Mike Stuart and Dr. Bob Hieronimus in 1997 in London at the 29th Anniversary Party for Yellow Subbers.
There are a lot of important new passengers on the Yellow Submarine in the sky these days. And now it’s time to pay tribute to our friend Mike Stuart, who passed away on May 6, 2013. This tribute is following close on the heels of those we wrote for Jack Stokes, John Clive, and John Coates, all instrumental crewmembers on the classic film The Beatles Yellow Submarine. (See those tributes, plus one to Heinz Edelmann who passed on in 2009, here.) It makes me think of the closing scene in the film where all of Pepperland is joined by the Blue Meanies on a floating Yellow Submarine that sails away into the sunset to the tune of “It’s All Too Much.”
Mike Stuart was one of the leaders among the Key Animators on this film, and a close friend and colleague of the TVC regulars having worked with them for years before starting his own studio after Yellow Sub.
1998 at the 30th anniversary party of the Yellow Submarine before the party at the BBC hosted by Hieronimus & Co. Left to right: John Coates (Line Producer), Mike Stuart (seated, Key Animator), Zohara Hieronimus, Bob Balser (one of two Animation Directors), Jack Stokes (the other Animation Director)
My fondest memory of Mike Stuart is from the first night we met when I was in London on a research trip for my book Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic. We had been treated to a tour of the TVC studios and met many, many of my heroes for the first time, and much later, ended up at an Italian restaurant where many, many bottles of wine were consumed. This was also the dinner when I first heard an inkling of the stories never before revealed in print involving the attempted take-over, and kidnapping of the film instigated by the rancor between the American King Features producers and the British TVC producers and artists.
This photo is taken at the party we had at the Italian restaurant in September 1997 when I was first introduced to so many of the Yellow Submarine co-creators. Notice “curmudgeonly” Jack Stokes is already putting a flower behind his ear, and that Mike Stuart is already wearing the Beatles vest I had just given him as a present. Left to right, front row: Jack Stokes (Animation Director), Mike Stuart (Key Animator), Millicent McMillan (Edelmann’s assistant and Background Artist), Corona Maher (Trace and Paint Supervisor); Standing Row left to right: Norman Kaufman (production assistant), Arthur Butten (Background Artist), John Coates (Line Producer), Maggie Butten (Trace and Paint artist).
At the 2005 Abbey Road Film Festival screening and Q&A on Yellow Submarine. Left to right: Dr. Bob Hieronimus, Norman Kaufman (production assistant), Mike Stuart (Key Animator), Jack Stokes (Animation Director), Charlie Jenkins (Special Effects Director), Martin Lewis (Emcee).
Mike Stuart stayed calm and collected through a rather boisterous evening, and I remember being struck by his tall sense of grace and good humor. When it was finally time to return to our hotel, I’ll never forget how Mike piled my entire family into a rather tiny car, and insisted on driving us himself. That was some ride, but thanks to Mike’s steady hand, we arrived in one piece.
That steady hand also served him well through a career in animation that spanned over five decades. His partner of 30 years, Jill Brooks, sent us an obituary from his local parish magazine that we have excerpted from here.
He was born in Greenhithe, one of five children and went to school at Knockhall Primary School, after which he attended the Central School and then Gravesend Technical School. There he studied many areas of art and crafts and finally attended Gravesend Art School. where he learned silversmithing and fine art painting. He worked in animation from the 1950s in Shetland, Canada, Paris, and London among others. After Yellow Submarine while working for Trickfilms Studios in London, he met Jill Brooks also an animator of note. In 1978 he started working full time for Pink Floyd and Gerald Scarfe on their stage show animated projections and in 1980 he became the chief animator on the Pink Floyd film “The Wall.” In 1984 Michael and Jill set up Stuart Brooks Animation Ltd. and in July moved to a new home in Stockbury where they have lived ever since. Their daughter Fran was born in 1984. He had two sons named Richard and Ashton from a previous marriage to Margaret Dennis.
His field of expertise encompassed commercials, TV series, children’s projects, and feature films. Before the Yellow Submarine, he was also a Key Animator on the Beatles TV series. In addition to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in the 1980s he animated the Galaxy Song with Terry Gilliam for the film “The Meaning of Life.” Under Stuart Brooks Animation, he directed from script to screen two films of the Beatrix Potter and Friends Series, for which he was nominated twice for a BAFTA. In 2001 he won a British Academy Award for directing the BBC children’s television series “Kipper”. This is only a smattering of his acclaimed work over the decades. After retiring in 2003 he continued working on many creative projects and in 2007 he designed a carnival float on the theme of global warming for the Viareggio Carnival in Italy.
