For Filmmakers, Love Is Still All You Need
Part of the 40th Anniversary Series on “Behind the Scenes of the Yellow Submarine”
author of Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles Animated Classic
The Yellow Submarine film is one of the neglected areas in the Beatles’s otherwise well-documented careers. Because the Beatles themselves had almost nothing to do with its creation, historians usually gloss over these 11 months (summer ’67 – summer ’68) with a few pages of colorful photos. The text too often relates what John, Paul, George, and Ringo were doing during this time period (India, White Album, etc.) rather than telling us what the filmmakers were doing and thinking behind the scenes. Thus the little anecdotes of creative hysteria that resulted in this generationally classic film have gone largely unrecorded. With 2008 marking the 40th anniversary of the theatrical premiere of the Yellow Submarine we are taking the opportunity to remind you there were true identities with hearts and souls behind this film that we all love so well.
It’s no secret that love was abounding in the London animation studios where this film was created. It was called the Summer of Love for a reason, after all. Almost all of the animation crew members I talked to described their production team as a family. One of the most beautiful renditions of a “Yellow Submarine love story” is that of Cam and Diana Ford. Forty years, three children, and (currently) two grandchildren later, they not only fondly recall their Submarine days, but they are terrific story-tellers with a collection of drawings, photographs, and notes never before seen. Cam and Diana Ford in Australia are two of the most exciting discoveries we made after the publication of my book Inside the Yellow Submarine in 2002.
Other memoirs have played up the fact that several babies were born during and as a result of the Yellow Submarine production, implying the crew was dominated by drugged-out hippie flower children. Contrary to that colorful exaggeration, however, the facts reveal a much more professional and legitimate experience. “The kids from art schools who worked on the end of the film were smoking something peculiar downstairs,” says Diana. “It used to knock you out when you went down there, but the rest of us were working so hard. You had to have a clear mind to do it, you know.” Cam adds, “Everyone was totally straight on the upstairs production. You had to work so hard and fast that you couldn’t work on smokeables or drinkables. It just wouldn’t have come out the same. It would have been a mishmash.” Granted continuity is one of the film’s weakest points, but what continuity there was would have been lost had they been as high as everyone assumed they had been. “We were high on the film itself,” enthused Cam. “That was enough.”
Cam and Diana met in their native Australia in 1963 at Artransa animation studios – years before the Yellow Sub was even an idea for a children’s song floating through Paul McCartney’s head. “Strangely enough,” said Cam, “we were doing some films for Al Brodax [Producer of Yellow Submarine] even then. We were doing a series of Beetle Bailey and Krazy Kat cartoons that had been subcontracted out to Australia. And Diana came and joined the studio to help in the ink and paint.” Cam remembers noticing Diana at lunch one day reading Émile Zola’s Germinal, and being immediately impressed (that memorable tight brown sweater also helped!). Before long he was driving her to and from work in his VW Beetle.
Their paths diverged as Diana headed off to England, and Cam took a job in Spain. As Cam said, “We both got the travel bug when we were young -- most Australians do. Diana took off to England in 1964 for a year or so to do the grand tour of Europe. We’re so far from anywhere down here in Australia, that when we travel, we really travel… About six months later some friends and I loaded a Volkswagen Kombi onto a ship and took it to India and drove from Bombay to London. So we met up again in London, but Di had met somebody else at that stage, that foolish girl! So I went down to Spain to work where I had a job lined up in Barcelona.”
Diana returned home later that year via the Tran-Siberian railway through China, “much to my mother’s horror,” she adds. “Actually I didn’t tell her until I was in Hong Kong, I just I said I was coming home, I didn’t say how. I rang her from Hong Kong finally, and she said ‘Darling, where are you? And I said, ‘Well, I’m in Hong Kong.’ And she said ‘How did you get there? By plane?’ I said “’No, I’ve come by train. (laughs) By train all the way from London!’” Cam proudly adds that she smuggled out several rolls of film in her bra, because in China then you couldn’t take pictures. Upon her return, she sold them to a magazine, which she tosses off lightly today, saying, “Well, it paid for the trip home!” It was soon after this adventurous trip home that she decided to break off her engagement.
Diana and Cam kept in touch, and by mid-1967, Cam had landed a job in London with John Coates as an animator at TVC where the crew was being assembled to work on Yellow Submarine. Later that year, when Diana wrote to say she was returning to England, Cam was on his way to meet her at the docks in Southampton. He immediately took her to the Submarine studios and got her a job as a trace and paint artist, though she’s quick to point out that she had to pass some careful testing before getting the job – they weren’t taking just anyone off the streets. “I had to undergo some testing for trace and paint. I think they wanted to make sure that I could actually hold a paintbrush and a Rapidograph [a technical drawing pen]. So I did some little tests, and later that afternoon, I was working on Old Fred at a desk with four other girls, in one of a series of small rooms throughout the Soho Square studio.”
Six weeks later she and Cam were engaged. Cam remembers celebrating their engagement with dinner and a play. They stopped on the way to the theatre to mail the news to their parents, and in his excitement, Cam also dropped the envelope containing their theatre tickets into the mailbox! He didn’t realize it, however, until asked to present his tickets for admission at the theater, whereupon hearing their story, the theatre manager took pity on them and gave them the best seats in the house!
Returning to the studio in Soho Square and proudly displaying their engagement ring, they remember being amazed that some of their co-workers refused to believe them, given that it was April Fool’s Day, and there was a serious ethic of practical joking from beginning to end on this production. (See companion articles in this series at http://www.21stCenturyRadio.com/yellowsub, where you can also read Cam’s memories of animating the 7th Cavalry Charge in the Sea of Monsters, and Diana’s of the Lucy in the Sky sequence.) After finally convincing them, however, it was reason enough to head over to the crew’s favorite pub, the Dog and Duck (“the nerve center of the whole production” says Cam), and celebrate with an extended lunch. If head of TVC John Coates is reading this, Cam and Diana say you still owe them a bottle of champagne.
Upon completion of the Submarine, Cam and Diana returned to Australia, got married, and eventually opened up their own animation studio. Since 1975 Cam has been the Animation Director of Cinemagic Animated Films, observing the strength of Yellow Submarine in his choice of company name when he says, “I always reckon that animation came into its own when sound and music were paired together with it, and then it really was magic.” Cinemagic has done well over 500 television commercials, plus documentaries, TV series and camera services for other studios, including a film for Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. Diana has combined her artistic skills with her training and passion for music, working now as musician artisan of instruments, as well as a teacher and performer. One of her specialties is painting designs on the soundboards of high-end harpsichords designed after the early Flemish and French periods around the 1600s. She has just finished one for the Sydney Opera House, and later this year will begin painting a truly lavish harpsichord for the Sultan of Oman.
Their easy camaraderie and obvious affection make Cam and Diana Ford seem more like newlyweds than a couple married 40 years. And their union is just one of several that blossomed on the Submarine and continue to this day. We might remember that staying power the next time we watch the film. The clever transformation of the Dreadful Flying Glove into the LOVE that is all you need was not created by the brilliant wit of the real-life John Lennon. It was created by young couples like this one, very much in love with each other, with the Beatles, with life itself, and the optimism of the times. Theirs is the love you genuinely feel pouring from this film straight into your heart.
Inside the Yellow Submarine is available at amazon.com. Autographed copies and related items can be purchased from http://www.21stCenturyRadio.com/yellowsub, where you will also find the other 40th anniversary articles in this series.