“Hello John? This is John.”
The Passing of John Clive, Voice of John Lennon in “Yellow Submarine”

“Hello John? This is John,” is what John Clive wanted to say to John Lennon while visiting New York City in late 1980. The two hadn’t spoken since 1968 when Clive provided the voice for John Lennon in the animated classic “Yellow Submarine,” but in the years since, John Clive had become an international best seller of spy thrillers, and he was in the U.S. on a book tour. When he realized he was staying in a hotel right across the park from the Dakota, he fantasized about calling up his voice-likeness, and pulling that little stunt – something similar, in fact, to a scene that plays out in the extended version of “Yellow Submarine” when the Liverpool Beatles meet their doppleganger twins in Pepperland and have existential conversations with their other selves.

John Clive told us this story during one of our many interviews conducted for my 2002 book, Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic (Krause), tinged with regret, because he never got to play out his little joke. Lennon was assassinated just a few days later.

We are sad to announce that John Clive has now departed this world as well, having passed away on the 14th of October 2012. (See his obituary in The Guardian here.) Clive was a spritely wit and a successful comic actor before he almost anonymously voiced the role of Lennon for “Yellow Submarine”. Following the disappointment of being ignored by the publicity machine that preferred the fans believing the real Beatles provided their own voices, Clive soon launched an entirely new career writing novels. His writing was so successful, it eventually eclipsed his already successful film career.

John Clive and Bob Hieronimus talked a lot about climate change in their correspondence.

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When Zohara and I first met him it was in 1998 and he was trying to get a film made of one of his novels, and we spent a lot of time talking about it and ideas he had for connecting with our Hollywood contacts. I remember the evening like it was yesterday. Zoh and I had just returned to our London hotel after celebrating with dozens of the cast and crew from Yellow Submarine at a party my wife and I had hosted in honor of the 30th anniversary of this classic film. We got a call from John Clive the next night, following up on our request to interview him further. He asked to meet with us that evening as we had such limited time in town. Zoh and I found our way to Café Flo on Camden Passage in London, where we met with John and his charming wife Bryoni. John introduced me to my first-ever experience with “Bangers and Mash” (sausages and mashed potatoes for you Yanks), and we had a lively discussion about his film proposal and about climate change. John and Bryoni were very interested in Zoh’s and my work with ex-intelligence officers who showed us as early as 1976 the predictions for the coming drastic weather changes we are now experiencing without question. John and I would return to this topic of the melting glaciers and the possible deluge of the United Kingdom again and again for years. (See the illustration at left showing some of our subsequent correspondence.)

I remember Bryoni, especially, being rather puzzled about why I was so passionate about collecting interviews from all the Yellow Sub co-creators and why we had spent so much time and money to host the reunion party for them. I guess she had never been snubbed for a creative work of art for which she never received proper credit.

Here’s a photo of Bryoni, John and Zoh after our supper when we presented him with a collector’s Yellow Submarine wristwatch, and a mint-in-box Corgi Yellow Submarine model. You can see we were all pretty tired by this time in the evening.

Bryoni Clive, John Clive, and Zohara Hieronimus after sampling bangers and mash in London in 1998.

Nevertheless, we followed up with several telephone interviews, and we got to see them again the following year when Apple released the first renovation of the film for the digital audience. John and Bryoni were part of the red carpet parade in Liverpool as the whole world by this time knew that the Beatles were interpreted by professional actors in the film, and (thanks, in part, to my insistent needling them, no doubt) this time, Apple did everything right as far as giving credit to the artists and other co-creators who produced this film. As Clive said to us in one of our interviews: “[F]or a very long time, I felt we’d been cheated. It was very early in our careers as actors, and to have created something that is going to stand the test of time, and yet the public will never know, was the ultimate put-down. The actor has a right to his round of applause and to say thank you and take a bow.”

In the excerpts from my book below you can read how disingenuous Apple has been over the years in regards to giving proper credit to people who help them. My personal experience with this attitude was quite a shock, when after spending $30,000 dollars in various expenses to host the 30th anniversary party for the Yellow Sub crew, we allowed Apple to attend and use the opportunity to film interviews with selected individuals. They then used these interviews as the bonus features on their DVD releases of the film in both 1999 and 2012. Did they say “Thank You” to Hieronimus & Co. for going to the expense and trouble of arranging this opportunity for them? No. They made it look to the world as if they did it all themselves. It’s not surprising that they failed to mention that most of the co-creators would not even return their phone calls before we stepped in and negotiated a temporary truce. Most of the co-creators had been stung by the litigious nature of Apple enough that they were no longer on speaking terms. I’m not surprised that Apple didn’t give us the credit for convincing the co-creators to talk to Apple, but it would have been the right thing to do to give a tiny little credit line of thanks to Hieronimus & Co. at least for inviting them to the party and giving them the opportunity to conduct the interviews for free.

