterization was made to resemble Bordax. The Beatles’ voices were “Americanized” to be portrayed as how Americans perceived British accents, believing younger audiences would have trouble understanding genuine accents. 

Life's a beach when you're in a band.

The Beatles debuted on ABC on September 25, 1965, becoming the first animated series based on actual people. The show was largely made as a showcase for The Beatles’ music. Each episode contained two segments whose names were taken from the titles of The Beatles’ songs and the plot would basically illustrate the song in question. The song itself would play at some point during the story. Between each segment, Lennon and Starr would lead the audience in a singalong of two other songs; played over static images of the cartoon characters with the words displayed on the screen. A brief comedic vignette would bridge the gap between stories and commercial breaks. The opening theme was a guitar riff from “A Hard Day’s Night” segueing into “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Although uncredited, the series was written by Dennis Marks, Jack Mendelsohn, Heywood King and Bruce Howard. Each script had to be approved by Bordax and ABC before it went off to storyboard and animation. Because of the simplistic nature of the show, each episode only took four weeks to animate.

ABC's Saturday morning ad for 1967.

A ratings success, ABC quickly renewed the series for two more seasons. The theme was changed to “Help!” and “And Your Bird Can Sing”, respectively. During the show’s run, the band had moved away from the image depicted on the show and the producers acknowledged this by including photographs of their current appearances during the opening sequence. Bordax considered using the success of the series to produce a few prime-time animated specials, as well as approaching other bands for a similar treatment. None of those plans came to fruition, however Bordax would go on to produce the animated film Yellow Submarine, in which Percival had a role.

"This Saturday morning stuff is hard."

Unfortunately, the show couldn’t maintain its initial fire. CBS began to focus more on superheroes after the success of ABC’s own primetime Batman series, and their airing of Space Ghost opposite The Beatles clobbered it in the ratings. For the third season, ABC attempted to salvage the show by having the episodes become more surreal to appeal to an adult audience and by moving it later in the morning. The later timeslot put it up against NBC’s Top Cat and CBS’ The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, further diminishing the ratings. The show was ultimately cancelled, although ABC did continue to air it for two additional seasons of reruns on Sunday morning before removing it from the schedule in the fall of 1969.

Hitting the road.

While audiences initially loved the series, the band themselves hated it at first. So much so, that when the same crew put together Yellow Submarine in 1968, The Beatles wanted nothing to do with it. It wasn’t until they saw and were impressed by the footage for the film that they agreed to appear in a short live-action epilogue for it.  Over time, the band came to appreciate the show more. It wouldn’t be until 1980 that The Beatles would be first broadcast in their native England, since Epstein became horrified at the Americanization of the characters and kept it from being aired over fear at how it would go over. New generations were introduced to The Beatles when it began airing on MTV and the Disney Channel in the late 80s.

The Beatles on DVD.

1966 saw the release of a Colorforms playset using the designs from the show, followed by resin figurines in 1978. For the 40th anniversary of their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a new wave of Beatles merchandise hit the market; including items based around the cartoon. A limited edition resin bank was released in Japan in 2003. McFarlane Toys released The Beatles as individual figures and as a set while a tin lunchbox in the shape of a TV saw production. In 2008, a set of Kubrick figurines based on the cartoons was released in Japan. Other merchandise included a set of mugs, a lamp shade, an alarm clock and a Christmas ornament. Beginning in 2011, ACME-TV released the cartoon across seven DVD volumes, collecting them all into a complete series release. The first season was also released as a complete collection, with the complete series receiving an additional release.

The band may end, but the music lives on.

By the 1970s, the band had begun feuding with each other frequently; clashing over ideas and personalities alike. Each had released a solo album with some involvement of one or more of the other Beatles and had begun to pursue their own solo careers. However, the music of The Beatles continued to sell and receive radio airplay in the decades that followed; inspiring musicians who would go on to make their own recordings of their favorite songs or form tribute bands to pay homage and keep the legacy alive. 

EPISODE GUIDE (* denotes songs not featured in Sing Alongs, ^ denotes songs not used in episodes):
Season 1:
A Hard Day’s Night / I Want to Hold Your Hand” (9/25/65) – The band rehearses in a haunted house in Transylvania. / The band ends up in the ocean with a lovesick octopus.
Sing Alongs: “Not A Second Time” & “Devil in Her Heart”

Do You Want to Know a Secret / If I Fell” (10/2/65) – The band meets a leprechaun in Ireland. / John is kidnapped by mad scientists to put his brain in their monster.
Sing Alongs: “A Hard Day’s Night” & “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

Please Mr. Postman / Devil in her Heart” (10/9/65) – Ringo blows the band’s money on 15 rings that he ends up losing. / A Transylvanian witch wants Ringo for her husband.
Sing Alongs: “If I Fell” & “Do You Want to Know a Secret”

