The old joke runs, ‘Anyone who says they remember the 60’s wasn’t really there’. Well, being born in 1964, I don’t remember much of that decade, except for one special year: 1969. It was the year Grandpa took my big sister and me to a big building, filled with screaming kids and surrounded by a high brick wall. I found out later that this was called ‘school’ and spent the next 13 years trying to break out. I also remember the first moon landing and Star Trek and thinking they were both the same thing! 1969 was also the year I got a Yellow Submarine for Christmas. At the time, I didn’t know much about The Beatles (living in a household that played Sinatra and Beethoven!), and nothing about the film, which was released in 1968. When I finally saw it on television around 1973, it captivated me and I love it still. Very much of its time, the cartoon is undeniably a landmark in British animation (the first animation in the world was made in the UK) and no true Beatle fan would ignore it, which is probably why Corgi released their model in 1969. So take a trip to Pepperland with Corgi and explore the various Yellow Submarine models they have produced since 1969…
Corgi takes a dive
1969 was a year of mixed fortunes for Corgi. Following a bad fire, much of the stock and records for that year were destroyed,
but the new releases were outstanding, and productionsoon caught up. As far as the Yellow Submarine is concerned, the incomplete records show 44,000 sales to its withdrawal around 1972. But there are two distinct versions and these figures give
us no clue as to how many of each were produced. Both versions use the artistic licence of including opening hatches and pop up figures, but one version accurately follows the cartoon paint scheme with a yellow rear and white front hatch. A red line separates the white upper part of the sub from the yellow lower.
This colour scheme appears as an illustration on the back of the box and as a photograph in publicity material. But what of its origins? Trawling the internet for further information produces a number of ideas as to its origin/scarcity, which includes:
‘only 1 in 50 was made in this colour scheme’ and ‘only 400 were made and were accidentally sent to FAO Schwartz in New York’.
Rather than proliferate the stories, I thought I’d ask someone who would know best, Marcel R Van Cleemput, chief designer for Corgi until 1983 and author of the incomparable Great Book of Corgi. As Mr Van Cleemput said to me, many years have passed, but he is quite sure that the white and yellow hatch version was a later issue and absolutely certain that it was not a promotional, export or special limited version. Factory errors did occur, but were in the nature of misinterpretation (rather than Friday afternoon syndrome) and were quickly stopped. For my part, I suspect that one possible reason for the short run is economics.
Above: Fabulous artwork inspired by the cartoon spreads all over the original box. Note that the model shown does not have red hatches
Leaving out the red band and painting both hatches red would have reduced the number of processes needed to produce each model and therefore, reduce the cost per unit. Whichever explanation you choose is your prerogative – you pays your money and takes your choice. One thing is certain, very, very few survive. Over the last five years of auctions at Vectis, only 43 Yellow Submarines have come up for sale; a tiny number in itself. Of those, only five have had white and yellow hatches. Bearing this in mind, if and when you find one and pays your money, you won’t get much change out of £1,000 for a minter. Happily the red hatch version is just as delightful. This version, like its compatriot, consists of two main castings held together by two rivets. Underneath is a tricycle wheel arrangement (one small and two large wheels) with a plastic roller to hold up the tail.
Judging from my model and many others I have seen, this roller is held on by an axle trapped by pinching extensions of the body casting at either side and is very prone to dropping out. The centre wheels drive the set of four revolving periscopes. Two unpainted buttons, sitting fore and aft amid the join of the castings, operate the opening hatches. These hatches open with some force, and continued use usually results in wear which manifests itself in hatches that click shut, but leave a gap. The figures of The Beatles are well decorated, but to me, only the Ringo figure is recognisable, with John looking like Roy Wood (of Wizard fame) and Paul resembling Mr Spock! Never mind, it’s a lovely, bright toy and very tactile for young hands. Added to the decoration are various porthole transfers, etc. Unlike the cartoon version, this sub has one propeller.
All issues come in a brightly decorated window box with header card. It is illustrated all over with characters from the cartoon and is a gem in itself. The interior consists of a thin, urquoise coloured, polystyrene seascape background and base combined. Unfortunately, yellow paint seems to chip easily (my imagination?) and certainly fades in strong light.
In addition, both box and interior have found it hard to survive the last 36 years or so. Therefore, truly mint examples with mint boxes are few and far between. Add this factor to the tiny production run, even of the red hatch version, and it’s no wonder that pristine, boxed specimens will still demand around £350-400.
Above: The imaginative ‘record’ brochure from 1997 is collectable its own right
And that was that for many years. The model was discontinued in 1972, the film faded away, being shown but rarely on TV and often missing some of its songs (‘Hey Bulldog’ in particular). Even with the rise of videos in the 80s no copies were released due to a copyright dispute. Then, in 1996 came a major television series on The Beatles, accompanied by three albums all called ‘Anthology’. They were a sensation and The Beatles were once again big news. Not so surprising then, that Corgi, with the old moulds of the Yellow Submarine still to hand and the new moulds of the Bedford VAL coach, etc, realised that a series of Beatle related models was a good idea.
Above: Getting to the bottom of things… On the left we have the original Yellow Submarine with two rivets and on the right we show the 1997 issue with four screws. Another way of identifying the originals from the reissues at a glance is that on the original the buttons that open the hatches are unpainted, while on the 1997 issues they are painted black.