Here’s a photo taken at this 1998 party where Zoh is interviewing John Clive. We arranged for the party to be held at the BBC Maida Vale studios so that Zohara could broadcast live back to the United States with her daily talk show in Baltimore. She’s seen here interviewing John Clive on the right, and Paul Angelis on the left who provided the voice of Ringo Starr in the film. What playful spirits.

Zohara Hieronimus (broadcaster and host of “The Zoh Show”), Paul Angelis (voice of Ringo Starr), and John Clive (voice of John Lennon). Interview conducted in 1998 at the BBC Maida Vale studios.

It’s hard for me to appreciate this, but in the end John Clive was better known as the author of many successful adventure novels. Here are just a few examples of his reviews:

The cover of one of John Clive’s thrillers.

Another cover of one of John Clive’s best sellers.

“Fact and fiction are so skillfully interwoven that there’s no doubt John Clive is now the new master of intrigue, power and mystery.”

--Chris Brasher, Observer

“John Clive’s suspense novel Barossa is a highly exciting tale of nuclear menace…”

--Judson Hand, New York Daily News

“His career is blossoming with the impact of an atomic mushroom cloud… the ending is a scoop of scoops.”

--Manchester Evening News

“A cracking adventure thriller… fresh and inventive style. John Clive has built himself a growing audience for his cleverly planned thrillers.”

--Publishing News

“Mr. Clive’s real success is in developing his initially repulsive hero into a character of some depth.”

--Francis Goff, Sunday Telegraph

John Clive may have moved into the spiritual dimensions, but his accomplishments on planet Earth remain a credit to his strength and courageous outspoken character. He will be missed.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Inside the Yellow Submarine dealing with his experiences on the film.


In an animated film, the first thing to do is record the dialogue voice track. This requirement was made even more challenging for the crew of Yellow Submarine because there were innumerable script changes and new scripts commissioned throughout the 11 months, and in fact, no fully accurate, complete script ever existed until after the film premiered! With The Beatles making it clear they intended to invest as little time as possible into the creation of Yellow Submarine, the co-creators had to find voice actor stand-ins before any traditional artwork could be done. Director George Dunning was determined to find actors who could give accurate renditions of The Beatles’ voices this time, since he knew that the fabricated mid-Atlantic accents had been one of The Beatles’ main objections to the television series. According to the actors eventually chosen, however, Producer Al Brodax tried to convince them to use the same formula that had succeeded with the series.

John Clive: My agent sent me along, and from the moment I walked in I was talking with a Liverpool accent. In addition to that, of course, I was able to demonstrate from my track record that I was a damn good professional character actor, which was my living. I could do a really authentic Liverpool sound, because I had lived in Liverpool since the end of the Second World War, and because my stepfather was from Liverpool.

For me George Dunning was almost like a father figure in that whole business. The four actors were working separately from the rest of the crew of animators. We were meeting resistance, largely from Al Brodax, which was a name we all had a lot of fun with because it sounded like a laxative. Brodax. Ex-Lax. We enjoyed the connection. George made it quite clear to us, [not to be concerned about] the criticism coming from Al Brodax about the fact that we were so authentically Liverpool. You’d think he would have welcomed getting authentic Liverpool voices, but his view was that it was never going to play in Buffalo, and they wouldn’t understand it. Dunning said, Look, whatever Brodax says to you, you’ve got my backing. When Brodax came over, he did exactly what had been forecast by George. I don’t want to be too hard on the man, but he was a bit of a caricature. He had the Hawaiian shirt on and the big fat cigar. It’s a stereotype, a caricature American. He was flying in the face of reality. He must have thought that Americans wouldn’t dig The Beatles, and if that was true, why was he making a film? They never sang with American accents. They didn’t come on like they were Americans. They sang the way they were because they wrote their own material. And therefore they didn’t have to interpret.

I think once he realized how determined we were to do this our way, and if he didn’t like it, we said, You can go and jump in the lake, you know. Go fuck yourself, I think we said. Knowing that George Dunning was going to stand behind us, gave us the power to say that. We were quite prepared to face the boot. If he wanted to fire us, he could.

Once we made the point we were much more relaxed, and I guess we were a little more friendly towards him. And consequently, he was able to go away and absorb it and decide, Well, now do I bite the bullet and fire these guys and go through that whole process again and dump all the recordings that they’ve already done? I mean, he had to face a lot of decisions there and largely they were tied up with finance.

