After decades in the vault, Paul McCartney's charming television special that blends animated mice with Wings concert footage gets its long-awaited debut
The latest entry in Paul McCartney‘s ongoing archival series, an incomprehensibly expansive 11-disc box set called Wings 1971-1973, contains a wealth of material that will surely give fans a wonderful Christmastime. A previously unreleased 20-track live album of Wings’ first tour — their 1972 Wings Over Europe trek — is included with a replicated tour program, a 96-page book of Linda McCartney’s photos, and an introduction from Macca himself. The band’s oft-overlooked 1971 debut Wild Life gets its due with more than 25 bonus tracks and a DVD featuring acoustic home videos, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes footage. (One particular standout is the intimate home demo of “Dear Friend,” a musical peace offering to John Lennon penned during the height of their post-Beatles spat.) Their 1973 follow-up, Red Rose Speedway is included in its original double-disc incarnation — plus all of the B-sides, alternate mixes and unreleased tracks you could wish for — and the seldom-seen 1973 television special James Paul McCartney is given its first official release at long last.
But one of the most exciting elements of this exhaustive collection is also the most unusual: the ill-fated, unreleased hour-long animated feature, The Bruce McMouse Show. Originally produced in late 1973, it has remained one of the most mysterious titles in McCartney’s extremely well-documented cannon.
Blending concert footage with cartoons, The Bruce McMouse Show was intended for broadcast on the British television network ITV. For years little was known about it other than the loose premise: Wings perform a show and be interrupted by a family of mice living under the stage. The only other clue appeared in 2011, when a series of McCartney’s character sketches (facsimiles of which are included in the box set) briefly went up for auction, giving the public their first look at the pipe-smoking Bruce, his wife Yvonne, and their children: Soily, Swooney and Swat.
The concept was born out of McCartney’s initial idea to film the concerts for Wings’ ’72 European tour — his first proper time on the road since the Beatles’ global jaunt six years earlier. “We decided that it might be boring to watch a group in action for an hour or more,” he told NME in a 1973 interview. “So, we’ve added interest by incorporating a cartoon story about a family of mice who live under the stage.” He envisioned a technique similar to the Disney classic Mary Poppins, in which the human characters interacted with their animated counterparts.
The live portion of the project was filmed on Aug. 21, 1972 during the Wings’ set at the Congresgebouw (nowadays called The World Forum) in The Hague, Netherlands. Around the same period, the band spent afternoons filming interstitial scenes where they pretended to converse with the cartoon mice through holes in the stage. Some of the group were more enthusiastic than others. “I’m not an actor,” drummer Denny Seiwell later remembered. “That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in Wings.” On another occasion, they were called upon to perform a vintage soft-shoe routine. “We went to a studio to learn how to do a particular dance step,” Wings guitarist Henry McCullough recalled in author Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Paul McCartney: A Life. “Old-time music-hall dancing, arms in the air and such. I don’t think I ever quite made the grade.”
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Having completed the filming, McCartney then began the process of designing out the cartoon figures. Many of the sketches were apparently done during a McCartney family vacation on the island of Antigua in 1973 (some on hotel stationery), with help from Linda and daughter Heather. The playful images were then handed over to animator Eric Wylam and director Barry Chattington, who spent nearly two years splicing the cartoons and concert footage. Voice-over actor Deryck Guyler was called in to dub the middle-aged Bruce and Pat Coombes spoke for Yvonne, while McCartney, Linda, and Derek Nimmo each took one of the children.
McCartney discussed the project in a January 1974 interview with Rolling Stone, but shortly thereafter The Bruce McMouse Show was shelved for reasons that remain unknown. A few tantalizingly brief clips of the concert footage were included in two television documentaries (1986’s The Paul McCartney Special and 2001’s Wingspan), but for decades the production’s biggest legacy was the high-octane rocker “Soily,” which closed Wings’ 1976 triple-disc live album, Wings Over America.
Animator Eric Wylan’s daughter — one of the few people to see the complete film prior to its release on Dec. 7 — speculated in 2011 that it “probably didn’t stand up to McCartney’s high standards.” Whether that contributed to the film’s delayed premiere remains to be seen, but now fans can take in The Bruce McMouse Show and all of its many charms. Come for the surreal chance to watch Macca chat with a mouse, stay for the truly ripping clips of Wings in their early ’70s prime.