Not a Second Time / Slow Down” (10/16/65) – The band attempts to escape their fans in Africa. / The band encounters a gold-sniffing donkey on their way to Ringo Ravene.
Sing Alongs: “Baby’s In Black” & “Misery”

Baby’s in Back / Misery” (10/23/65) – Paul is kidnapped by a mad scientist to marry his creation. / A vampire follows the band in a wax museum.
Sing Alongs: “I’ll Get You” & “Chains”

You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me / Chains” (10/30/65) – An African medicine man turns a worm into a snake that develops a crush on Ringo. / Ringo is knocked out and dreams he’s Captain Bligh.
Sing Alongs: “Slow Down” & “Honey Don’t”

I’ll Get You / Honey Don’t” (11/6/65) – The band hunts for a lion with Alan Watermain in Africa. / Ringo is mistaken for a bull rider and is sent to ride the toughest bull.
Sing Alongs: “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” & “Any Time at All”

Any Time At All / Twist and Shout” (11/13/65) – The band imagines they are the Four Muskateers in France. / The band attends an art show where they inspire a female artist.
Sing Alongs: “I’ll Be Back” & “Little Child”

Little Child / I’ll Be Back” (11/20/65) – A Native American proves she’s as good as the boys by trapping the band. / Three men steal the new guitar Ringo is given.
Sing Alongs: “Long Tall Sally” & “Twist and Shout”

Long Tall Sally / I’ll Cry Instead” (11/27/65) – John and Ringo try on cursed suits of armor and end up fighting each other. / George’s hand swells from signing too many autographs.
Sing Alongs: “I’ll Follow the Sun” & “When I Get Home”

I’ll Follow the Sun / When I Get Home” (12/4/65) – The band is captured by a highwayman after their car breaks down. / The band meets Quasimodo in Notre Dame.
Sing Alongs: “I’ll Cry Instead” & “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby / I Should Have Known Better” (12/11/65) – The band is mistaken for the Japanese ancestors of four girls. / The band looks for rehearsal space in Rome.
Sing Alongs: “I’m A Loser” & “I Wanna Be Your Man”

I’m A Loser / I Wanna Be Your Man” (12/18/65) – Ringo is injured as a Hollywood stuntman. / The band buys a statue made from stolen gold coins in Rome.
Sing Alongs: “No Reply” & “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You”

Don’t Bother Me / No Reply” (12/25/65) – Two spies want to steal the band’s songbook. / A jewel thief disguises himself as Paul.
Sing Alongs: “It Won’t Be Long” & “I Should Have Known Better”

I’m Happy Just to Dance With You / Mr. Moonlight” (1/1/66) – Paul wins a dancing bear named Bonnie. / The band meets Prof. Ludwig Von Brilliant who wants to view an eclipse.
Sing Alongs: “Don’t Bother Me” & “Can’t Buy Me Love”

Can’t Buy Me Love / It Won’t Be Long” (1/8/66) – A friendship ring betroths John to a Polynesian tribal chief’s daughter. / John swims in a pool full of shrinking potion.
Sing Alongs: “Anna” & “Mr. Moonlight”

Anna / I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (1/15/66) – The band races to rescue Paul from a ghost ship. / The others sneak away from John to enjoy a beatnik party instead of a museum.
Sing Alongs: “Matchbox” & “Thank You Girl”

Matchbox / Thank You Girl” (1/22/66) – A volcano erupts during the band’s Hawaiian stay. / The band sneaks away from their manager to eat at a French bakery by enrolling in a cooking course.
Sing Alongs: “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” & “Help!”

From Me to You / Boys*” (1/29/66) – A surfer challenges George to a surfing duel. / The band participates in a Mr. Hollywood contest.
Sing Alongs: “Please Mr. Postman” & “I Saw Her Standing There”

Dizzy Miss Lizzy / I Saw Her Standing There” (2/5/66) – John and Paul sign George up for an ice boat race. / A girl becomes attracted to John and her boyfriend challenges him to a duel.
Sing Alongs: “Ticket to Ride” & “From Me to You”

What You’re Doing / Money*” (2/12/66) – George plays a woman to save Ringo from an engagement. / Someone is after the band’s money that Ringo is carrying.
Sing Alongs: “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” & “All My Loving”

Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand* / She Loves You” (2/19/66) – The band has to climb a mountain to plant their flag. / The band mistakenly believes a woman needs rescuing, setting her boyfriend after them.
Sing Alongs: “Bad Boy” & “Tell Me Why”