Geoff Hughes (voice of Paul McCartney): As John Clive rightly says, Al was concerned about the strength of the accents but whenever Al asked us directly to calm them down George would tell us to carry on the way we were. Al usually backed down on the floor, but I'm sure that he and George pursued it later.


John Clive: The Daily Mail, which is a big national newspaper over here, did an interview with us [the voice actors], and they had a photographer on it, and they took our stories. I remember a female journalist, and it was supposed to be going in the newspaper on the Monday in the week before the film opened. The idea was, The Beatles meet The Beatles. We were looking forward to it, and we told our folks back home, and everybody, we were going to be in the newspaper on Monday. And it wasn’t there. I was appointed spokesman because I’d been in the business a bit longer than the other guys. I rang her up and I said, What happened? Oh, she said, I can’t really talk about it. I said, Hey come on, do me a favor. I mean, everybody knows about this, our folks know about it, there’s all kinds of people that were looking forward to reading it, and we’re left with egg all over our faces. And she sympathized, actually. She was not an unreasonable human being. And she said, Well if I tell you, it’s just off the record, all right? It’s just between you and me. I said, OK, well fire away. She said, Well I understand that what happened was that The Daily Mail was told by United Artists that if they printed this story of it not being The Beatles in the film, United Artists would withdraw all their advertising from The Daily Mail in perpetuity. And that was a lot of money. They don’t want the public to know it’s not The Beatles. And I said, well that’s not very fair. I mean, how are they going to bill us? We’ve got our names on the film somewhere (we hadn’t seen the film yet).

Speaking from a professional point of view, I think we did a bloody good job, because the fact is, the public didn’t realize it wasn’t The Beatles, and that is what matters. We really captured their word play, their humor, the way they related to each other, the way they loved and made fun of each other. It was good. But if you ask me how I felt about it for a very long time, I felt we’d been cheated. It was very early in our careers as actors, and to have created something that is going to stand the test of time, and yet the public will never know was the ultimate put-down. The actor has a right to his round of applause and to say thank you and take a bow.

John Clive Abbreviated Biography:

JOHN CLIVE has appeared in more than a hundred film and television productions. Dilys Powell, the legendary film critic picked up on him early in his career as the unctuous, ritzy car manager, divesting Michael Caine of his ill gotten gains in THE ITALIAN JOB. Other films include, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, YELLOW SUBMARINE (Lennon's voice), CARRY ON ABROAD, REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER, etc. On television he has appeared notably in WEAR A VERY BIG HAT (directed by Ken Loach) THE SWEENEY, RISING DAMP (several times). He starred in the comedy drama series for BBCTV, PERILS OF PENDRAGON, and took the lead as Professor Sommerby in the children's series, ROBERTS ROBOTS. He has appeared with most of the great comedy performers.... DICK EMERY, TOMMY COOPER, JOHN CLEESE and PETER SELLERS.... More recently he has appeared in NO WAY OUT, CASUALTY, YOUNG INDIANA JONES, and last year was in the award winning TEN PERCENTERS, and did a feature film directed by Ian Sharp, called R.P.M. His output as an author and screenwriter is also well known and his books have been published throughout the world. His first novel, KG 200, was a number one bestseller and sold more than a million copies in the UK and the USA alone. The Baltimore Sun called it “Bright with verisimilitude, buttressed by wide ranging research, graced with electric narrative pace, KG 200 comes on a humdinger.” Since then five more have followed, several of them listing in the bestsellers, including another number one with BROKEN WINGS. His latest project is a quirky, human film, PESETAS FROM HEAVEN set in Spain and currently under option with a Hollywood producer. He is presently commissioned and writing an original six part drama series for BBC Television.

After posting this tribute, we heard from Hannah Clive, daughter of John, thanking us for writing it. She pointed us to a Tweet she’s seen from Julian Lennon who made the comment: "R.I.P John" followed by a link to one of the nicer, earlier articles about her father's passing in The Telegraph. As Hannah told us: “We were very touched that Julian had done this, his words were familiar - by calling my father by his first name and of course it isn't lost on me, that now my father John had passed, just as his father John had passed...the parallels moved me greatly and I like to think were not lost on Julian…. Glad one of the off-spring know about it and have acknowledged it...when I was in a band years ago with Zak Starkey, bless him he knew nothing about it....Full Circle.”

Hannah Clive is a musician in her own right, and will be featured as a guest in the coming weeks on 21st Century Radio.