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Fab Four trivia celebrating 50 years of Yellow Submarine

Fab Four trivia celebrating 50 years of Yellow Submarine

Fab Four trivia celebrating 50 years of Yellow Submarine
July 01
14:25 2018

July 17, 1968, saw the premiere of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. It was a feature-length animation based on a Paul McCartney novelty ditty sung by Ringo Starr. George Harrison, unhappy at the time with his role in the group, wasn’t wholly excited by the project. John Lennon, true to acerbic form, would be more dismissive: ‘The Yellow Submarine people… were gross animals,’ he said in 1980. ‘We had nothing to do with that movie and we sort of resented them. We didn’t know what it was.’ And yet this psychedelic adventure, in which the Fab Four battled the blue meanies, was a hit. Half a century on, a spruced-up version is back in cinemas. Ahead of that, Event presents a shoal of things you never knew about it – including the fact that Lennon was fibbing…

Yellow Submarine grew out of a deal struck by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to make a series of cartoons for American TV. ‘But The Beatles said, “We’ll only make them if they’re never shown in England,” ’ says Jonathan Clyde, head of production at Apple. ‘And they weren’t and we’ve still not shown them here.’

Only A Northern Song, one of four new songs (including All You Need Is Love) featured in Yellow Submarine, isn’t just a minor psychedelic masterpiece from George Harrison. It’s also the guitarist’s dig at his lowly pecking order within The Beatles’ song publishing company, Northern Songs.

The Beatles did not voice their own characters. Instead, voice actors were hired. One, Geoffrey Hughes, who played Paul, later played binman Eddie Yates in Coronation Street. Comedian Dick ‘Ooh you are awful’ Emery also starred, though another voice actor, Peter Batten, fared less well. ‘The animation team went to the pub in Soho at lunchtime and they still hadn’t found someone to do George,’ recounts Clyde. ‘Then they heard this Scouse accent at the bar… It was a chap called Peter Batten, who did a few sessions, but then one day Military Police turned up and hauled him off – turns out he was a deserter from the Army.’

To make Yellow Submarine, the British animation studio TVC hired Heinz Edelmann, a Czech-German graphic designer, to art-direct the film. Yellow Submarine was his first film – and his last. ‘My father had a very difficult relationship with this film,’ says the late artist’s daughter Valentine. ‘It was produced under very chaotic circumstances. If you want to write a book about how not to make a feature animation, Yellow Submarine ticks all the boxes. Don’t start without a script. Don’t start without enough money. Don’t start without an animation studio that is fully equipped for the job. Don’t do it in a very short time. It’s a miracle that Yellow Submarine was made.’

Yellow Submarine had political undertones. ‘My father [Heinz Edelmann, the film’s art director] was a refugee,’ says Valentine Edelmann. ‘He had experienced Nazism and communism.’ So, the ‘Apple bonkers’ that fall from the sky are bombs. The flying glove is the heavy hand of oppression. And the Blue Meanies are genocidal tyrants, though they were originally Red Meanies, an attack on communist forces. But an art assistant in the animation studio misunderstood his colouring instructions.

John Lennon sang the backing vocals for Yellow Submarine through a condom, according to Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. ‘John wanted to be recorded underwater to simulate being in a submarine,’ Emerick recalled. ‘He didn’t realise the implications… I thought to get a bottle of water and put a microphone in the water and get him to sing to that. Then I realised there was a huge amount of electrical current going through the microphone. So to protect the mic [Beatles road manager] Mal Evans had a condom in his bag, and I put the mic in the condom and put it in the bottle. John could’ve blown up because there was 240 volts running through this thing…’

‘There was this epic struggle between the British and the American producers about money,’ recalls Valentine Edelmann. ‘The British studio told the American producers that they needed more to finish it. But the Americans refused to move from the budget. So director Charles Dunning and the animators stole the only copy, put it in Dunning’s bank vault, and told the Americans, “You can have it back – if you pay.” So they were given a bit more money.’ The final budget was £250,000.

The original script was written by a team of Americans – one of them, Erich Segal, was a professor of Greek at Harvard, as well as author of the classic 1970 weepie Love Story. Unsurprisingly, The Beatles didn’t think the characters sounded like them. So Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough – who was in Merseybeat band The Scaffold (Lily The Pink) – was hired to ‘give authentic voice to The Beatles’, says McGough, ‘because what they were currently speaking was Woody Allen meets Plato. I ending up writing the first scenes so, all the puns: “I’m a real lever puller [Liverpooler]… Frankenstein? I went out with his sister, Phyllis…” ’ But contractual wrangling meant McGough was never credited for his work. Still, at least he was paid for his efforts: £500, which is £6,000 in today’s money. A not insignificant sum for a geography teacher-turned-poet in 1968.

‘John came to Soho to watch some early rushes,’ says animator Malcolm Draper. ‘He had very long hair and granny glasses and he sat in the front row. We’d made about the first 25 minutes of the film, and the opening sequences were all in colour, but then the animation went black and white. John exploded, “Where’s the f****** colour?” We explained that these were the line tests, before we painted them. And John said, “I didn’t come all this f****** way to watch f****** black and white,” and he left!’

‘Yellow Submarine’ will be shown in cinemas nationwide on July 8.

Source: Fab Four trivia celebrating 50 years of Yellow Submarine

About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

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