Somehow, the most iconic imagery of the most iconic band comes from an animated feature that exists only because they saw it as an easy way to cop out of a three-movie deal. A disastrous and instantly forgotten animated TV series had come before – where The Beatles were portrayed by American actors to make their accents understandable to a stateside audience – so expectations for a full-length film were low. Instead, it captured the essence of the psychedelic Sixties like nothing else: all love, all a bit bizarre.
As the film turns 50, Malcolm Draper, who was a 24-year-old animator when recruited to work on Yellow Submarine, tells us of his life in the land of Blue Meanies and multicoloured pullovers.
As told to Steven Mackenzie by Malcolm Draper
The late 1960s was the height of Beatlemania, flower power, and I was all into that, of course. Most of us [animators] were young and we all wore tie-dye flowery shirts. People always think we were drugged up. The only drug I took was Double Diamond beer.
The Beatles didn’t want to do the voices – they were too busy making money. George Harrison didn’t like the idea of the film but Paul McCartney and John Lennon were very enthusiastic when they heard the basic story and saw designs.
Paul came one day and popped into our room to say hello. I remember he wore this fantastic multicoloured Fair Isle pullover. He was very nice.
Later, a third of the way into the film, John came to see the rushes. The first part was done already – the opening sequence of Liverpool and Eleanor Rigby – and then after about 20 minutes it went to black and white. These were the days before computers and the cells weren’t painted yet. It was just the animator’s drawings, what we call the line tests.
John turned to our producer John Coates and said: “John?”
“Where’s the fucking colour?”
We were sitting three rows back and I could hear every word.
“I didn’t come all this way to see fucking black and white,” he said and he walked out. It still makes me laugh, but he did come back a few minutes later to see the rest. Afterwards there was a cocktail thing and we got to meet him. Less tall than I thought, he had very long hair at that point and granny glasses.
As a film did I know it was anything special? Not really. It was exciting to be working on it with The Beatles but it wasn’t until the end we realised it could be iconic. It was a story of good against evil, love against nasty stuff. “All you need is love” was the message of the film and that’s not a bad message, especially today.
Yellow Submarine is screening across the UK on July 8. Visit yellowsubmarine.film
To celebrate we have a special Yellow Submarine prize bundle to give away.