He loved to go fishing and he enjoyed the rural sport of shooting, and was pretty good at snooker, too. In 1981 and 1983 was the snooker champion of the Chelsea Arts Club of which he was a member. He was a big lover of dogs, and many in his hometown knew him as the solitary, tall man out walking with his black Labrador, stick in hand.
Dr. Bob Hieronimus and Mike Stuart at the 2005 Abbey Road Film Festival screening of Yellow Submarine followed by Q&A panel
We will forever be grateful to Mike Stuart for giving us some of the best anecdotes and leads to other important co-creators that made our history of the Yellow Submarine film as complete as it is. One of the most important contributions he made to my research was introducing me to the most elusive central character to the film’s creation, the special effects director, Charlie Jenkins. Last anyone else had heard Jenkins was living in Buenos Aires, but we had not been able to track him down until Mike Stuart stepped in and located him and recommended he grant us an interview. Jenkins is a colorful and opinionated talker and shared many memories no one else had regarding the techniques behind some of the most influential sequences in the film. Jenkins remembers being the one who first suggested the Czech artist Heinz Edelmann as their concept designer, who ended up being responsible for the entire look of the film and all the character designs.
At the 2005 Abbey Road Film Festival screening and Q&A on Yellow Submarine: Jack Stokes, Charlie Jenkins, Mike Stuart.
After years of working in traditional animation, many of those employed on Yellow Submarine found it difficult to translate Edelmann’s designs. Edelmann had never worked in animation before and made his own rules. Mike remembered how proud he was when Edelmann praised his line quality because that was what so many other animators were struggling with. As Mike put it: “His line of drawing was totally different to anything that had been done in animation before. It was almost a continuous line. There was no sketching and scrubbing. It produced this very fine and sensitive line, which was really quite unique. I really enjoyed working on it because I was working with an artist who I admired a lot. I think his graphics are absolutely fantastic. I was very proud to work on it. There was a Mexican chap who came over and spent about two months here, but he just couldn’t get on it at all because he was so set in his Disney ways. He wasn’t prepared to be flexible and draw like Heinz, and that’s what it required. Heinz had an enormous influence on the film itself. He was a very even-tempered man, and he knew what he wanted and was a great, great graphic designer. I mean, really incredible.”
Part of the animation team at TVC around 1965. Left to right: Peter Sander (character design, Beatles series), Jack Stokes, Ray Goodman (in the rear with glasses, music composer) Arthur Button (animator), Mike Stuart (animator). Photo courtesy of Jack Stokes.
A lot of the co-creators I interviewed remembered the 11 months of production as a charmed and magical time. They were animating the Beatles, flower power was swinging in London, and love was in the air. Mike described how their hip, young crew was received by the office workers of London who surrounded them in their studio at Knightway House in Soho Square. “That was quite the respectable office building,” remembered Mike. Their line producer and co-founder of TVC, John Coates, was a respectable retired officer in the army, and it was because of these connections that Mike believed they were able to get that space. “I think he went along to persuade them that maybe they should let us the two top floors to make this film. They bitterly regretted it when we all came in. At that time most of the people were wearing those smelly Afghan coats and they smelled to high heaven. They had a commissioner on the door with a desk, and he sort of vetted everybody that came in. Some of the people working on it were just unbelievable (Laughter). They tried to get us out on several occasions. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed working on it. It was a high time. We enjoyed going out after in the evenings.”
Most of the crew at TVC London, 1958 (when they still looked "respectable"). The Submariners we were able to identify include: 1) Denis Rich; 2) Charlie Jenkins; 3) John Williams; 4) Steve Cox; 5) Iain Cowan; 6) John Coates; 7) Mike Stuart; 8) George Dunning; 9) Bill Sewell; 10) Richard Williams. Photo courtesy of John Williams.