Bad Boy / Tell Me Why” (2/26/66) – A Bavarian boy wants to run away and join the band. / Ringo is the jockey of a donkey that runs fast to loud music.
Sing Alongs: “Please Please Me” & “Hold Me Tight”

I Feel Fine / Hold Me Tight” (3/5/66) – Dick Dashing wants to prove to Paul that Hollywood isn’t fake. / George and Paul think they spot a man with a bomb at the Statue of Liberty.
Sing Alongs: “What You’re Doing” & “There’s A Place”

Please Please Me / There’s A Place” (3/12/66) – The band helps out with a bullfight after the bull is knocked out. / John allows a trained ape to escape and explore the world.
Sing Alongs: “Roll Over Beethoven” & “Rock and Roll Music”

Roll Over Beethoven / Rock and Roll Music” (3/19/66) – Paul gets grabbed by an elephant named Beethoven. / The band is mistaken for a string quartet when they go to play the Duke’s palace.
Sing Alongs: “I Feel Fine” & “She Loves You”

Season 2:
Eight Days a Week / I’m Looking Through You” (9/10/66) – Paul takes the place of an actor who can no longer kiss. / An Egyptian ghost wants Ringo’s body.
Sing Alongs: “Run for Your Life” & “Girl^”

Help! / We Can Work It Out” (9/17/66) – Paul attempts to retrieve stolen fashion designs in Paris. / A wizard tries to give the band bad luck in order to steal their money.
Sing Alongs: The Night Before^” & “Day Tripper”

I’m Down* / Run For Your Life” (9/24/66) – The band must fix a vat of wine Ringo destroys to save the winery. / Ringo is knocked out and dreams about the days of Marie Antioniette.
Sing Alongs: “Eight Days a Week” & “Paperback Writer”

Drive My Car* / Tell Me What You See*” (10/1/66) – The band helps a young couple get their car into race. / The band fools with a makeup machine and become different characters.
Sing Alongs: Yesterday^” & “We Can Work it Out”

I Call Your Name* / The Word*” (10/8/66) – A movie producer offers a filming deal to Ringo and his frog after Ringo set him free. / The band is punished for looking at girls’ unveiled faces.
Sing Alongs: She’s a Woman^” & “Wait”

All My Loving / Day Tripper” (10/15/66) – The band uses music to charm a tiger. / The band is abducted by a beautiful alien woman.
Sing Alongs: “I’m Looking Through You” & “Nowhere Man”

Nowhere Man / Paperback Writer” (10/22/66) – The band encounters a hermit in a cave who wants to be left alone. / The band writes fictional accounts of how they all met.
Sing Alongs: And I Love Her^” & “Michelle^”

Season 3:
Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields” (9/16/67) – The band tries to foil a robbery to become more famous than detective James Blonde. / The band plays for an orphanage.
Sing Alongs: “Good Day Sunshine” & “Rain^”

And Your Bird Can Sing / Got to Get You Into My Life” (9/23/67) – The band joins hunters in searching for a rare bird. / The band learns how to leave their bodies only to have their bodies wander by themselves.
Sing Alongs: “Penny Lane” & “Eleanor Rigby”

Good Day Sunshine / Ticket to Ride” (9/30/67) – Ringo believes he’s a jinx. / The band demonstrates their hobbies.
Sing Alongs: “Strawberry Fields” & “And Your Bird Can Sing”

Taxman* / Eleanor Rigby” (10/7/67) – The band ends up knocked out and dream about the days of Robin Hood. / The band sets the record straight on Eleanor Rigby supposedly being a witch.
Sing Alongs: “Got to Get You into My Life” & “Here, There and Everywhere^”

Tomorrow Never Knows* / I’ve Just Seen a Face*” (10/14/67) – The band falls to inner earth where a chieftain wants them to marry his daughters. / The band sends Ringo to a haunted house to scare back his lost voice.
Sing Alongs: She Said She Said^” & “Long Tall Sally”

Wait / I’m Only Sleeping*” (10/21/67) – The band helps a prince rescue his girlfriend from his prime minister. / John dreams he and the band offer to slay a dragon for King Arthur.

Sing Alongs: “Penny Lane” & “Eleanor Rigby”

Originally posted in 2016. Updated in 2024.

1 comment:

John P said...

There were originally 5 Beatles. Stuart Sutcliffe originally was on bass while McCartney was playing rhythm guitar. Sutcliffe remained in Hamburg with his girlfriend Astrid Kircher to continue his art studies. He sadly died of a brain hemorrhage while in Hamburg. Pete Best, while a handsome man and a girl magnet for the band was an ATROCIOUS drummer, and really didn't like, or want to fit into Brian Epstein's new image for the band. He was replaced by Ringo Starr, who was the drummer for a band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The rest....is history. LOL!!