Billboard Magazine

September 11, 1999 in the "Culture Forum"

The Hidden Stories Behind Yellow Submarine
by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D

Unlike other classic stories that use the mythological quest, The Beatles Yellow Submarine, is based on a triumphant Beatles song track. Brilliantly animated in a melange of styles it brought the charming appeal of The Beatles to children as well as adults. Now that MGM and Subafilms have renovated it and added a brand new 5.1 Dolby surround sound, this film will continue to inspire viewers for generations to come with the age-old message that the Good Guys CAN transform the Bad Guys into allies by showering them with the forces of Love and good music.

Obviously John, Paul, George and Ringo were significant contributors to this animated movie in which they "starred". But from the Summer of Love in 1967 to the Summer of Protests in 1968, the time frame allotted to the film's production schedule, The Beatles were at their highest peak of popularity, and the last thing they had time or interest in working on was a cartoon being made by the same people who had made them look like "the bloody Flintstones" on the ABC TV series (in the words of John Lennon.) The Beatles were so unhappy with the idea of the animation feature film project, that according to Sir George Martin, they determined the four new songs they were contractually obliged to contribute would be only their rejects, or the new songs they weren't very excited about. The voice actors hired to read their dialogue were so successful, however, that most people assumed it was the real Beatles.


But it wasn't The Beatles. It was John Clive (John Lennon), Geoff Hughes (Paul McCartney), Peter Batten (George Harrison), and Paul Angelis (Ringo Starr). These actors worked together with a tiny animation studio in London, called TV Cartoons, and an international team of some of the most talented artists and writers of the generation. The true story of these lost heroes who conceived, designed and produced this timeless masterpiece is now being told.

There was the Czechoslovakian avant-garde designer named Heinz Edelmann who conceived and drew all the characters. Bob Balser was an itinerant American previously living in Spain and winning awards on the independent animation circuit when he became the Unit Director for the Yellow Submarine travel sequences, essentially making animated short films of The Beatles greatest hits. British Charlie Jenkins was a freelancing former "tea boy" (gofer) determined to push animation art to its utmost limits and try everything new.

American Erich Segal was an assistant professor of classics at Yale when American Producer Al Brodax found him and hired him to write most of the script. British Jack Stokes and Canadian George Dunning had worked together with Al Brodax and King Features in the pre Submarine days when TV Cartoons had been subcontracted by King Features to produce the enormously successful Beatles cartoon series on ABC-TV. Stokes became the Unit Director for all the Pepperland sequences and George Dunning, the founder of TVC served as the feature film's overall Director. John Coates, Dunning's British partner, was Production Supervisor. And of course there was the Bach-like score that Beatles producer George Martin contributed as the Music Director. These are just the nine contributors who would be considered the core team. There were scores of people who added elements in passing, most of them uncredited and impossible to document.

At one point the staff swelled to 200 people, many of whom were art students bussed in overnight to continue the painting and tracing shifts. The crew were required to premiere the film by a set date which gave them only 11 months to do what would normally require 2-4 years and at least triple the budget. Overriding the strained pressure of deadline and confusion on the set was a loving determination to create not only an influential work of art, but a testament to the ethic that The Beatles were expressing with their Sgt. Pepper album.

The late Derek Taylor, Beatles Press Officer, described the effect that working around The Beatles had on people. "There was this zeitgeist which they represented, which was extremely warmly disposed to the human race and to the mode of goodness. And the central song is "All you Need is Love."

The overall message of the title song is that "We all live in a Yellow Submarine," and all our friends are all aboard, there's no limit to the number of friends we can have aboard. It's really like a kind of eternal ark. A Yellow Submarine is a symbol for some kind of vessel which would take us all to safety. The message that good can prevail over evil is quite an old one."


One of the reasons The Beatles Yellow Submarine fits the mold of the classic Hero's Journey so well is because much of it was written by the assistant professor of classics at Yale University, Erich Segal. Segal, who of course, is better known for his next venture, the blockbuster, Love Story, has vivid memories of his meetings with The Beatles. "I was privileged to attend some of their recording sessions, and one of the low moments of my life, when I was coming up in a cab at midnight to the Abbey Road studios, and there are thousands of 14 year old girls waiting for stardom to step out. They crowded around my taxi and they said "Who is it? Who is it?" And the girl screamed out "It's nobody! It's nobody!" And Big Al Brodax said to me "See Segal, they know ya!"

"Anyway, I got inside, my ego bruised, and there I was with just The Beatles, just the four of them. And I remember that these super rich people were eating take away hot dogs that looked like something you wouldn't give your dog."