The stories of the antics behind the scenes of Yellow Submarine are just as colorful and sometimes more dramatic than the film itself. One reason was the enigmatic director of the film, the other co-founder of TVC, George Dunning. Mike Stuart knew Dunning as well as anyone, having worked with him for many years, and described him this way:
“To be frank, I worked with George for seven years doing commercials and I found him virtually impossible to work with. George was a very strange man. He always seemed to be on another planet. They say George directed it, but actually George wasn't there very much. George worked down in Dean Street most of the time. He worked a bit with Bill Sewell on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. But George didn't spend much time at the Knightway House where it was all going on. Very rarely seen. He was completely off the wall. He had no idea of urgency, of schedules or anything. He was always trying to do something bizarre in a commercial. Having said that, this is partly the way that Yellow Submarine happened because of his bizarre way of thinking. Of course, you can't do that with commercials. It nearly didn't work with the Yellow Submarine, but you certainly can’t get away with it for commercials. He made a little film called The Flying Man which was from an idea by a man called Stan Hayward, which won all sorts of awards. George was on cloud nine with this. I was working with Charlie Jenkins. We had two commercials to do for Chivers Marmalade. It was a cat that just wandered around this jam jar. In those days you were given a rough storyboard and a script as an animator, and you did it all yourself. When they saw line tests, it was supposed to be right. Any corrections were frowned upon. It was a pretty hard school to be brought up in. George kept coming in every morning. He'd look at the line test. He’d say, No, that's not quite what I mean. Can we try something else? Then we’d spend most of the day and half the evening trying to [fix it]. Then he got this wonderful idea that wouldn’t it be great if we made the cat negative in one frame and positive on the next, so that when we run it, it flashes on and off? We did it, and it looked appalling. This went on for a week. Every morning he'd come in and say, No, that’s not it. I actually did a little bit of animation, and I animated the cat quite realistically, and the agency saw that, and said Yeah, that's the sort of thing we want. George was quite annoyed about that because it was just a straight-forward piece of animation. In fact, I said to my wife before I came in, Don't be surprised if I come home tonight without a job, because I decided to confront him. When he said Well, I think we ought to do this, I said, George, why don't we give them what they want? He froze in one position for about a minute. He slowly stood up and walked out of the room, and didn't say a word. He never had any more to do with that film. He just completely ignored them. We just finished them up, and it went to the agency and they were happy. He was a creative person, but he was so frustrating to work with. Absolutely. You never knew where you were with him.”
As our final toast to the spirit of Mike Stuart, we raise a metaphorical glass to him and his crewmembers from their beloved Dog and Duck pub. Mike recalled for us how he animated a major scene with the Apple Bonkers when the four Beatles climb on each other’s shoulders and pretend to be Apple Bonkers, but he soon drifted into memories of the Dog and Duck. “We usually started work about 10:00. Then we went to lunch, which was sometimes quite extended. There was a little pub down on the corner of Bateman Street and Frith Street called The Dog and Duck, and I don’t know how everybody from the Yellow Submarine got in there. We used to go up on the second floor. Peter and George were the two landlords there and they actually appear in the film as high contrast photographs in one of Charlie’s sequences, “Eleanor Rigby”. They were both ex-wrestlers, I think. They had a little Jack Russell dog, too, which also appears in the film.”
On May 13, 2013, at 3:29 PM, Roger Mainwood wrote:
I've just been reading your lovely tribute to Jack Stokes (I wrote the Guardian obituary that you link to). Unfortunately I have to also report that Mike Stuart, featured in your main photo, has also passed away. He died last Monday aged 79. He'd been ill for a while. So another person linked with that great Yellow Submarine film has been lost to us, but thank goodness that you have done such a brilliant job of recording pretty much everything that can be said about it. I've enjoyed reading your book immensely.
all best wishes,
May 25, 2013 11:01:09 AM EDT
Sorry to have taken some time to reply to your kind message. Mike died peacefully and with no pain at home on the 6th May. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2011 but had been in reasonable health until last Christmas. The blessing was that he never had any pain and at the end died at home, literally in the arms of myself, my sister Lorely and his eldest son Richard. He thoroughly enjoyed recounting his stories of animation to you. Thank you for the picture, which will be printed and added to the many taken throughout his busy life.
All the best
Jill Brooks (partner of 30 years)
Dear Dr Hieronimus, I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful tribute to my Father, Mike Stuart. I Have sent a link to my Mother (Mike’s wife) and know that she too will be touched by your memories and praise of his work. He will be missed greatly but I know he will not be forgotten in the animation world and will continue to live on through his work for the enjoyment and hopefully inspiration of future generations.
Thank you again,
Hi Dr. Bob,
Again, sad news. Mike Stuart was a quiet, gentle giant with a wry sense of humor; someone who was never lost for a witty comment, delivered in his typically understated style. He was also a fine animator who, like most of us, relished the unique challenge of bringing the surreal world created by Heinz Edelmann to believable life. He will be missed.
Cam and Diana
Cam and Diana Ford
Cinemagic Animated Films Pty. Ltd.,