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Music

The reason why The Beatles didn't voice themselves in 'Yellow Submarine'

Trippy to the bone, Yellow Submarine is perhaps the most surreal cinematic offering The Beatles ever produced. Released in 1968, the film was designed to appeal to the hippie generation; and boy did it. Fans flocked in their droves to see The Beatles navigate the animated dreamworld of Pepperland, a psychedelic Eden under threat from the Blue Meanies. But, in reality, they weren’t listening to the voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In fact, the real Lonely Hearts Club Band was barely involved.

The premise of Yellow Submarine is a simple one. Pepperland is under attack from an army of yellow-teethed Smurfish creatures called the Blue Meanies. The inhabitants of this paradise call upon The Beatles to save them, which is exactly what they do, rescuing the feeble Pepperlandians to the sound of ‘When I’m Sixty Four’, ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. Whilst it contained all the Goone Show-esque absurdism of The Beatles‘ previous cinematic productions, Yellow Submarine differed in that it was entirely animated, meaning that The Beatles didn’t actually need to be present for its making. This was ideal because the band was far too busy to take time out to film what is essentially a very grand promotional tool. The band agreed to put their name to the film but did not provide their voices, only appearing once in a brief live-action sequence during the epilogue.

That’s not to say there hadn’t been attempts to get the actual Beatles more involved. In fact, initial press reports about the George Dunning production stated that The Beatles would be providing their own voices. However, it soon became apparent that actors would be needed to be hired to replace the Fab Four, who were not overly enthusiastic about the project. Indeed, it seems that Yellow Submarine was simply a way for The Beatles to complete their commitment to a three-film contract with United Artists. With their trip to India already booked, The Beatles did all they could to make the production as unintrusive as possible. This resulted in Lennon being voiced by John Clive (The Italian Job), Paul by Geoffrey Hughes (The Royle Family), Ringo by Paul Angelis (Porridge) and George by an untrained actor called Peter Batten.

The story goes that director George Dunning overheard Batten talking in a Liverpudlian accent in a London pub and cast him as George on the spot. He had never acted before but clearly made an impression. Towards the end of the production, he was in bed with one of the young women on the production team when the police burst in and arrested him for desertion. Nobody has seen or heard from him since.

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