Classic Rock Corner

How the Beatles Got 'Tooned in to the Times

"The Beatles Live at the Cavern" by Ron Campbell
"The Beatles Live at the Cavern" by Ron Campbell Courtesy of Rock Art Show
It’s not often that an artist has his work denigrated by the very subject of it and can laugh about it decades later. But that’s exactly what has happened to Ron Campbell, an animator and director of “The Beatles” cartoon series. The Saturday morning show ran from 1965-69 and featured clean-cut, kid-friendly adventures of the Mop Tops set to their original recordings.

“I had heard that after the Beatles saw the show for the first time, John Lennon called it ‘that Flinstones shit,’” Campbell chuckles. “And then Ringo was upset and said ‘Oh, they made me the idiot!’ Which of course, we did. Poor guy!”

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Ron Campbell surrounded by some of his animated friends
Photo by Nick Follger/Courtesy of Rock Art Show
Campbell – a creative force in animation for more than five decades – will be making a stop in Houston at the Muir Fine Art Gallery. He’ll be selling and signing original artwork, prints, and posters—subjects including the Beatles and other cartoon favorites—and talking with fans.

He more memorably worked on an animated Beatles project of an entirely different sort – the groundbreaking 1968 feature film Yellow Submarine. Scenes he animated include the Sea of Time sequence, much of the action between the Chief Blue Meanie and his toadie companion Max, and those with Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D. (aka “The Nowhere Man”). Not that he or anyone else figured the end product would be all that groundbreaking or even remembered a half-century later (this year’s anniversary will feature the movie’s return to theaters in selected cities).

“We got to work with all kinds of designs on that, things we could never do on television shows or a commercial. I didn’t think we thought we were doing anything groundbreaking at the time. Psychedelic art was already established in advertising. But we knew that Disney would never put out something like this!” Campbell says.

In fact, he says it was only 10-15 years ago while talking to fans at his gallery shows that he’s truly grasped how big a deal Yellow Submarine actually is to people. “To hear people talk so glowingly about the film…that means a lot to me,” he says.

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"All You Need is Love" (detail) by Ron Campbell
Courtesy of Rock Art Show
Just like with the TV cartoon, the Beatles’ voices in Yellow Submarine were all done by professional actors/imitators. The band themselves wanted nothing to do with the film, whose origins began more as a contractual obligation than an organic project.

But once the four Beatles had returned from their trip to India and saw a rough cut, they were blown away by the visuals and message. And that the end result was decidedly not “that Flintstones shit.”

Almost on the spot, the real-life Mssrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr decided to appear in a live-action comedy bit tacked at the end, just before the final segment of “All Together Now.”

Going back to the start, Campbell’s interest in animation grew while attending Saturday movie matinees in his native Australia when “strange creatures” (which turned out to be cartoons) were sprinkled in between various serials, newsreels, and the man feature. When his great-grandmother told him they were “just drawings,” the young Campbell immediately wanted to make his own. “I had to make my own drawings come alive. And I went to art school…thus rejecting all other possible career choices!”

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"The Flintstones" by Ron Campbell
Courtesy of Rock Art Show
His post-graduation years coincided with the rise of television, for which children’s cartoons were an important (and cheap) part of programming. He began working for producer/director Al Brodax on shows like “Krazy Kat,” “Popeye,” and “Beetle Bailey.”

Brodax was so impressed with Cambell’s work – and ability to deliver a project on time and on budget – he put the young animator in charge of this kiddie cartoon about a pop group he’d bought the rights to…

Campbell’s extensive post-Yellow Submarine resume included production, direction, animation, or storyboarding on a slew of beloved Boomer and Gen X youth cartoons. They include shows from producers like Hanna-Barbera and Disney, among them “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” “Captain Caveman,” “Yogi Bear,” “The Flinstones,” “The Jetsons,” “The Smurfs,” “The Snorks,” “Ducktales,” “Winnie the Pooh,” and “Rugrats.” He estimates that interest in his work today is about “60 percent Beatles and 40 percent everything else…Beatles fans are legion for their dedication!”

But even though many of his appearances today take place in “real” art galleries, Campbell doesn’t believe it should be so…well…art gallery-like.

“I don’t consider what I do to be fine art, but fun art,” he sums up. “I do hear over and over again that people enjoy my art. And when they hang it on the wall, they tell me when they walk into the room, they just smile. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and people remember happy moments. What more impact could an artist want?”

Ron Campbell will sign and talk March 16 (4-8 p.m.), 17 (Noon-5 p.m.), and 18 (Noon-4 p.m.) at the Muir Fine Art Gallery at City Centre, 818 Town and Country Blvd. More info at

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero