Animator recalls Beatles Saturday morning cartoons, ‘Yellow Submarine’

Animator Ron Campbell directed The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series. (Photo Ron Campbell)
Animator Ron Campbell directed The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

The band contributed their music, but had no role in the production of the cartoon series, Ron Campbell says.  (Photo Ron Campbell)
The band contributed the music but had no role in the production of the cartoon series, Ron Campbell says. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

Ron Campbell's work will be on display in Reston. This painting includes The Beatles' original drummer Pete Best (Photo Ron Campbell)
Ron Campbell’s work will be on display in Reston, Virginia. This painting includes The Beatles’ original drummer Pete Best. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

The Beatles cartoon series debuted in September 1965. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Beatles cartoon series debuted in September 1965. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

The Beatles had little involvement with "Yellow Submarine" -- they appeared in a cameo at the end of the film. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Beatles had little involvement with “Yellow Submarine” — they appeared in a cameo at the end of the film. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

The Blue Meanie, and other characters were featured in the animated comedy "Yellow Submarine," based on music of The Beatles. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Blue Meanie, and other characters were featured in the animated comedy, “Yellow Submarine,” based on music of The Beatles. (Courtesy Ron Campbell)

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Animator Ron Campbell directed The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The band contributed their music, but had no role in the production of the cartoon series, Ron Campbell says.  (Photo Ron Campbell)
Ron Campbell's work will be on display in Reston. This painting includes The Beatles' original drummer Pete Best (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Beatles cartoon series debuted in September 1965. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Beatles had little involvement with "Yellow Submarine" -- they appeared in a cameo at the end of the film. (Photo Ron Campbell)
The Blue Meanie, and other characters were featured in the animated comedy "Yellow Submarine," based on music of The Beatles. (Photo Ron Campbell)
Ron Campbell helped animate The Beatles cartoons and 'Yellow Submarine'

WASHINGTON — Ron Campbell’s animation career was in full swing in 1964, with cartoon credits including Beetle Bailey and Krazy Kat, when the phone rang in the middle of the night.

“It was (producer) Al Brodax — he said ‘Ron, we’d like you to direct The Beatles TV cartoon show,'” said Campbell. “I said ‘that’s great, Al, but beetles make terrible characters for children’s cartoons, insects are awful.”

Brodax informed Campbell he was referring to the British pop sensations, who days earlier had performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, in front of an estimated 73 million Americans.

“I had heard their music on the radio, but not listening very closely,” Campbell recalled.

Within weeks, the cartoon series was in production. Eventually, Broadax asked Campbell to help animate the 1968 animated comedy film, “Yellow Submarine,” based on the music of The Beatles.

“Al would send scripts, model sheets, the voice track, and the music track,” said Campbell. “I would do the storyboard, hire the necessary staff, monitor the work, and see that the production went smoothly all the way through.”

The weekly 18-minutes episodes, which aired in a 30-minute time slot on ABC, generally included two Beatles songs.

“Apart from (the music), their involvement in the show was absolute zero,” said Campbell.

Two voice actors portrayed the four band members.

Paul Frees, who had been the voice of Boris Badenov in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” series, was John and George. Lance Percival did the voices of Paul and Ringo.

Initially, the band didn’t like the cartoons.

“All I heard was hearsay,” said Campbell. “John was heard to have said ‘Oh, that’s Flintstones s–t,’ not realizing how good The Flintstones actually were.”

Ironically, Campbell went on to play a role in The Flintstones series, too.

The Beatles show was a ratings success, and ran for four seasons.

Eventually, Broadax asked Campbell to help animate the 1968 animated comedy film, based on the music of The Beatles.

“I sent back pencil drawings, the studio in London did the ink and paint, shot them, and slipped the scenes into the film,” Campbell said.

Unlike earlier Beatles films — “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Help!” — John, Paul, George, and Ringo had little interest in participating in the movie.

“When they saw the film, they were quite surprised — I think they were expecting a low-budget production, like we were doing with the Saturday morning cartoon,” Campbell said. “Far from it, it was a very beautifully designed film.”

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr made a cameo at the end of the movie.

“I guess they really liked it, as they decided to make an appearance at the end of the film, which was very good for the film,” Campbell said.

When he retired from the cartoon business, he decided to paint scenes from films he’s worked on, including The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons.

Friday through Sunday, Campbell’s work will be on display, and for sale, at ArtInsights Animation and Film Gallery, in the Reston Town Center.

“I get to meet the audience that used to watch the cartoons I helped make, and sell my paintings,” Campbell said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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