The Yellow Submarine is sailing to the big screen at Tinside Lido on 21 July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its launch and to save Plymouth from an attack by the Blue Meanies. Reviewed by Nigel Watson.
Archive footage of The Beatles in Plymouth will be shown prior to the screening of Yellow Submarine, and as part of the Plymouth After Dark project you can share your own memories and stories.
As a further treat, on the same day, between 4 and 6pm, the Fab Four Photo Shoot will take place on the Hoe. Here you can pose on the Beatlebums art installation, and recreate the iconic picture of The Beatles looking out to sea, where they were no doubt searching for a view of the weird and wonderful Yellow Submarine that saved us all from the Blue Meanies.
Plans for the movie began in 1967 when The Beatles were enthusiastically pushing the boundaries and expectations of popular music. To gain full control of their sound they had already abandoned touring in 1966 in favour of working in the recording studio, where they could develop and refine their music using innovative production techniques in close collaboration with their ever present producer, George Martin.
The fruit of this work emerged with the groundbreaking concept album ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ which explored different musical styles and its cover by Peter Blake and the accompanying artwork merged seamlessly with their creation of the mythical Sgt Pepper’s Band. It successfully mixed high art, psychedelia and countercultural ideas and sent them rocketing into the mainstream.
It was at this juncture Albert Brodax head of King Features, who had already produced ‘The Beatles’ cartoon series that ran from 1965 to 1967 on the US, ABC TV channel, thought it would be a good a good idea to capitalise on its success by making an animated Beatles feature film.
The Fab Four were not keen on the project, as they had little involvement with the cartoon series. They regarded it as promoting terrible stereotypes of themselves, and it was rather crudely animated to say the least. Nonetheless it did set the mould for further cartoon series featuring popular bands, including The Osmonds and the Jackson 5.
The movie would no doubt have never got off the drawing board except that The Beatles were contractually obliged to supply a third feature film to United Artists. So Paul McCartney suggested using their ‘Yellow Submarine’ song as the basis for the film.
The song was featured on their ‘Revolver’ album released in 1966, which was written as a kid’s story to suit Ringo Starr’s singing style and a jaunty nautical atmosphere was produced with the use of a brass band accompaniment, special effects and sound mixing.
Paul hoped it would be a ‘…big Disney-type adventure story.’ Instead, it was based on the psychedelic imagery of ‘Sgt Pepper’ and includes a couple of songs from that album. Rather begrudgingly they supplied four new songs for the film and it was mainly left to George Martin to compose the soundtrack.
The story is about Old Fred who is sent to our world in the Yellow Submarine to collect The Beatles by the Lord Mayor of Pepperland, so that they can rescue them from the evil Blue Meanies. It is a simple story of good versus evil with the message that ‘All you need is love.’ Indeed, the bombardment of their songs at the Blue Meanies sends them into full retreat and harmony is again restored to Pepperland.
What makes the film exceptional, in contrast with the TV series, is that the animation is brilliantly colourful and literally takes us on a variety of adventures in animation style and technique. This was largely due to the influence of director George Dunning who employed a team of 200 animators at the TVC studios based in London to bring their vision to life.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon often popped into the studios to see how things were shaping up and pitched in a few ideas of their own. Nonetheless, the vocal talents of actors were used for their characters – Geoffrey Hughes as Paul, John Clive as John, Paul Angelis for Ringo and George Harrison. Well-known comedian Lance Percival voiced Old Fred and Dick Emery voiced several of the characters including the Lord Mayor and the weird blue faced Jeremy Hillary Bob (apparently a parody of intellectuals, partly based on the polymath Jonathan Miller).
Each song in the film was given its own unique sequence and team of animators, and the mix of styles bring together a wonderfully surreal picture of 1960s counterculture providing a complete contrast to the mainstream Disney animation ethos of that period.
Paul McCartney was originally disappointed by the film but now he says ‘I’ve changed my mind since then, because it has a sort of trippiness that looks nice now.’
George Harrison joked ‘We’re only gonna be cartoons forever now.’