BOOTLEG FILES 385: “The Beagles” (1966 animated TV series).
LAST SEEN: A few episodes are on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Unavailable for many years.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.
After the 1965 debut of “The Beatles” cartoon series, the small screen started to see a number of television series with unlikely rockers in comic shenanigans. The most notable of this mini-musical genre included “The Monkees,” “The Banana Splits,” “The Archies” and “Josie and the Pussycats.” Each series had its own peculiar charm and a number of genuinely memorable tunes.
However, there was another Beatles-inspired series that disappeared since its brief run in the mid-1960s. It was called “The Beagles” and it was doomed to become the least famous offering from Total TeleVision Productions, from one of the most imaginative animation companies in TV history.
Many people may not recognize Total TeleVision Productions by name, but the company’s canon of cartoon stars have entertained millions: King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog, Klondike Kat, Commander McBragg and the Go-Go Gophers were the stars of this merry operation. The Total TeleVision Productions output was a staple of Saturday morning television in the 1960s and was widely syndicated throughout the following decades.
In 1966, the company decided to cash in on the Beatles’ popularity with “The Beagles.” While its name might suggest a parody of the Fab Four, the eponymous group was actually a bipedal canine duo consisting of the guitarist Stringer and the double bass player Tubby. Vocally and emotionally, the characters were modeled after the Martin and Lewis comedy team, with the laid-back Stringer in the Dean Martin persona and the neurotic Tubby channeling Jerry Lewis.
A third leading character in this mix was the duo’s manager, Scotty. As his name might suggest, Scotty was a bipedal Scottish terrier with a thick Glaswegian brogue. Scotty also carried around a large cigar, though he rarely smoked it.
The premise of “The Beagles” was simple: Scotty would dream up cockamamie publicity stunts that were designed to bring attention to the duo’s latest songs. Inevitably, the stunts go terribly wrong and Stringer and Tubby wind up in some sort of danger. Their adventures were spread across either two or four episodes, and the song at the center of each romp would be reprised at least once per episode.
For example, Stringer and Tubby create a love song in which they claim they would join the Foreign Legion in order to get over a heartbreaking romance. Naturally, Scotty arranges for them to join the Foreign Legion – albeit as honorary members. However, the unscrupulous recruiting sergeant signs Stringer and Tubby as full-time legionnaires and they are dragged off for unpleasant military duty.
In another adventure, Scotty wants to promote a Beagles’ tune about the man in the moon by having the pair photographed in a rocket ship. Of course, the wrong lever gets pulled and Stringer and Tubby wind up in Keir Dullea-Gary Lockwood territory.
Then there is an effort to get the song “I Feel Like Humpty Dumpty” into the soundtrack of a new movie produced by the Hollywood titan C.B. Schlemiel. Scotty puts Stringer in a giant egg costume in an attempt to get the producer’s attention.
“The Beagles” had two key disadvantages. Compared to the other Total TeleVision efforts, the series was extremely benign. The company’s distinctive brand of subversive humor was absent from the episodes, and the various dangers that the bland Stringer and unfunny Tubby faced were painfully predictable.
The second problem was the core of the series: the songs performed by Stringer and Tubby (or, more accurately, the show’s uncredited singers) were nothing special. The tunes were mostly light, forgettable ballads that neither offended nor entertained. An album of Beagles tunes was released in conjunction with the series, but it barely sold.
There was also a creepy element to “The Beagles” – a weird man with a high-pitched laugh introduced the various segments of the show. The man (who was never given a name) would carry a portable television into unlikely situations (skydiving, surfing, mountain climbing) and shriek loudly that a new episode was coming up.
Total TeleVision produced 36 episodes of “The Beagles.” The series was part of CBS’ Saturday morning line-up from 1966 to 1967, and then ABC reran it the following year in their Saturday morning slate. “The Beagles” turned up in several international markets in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it was never syndicated and has not been broadcast again.
A few years ago, an incorrect report that “The Beagles” episodes were destroyed turned up online. Mercifully, the series is intact – but a lack of commercial interest in the show and a lack of funding to enable a proper restoration have kept the show out of the home entertainment markets.
However, a few bootleg episodes can be found on YouTube. A couple of these are in black-and-white and may have been taken from 16mm prints; one offering includes the original commercials from the show. If this sampling is any indication, the series was the worst of the Total TeleVision output.
If you are interested in learning more about “The Beagles” and the entire Total TeleVision canon, I would happily recommend Mark Arnold’s 2009 book “Created and Produced by Total TeleVision Productions.” Any fan of Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and their comrades can dive into that book and enjoy a wonderful trip down an animated memory lane.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!