In early 1997, Corgi released a small catalogue showing the six models in the new Beatles
Collection range. In a masterstroke, the catalogue style mirrored the collage design of the Anthology albums. To add effect, the catalogue was designed to appear like a record and placed within a cardboard sleeve. It’s no surprise that this catalogue has become a collector’s item in its own right. When the models appeared, they used the same collage style on their boxes. At first glance, the re-release of the Yellow Sub appears a slavish copy. Not so, for there are many changes. The model now has four small screws holding it together. The front wheel is now a roller and the conning tower rail and periscopes are made from polystyrene, instead of polythene.
Above: One of two variations on the re-release
of the Yellow Submarine issued around1996/97.
This version, CC05401, is the one with a two offset
oblong shaped window and the little catalogue
sitting right next to the model.
Both hatches have additional side bars inside to guide (I presume) them to the closed position. The buttons to activate the hatches are now painted black. I may be imagining things, but the pop up figures appear to have been remodelled too. Certainly the mould lines are different. The model sits snugly in its box and is accompanied by a small catalogue and certificate. A variation is known regarding the design of cellophane window. Some are in the shape of two offset oblongs, whilst others have a fan shape. In this packaging, the model lasted till 1999. After decades of obscurity, Yellow Submarine was finally released, uncut, on DVD in 1999. It was accompanied by a new album, a new CD and much critical acclaim and public popularity.
Above: This is the second 1997 variation, CC05401, the difference being the little catalogue now appears in the lid and the cut-out shape in the box is shaped like the Yellow Submarine as opposed to two oblongs. Note the base of this model now sports screws instead of the rivets that came with the original 1960s’ issue.
Around 1999 Corgi revamped The Beatles Collection. Off went the AEC billboard truck, and the Dormobile; in came new packaging and figures for the Yellow Submarine.
Below: The last of the large Yellow
Submarine reproductions, CC05403
With 54mm white metal Beatles figures.
The new window box with header card was a rather austere black and the pictures of The Beatles (more Hard Day’s Night than Yellow Submarine) were given greater emphasis. But the new, separate figurines were excellent. The 54mm metal figures were very accurate renditions of the cartoon characters and dressed correctly for their journey as The Beatles and not Sergeant Pepper’s band. Unfortunately, this was a limited edition and according to the certificate in my example, only 5,250 were made. Selling for £26 or so at the time, it is understandably the rarest and most desirable of the re-issued versions. This edition appears in the 2000 fold out leaflet for Corgi’s TV themed models, but it was replaced by brand new model.
Below: Small version of the Yellow
Submarine with figures, CC05404
This is a completely new casting of the Yellow Submarine. The new sub measures 67mm high and 114mm long. This compares to the original model’s 69mm and 132mm respectively. Strangely, the dimensions aren’t that different and yet the model seems much smaller and more squat. Gone are the opening hatches, revolving periscope feature and white upper deck. Although a much simplified model, at least the painted figures are included and seem not to have been reduced in size. The box is most nostalgic with its lovely artwork from the film. This box art was applied to all the models in the range, which now consisted of the Yellow Submarine, the ‘Penny Lane’ bus in 1/64th scale, the coach in 1/76th scale and the only surviving original model, the ‘Newspaper Taxi’, but Rita had gone for a tea break! Apart from the Yellow Submarine casting change, the other new model in the series was a 1/36th scale representation of George Harrison’s psychedelic Mini. This model had a very short life. Apparently Apple Corporation withdrew the licence, but this is speculation and, as they say, another can of worms. Anyway, I can’t see any reason why permission would be withdrawn after production had started, unless the money wasn’t right. Besides, Corgi would soon drop the Beatles range altogether, so this Yellow Submarine would become quite scarce.
After around 24 months of producing the new Yellow Sub, Corgi changed the model and box yet again. Introduced in 2002 and
(at the time of writing in 2006) currently available, advertising photos show the model with red hatches in the closed position. On release, the model underwent more economies as the hatches were body colour yellow, though, of course, there may be some out there with red hatches.
Above: Corgi's last mini-sub is just a little bland, but the artwork is worth the price
This final version is just a little disappointing. With the hatches clamped shut and the colour scheme all yellow, the only saving grace is the addition of further artwork from the movie on a new box. There is a certain irony with this toy. The film was not a great success on release and the original model had one of the smallest runs for any Corgi toy (less than 65,000 units or so, if you guestimate 1969 sales as well). Yet six distinct versions now exist and it’s still in the range – the Blue Meanies don’t stand a chance! However, if you want all the versions, your nearest and dearest will grow white hair, your credit card will melt and you will be covered with scars and bruises from beating off Beatle fans who will collect any Fab Four memorabilia they can get their hands on. All you need is love? No, you’ll need plenty of cash too!
Since this article appeared, I have discovered that in 2000, Corgi altered the CC05403 Yellow Submarine by changing
the hatches to yellow and white, but note; though it's close to the scarce original, it still doesn't have the red banding.
In 2008, Corgi released its latest large scale sub.
Numbered BT78211, it has yellow and white hatches (no red bands) and is packaged in a bubble box. I believe it was deleted around 2009, and it'scertainly getting scarce now. So now you have even more to budget for!
If you're looking for die cast Beatles models, you might like to try Beatlesales.com, who I found very helpful and reasonable.
A little help from my friends…My special thanks to Marcel R. Van Cleemput for his generous help; to Beatlesales.com for some scarce models and extra special thanks to Luke and Amy for reminding me what it was like to be young, bright eyed and full of wonder – after all, that’s what the film is all about.