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
live American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The appearance netted a record viewership of 73 million people.
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.
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.
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 naïve 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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Originally posted in 2016. Updated in 2024.