Segal also remembers playing old standard Rogers and Hart duets with Ringo, and Producer Al Brodax says that John Lennon wrote the song "Hey Bulldog" as a reference to the Yale professor (Yale's mascot is the bulldog.) Segal recalled the time he spent intensively shuttling back and forth from Yale to London to work on the script. "I would go from the classroom to the airport and from my Yalies to my Beatles. And the kids would give me questions, "Ask John Lennon what this word means in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." And he once freaked out on that. He said to me, "Why don't they stop? I'm not the Holy Scriptures! I just write off the top of my head! I don't have any meanings. Don't interpret me like the Bible!" And he was very upset, and I was upset because he actually shrieked."


Thanks to Bruce Markoe, Vice President of Feature Post Production at MGM/UA, American audiences will be thrilled to three more minutes of animated Beatles glory than we got in 1968. The Keystone Cops style segment "Hey Bulldog" and a scene immediately preceding it that explained the humor in the segment were removed in the months between the film's London debut (July) and American debut (November). The scene preceding the "Hey Bulldog" song is a charming comedy sequence when the four Beatles meet and greet their identical twin counterparts, the Pepperlanders Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But the song "Hey Bulldog" is the renovated film's crowning glory. It's a resounding John Lennon rocker that will have people dancing in their seats.

Producer Al Brodax explained the need for different endings. "There was a kind of anti-climax, and that had to do with "Hey Bulldog" which was really written for Erich [Segal], you know, who went to Yale, and the bulldog is their mascot. That was written for him as one of the four songs by contract that they had to write for the movie. The first cut had "Bulldog" in it. And we all looked at that. They were all there, The Beatles were there, and said, "Too long." And then I made the cut."

The slapstick driven "Hey Bulldog" was storyboarded and animated by Unit Director Jack Stokes, who was also the Director of Animation on the ABC-TV Beatles cartoon series. With doors popping open and shut, dynamite handed down the line to explode in the villain's face, and revolvers that squirt water, it is the sequence in Yellow Submarine that most closely resembles its television ancestor.

Most of the co-creators agreed that the fighting scenes dragged on too long at the end of the film, but many believed "Hey Bulldog" should not have been cut. Sir George Martin was not the only one who considered "Hey Bulldog" the best of the four new songs the boys contributed to the movie.


Who were the Blue Meanies spoofing? There are almost as many theories as there are Meanies, but the general consensus among the artists and writers who created the film is that they stood for a composite of all the bad guys in the world. Producer Al Brodax says the Chief Blue Meanie's profile resembled that of his Production Coordinator, Abe Goodman. Art Director Heinz Edelmann designed most of the Meanies over a weekend and remembers intending them to be red, only to discover too late his assistant had painted them blue by accident. Millicent McMillan, the assistant, on the other hand, distinctly remembers Edelmann asking her what she thought of purple meanies, and that she had suggested blue, which pleased him.


Although it is not uncommon for filmmakers to include cameo appearances of themselves or their friends and heroes, The Yellow Submarine takes it to new heights, thanks mostly to the whimsical style of Charles Jenkins, Special Effects designer. All of the co-creators depicted in Yellow Submarine pointed out their cameo appearances with pride, even those portrayed in less than flattering contexts, so while the Blue Meanies were born from the imagination of Heinz Edelmann and are therefore open to endless speculation, other characters in the film can be identified without any doubt. Photographic images of real people working around the film were used most prolifically in the "Eleanor Rigby" sequence designed by Charlie Jenkins using a special form of rotoscoping camera he had invented for an earlier project. Al Brodax called it his "Magical Mystery Bench" because the secretive Jenkins would fold it up at the end of the day and take it home with him.

Remember the boy in the motorcycle goggles with a tear running out of his eye? In person, this was Brian Endel, the crew's handicapped messenger boy who had fantasies about fast motorcycles and women. The woman walking out of the building holding a bowl was really background artist Alison DeVere.

Thinking Jenkins was just photographing her hands holding the bowl, De Vere was not too pleased to be identified as the downtrodden Eleanor Rigby from then on.

Another Charlie Jenkins effect is seen in a powerful 24 seconds that whiz by dramatically as the Yellow Submarine sets sail from Liverpool with the Beatles aboard. This effect was created by hundreds of postcards of English countrysides, villages, city landmarks and seashores merging one into another so fast that your eyes play tricks on you and it feels like you're moving from Liverpool down to London and out to sea.

Learning the story of the crew behind the making of The Yellow Submarine adds a wonderful new dimension to enjoying this film. More can be learned in the 56-page Hieronimus & Co. Yellow Submarine Journal for $13 postpaid to Hieronimus & Co., P.O. Box 648 Owings Mills, MD 21117. A full length book entitled Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Classic by Robert Hieronimus. For purchasing info, visit our Yellow Submarine Page.

About the author: Artist, muralist, broadcaster and historian, Dr. Bob Hieronimus's research has been used by three White House administrations, printed in the Congressional Record and utilized by the late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat. He supported Sir George Martin with fundraising for Montserrat through rock and roll memorabilia sales and radio and TV promotions.