First came the cartoons. Beatles cartoons. I mean, what do you want? I was just a little kid, 6, maybe 7 years old. They were wacky, noisy, cute little moptop cartoon characters, but then THEY SANG SONGS! Great, soul stirring songs, masculine & feminine all at the same time. I had heard these songs, my brothers had the albums. Wait a minute, cartoon characters make long playing LPs? Of course they did. The Monkees, The Archies, The Jackson 5 and even The Osmonds all had their own cartoon shows, and they had all topped the charts…but, these Beatles seemed different. More anarchic, more soul delivered pound for pound, more choice…and those songs, come on!

I mean, even at this tender age I knew good music when I heard it. Growing up, I awoke to the sound of my father singing in the kitchen every morning. Huge, lusty singing, often with the lyrics re-arranged to suit his own humorous purpose. And I had seen him single-handedly commandeer a party in a living room, or round a campfire, simply with his guitar and his amazing ability to be a raconteur. I knew entertainment, up until this point in my life, I had been entertained every day & night.

So, here came The Beatles. You could choose one for yourself and humour yourself that the other 3 maybe weren’t that special. This belief would hold out until the first Wings and Ringo solo albums appeared, and you just knew that these four guys were stronger together.

I really dug McCartney. Even in the cartoons he seemed handsome & diplomatic, with a twinkle in his eye that suggested more mischief than lay on the surface. Also, he played a weird looking bass guitar, which was small, wood grained & pointed the wrong way, and he sang while, apparently, not watching his fingers at all. This bass, I later learnt, was a Hofner. An ancient german instrument of dubious craftsmanship, modelled on a Gibson EB-1 violin shaped guitar, although in keeping with Hofner’s classical pedigree which included violins & cellos, was hollow, thereby introducing the missing link between the double bass & the electric bass guitar, and would smell like a warm, fresh turned renaissance table leg with green felt. But I get ahead of myself. All I knew at this time was that I dug Paul & his mates, & related to their music wholeheartedly, and couldn’t wait to see what cartoon Ringo would mess up on the next sing-a-long section of their show.

Unbeknownst to me, The Beatles were already effectively over, and their last gasp (up to this point anyway) was their new movie Let it Be. My brother Benny took me to see this grainy, cold, miserable masterpiece at The Capitol Cinema in Swanston St Melbourne, where I, expecting more cartoon japes, hi-jinx and Hard Days Help, promptly fell asleep. It was a documentary about a supergroup breaking up, but I was just a kid, and anyway, docos about supergroups breaking up had yet to be invented, so nobody knew how to take this turgid movie right then.

Being in front of the tele every Saturday morning watching Beatles, Archies & Monkees also brought me into contact with pop shows, and in particular, one which was broadcast from Channel O, in the leafy eastern suburb of Nunawading, just up the road. Happening 70, hosted by Ross D. Wyllie, came out of the same studios that also brought us Deadly Earnest with the Friday night creature feature, and the bizarrely scary Adventure Island with its long, soap opera pauses, loud creaky doors and frightening bear costumes…I felt right at home with Channel O. It was local, familiar, accessible and creepy/friendly.

Happening 70 was a typical Saturday morning pop show, with local bands smirking embarrassingly while they mimed (badly) to their current hit, and occasionally a grainy, third generational quality film clip from some exotic overseas group. Interviews with pop pundits, forgotten singers and audience members were also trotted out to help pad the show. ALL IN GLORIOUS, MYSTERIOUS BLACK & WHITE! One Saturday morning, Ross announced a competition. Draw The Beatles and win fab memorabilia plus a double pass to see their new movie Let it Be. Even though I had already seen this film, I decided to enter. I mean, I drew them every day, all over everything I could get my hands on. I could copy the cartoon Beatles pretty well, and came to be a pretty expert 7 year old anime forgery artist. I dashed off a pen and ink drawing of my animated heroes, in that King Features style, but segregated a la Let it Be, in four joined panels. I sent it in, and being a kid, mentally sat down to wait fame & fortune.

Within that month, the contest was over and I tuned in to see the result. Horror! Shock! Ross D. Wyllie sat behind his host’s desk, playfully showing off beautiful, detailed lithographs and swirly psychedelic masterpieces that put my little square cartoon in the shade. Adults had entered my competition? Bah!! The sinking feeling continued as Ross held up each, increasingly more artistic and detailed piece, and oohed and ahhed over the artistic prowess of those involved. I was out of my league, and almost changed over to Channel 9 to catch HR Puf’nstuf. (Every boy my age wanted to be Jimmy with his golden flute, but I also wanted to be in The Beatles) Before I could reach for the channel selector knob however, Ross D. Wyllie held up a small square of cardboard and announced with a smile that a special award was to be given to 7 year old Philip Smith from The Basin, just down the road, for his cartoon Beatles drawing. And there it was, the last time I would ever see it, as he held it up for all to see. I was ecstatic, but nobody else was around, the only video recorder was owned & operated by Jules Verne and so I had to bask all by myself. But I HAD WON on Happening 70.

What I had won would turn out to be a collectors’ edition of the Let it Be LP, encased in a special  cardboard box with the album’s artwork on it, which also contained a book, Get Back, with large colour shots of the band recording said record, and a lot of adult gibberish spoken mysteriously by my heroes. To collect my prize, Dad had to take me into Melbourne to Sutton’s in Elizabeth Street, a 6 floor Aladdin’s Cave of Sheet music, tubas and guitars. As we wound our way up the polished stairs of Sutton’s we noticed the walls decorated with all the big people’s artwork from the competition, and my Dad set about looking for my drawing amongst them. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that my hastily scribbled ‘toon was a mere dribble amongst this artistic flood, and that I had probably only won something because I had included my tender age with the application. Probably my first self-deprecating thought, but certainly not  the last. Anyway, I received my prize dutifully, and on the way back down the stairs, we stopped off on the guitar floor, and Dad bought me a ukulele. It was small, brown wood grain, old style and smelt like a warm, renaissance Hofner.

I never had a chance.

PS- the book, badly bound, soon fell apart, and I cut up those glorious Ethan Russell photos to stick all over my wall and schoolbooks. My brothers, all music aficionados, were horrified at such wanton destruction of this sacred tome, but I was sanguine. It was my book, I had won it with my cartoon. Some 40 years later, I finally tracked down another copy of it on Ebay for $50, and my whole family breathed a sigh of relief.

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