Yabba-dabba-dooooo! Who doesn´t know this cry? Sixty years ago, the timeless Flintstone family from the prehistoric town of Bedrock first appeared on television. It was the first cartoon in which people occupied the leading role, instead of animals.

King Fred and Queen Wilma compete against King Barney and Queen Betty in the Flintstone chess set. This game was released in 1993, just before the movie The Flintstones hit theatres. The film was based on the television series, but was not a cartoon. The chess pieces, on the other hand, are clearly copies of the cartoon characters from the television show.


Joseph (Joe) Barbera and William (Bill) Hanna in 1965

The series The Flintstones was on television for a total of six seasons, and has been repeated endlessly. The series is supposedly set in the Stone Age, which makes it timeless. Various spin-offs were released, for example, with the children Pebbles and Bamm Bamm as teenagers. Television and cinema films, comics and of course all kinds of merchandise such as this chess game were also launched. Immediately after the release of the first episode in 1960, The Flintstones were a hit among viewers and they have been popular ever since.

This was not the obvious outcome, considering the idea for The Flintstones had been rejected everywhere. In the 1950s, there were different types of cartoons on television and the creators of the later Flintstones, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna, already had a few successes to their name. From 1940 onwards, they had been producing the well-known cartoons about the cat and mouse duo Tom & Jerry. The two men had been working for the then newly established Cartoon Department of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios since 1937. Barbera was in charge of the illustrations (he had been drawing cartoons since he was a child) and Hanna wrote the lyrics and music, but he too had a talent for drawing cartoons. Together, they formed a golden duo.

Children’s cartoons

So, everyone was used to children´s cartoons starring animals, when the two men came up with something revolutionary: a cartoon for both children and adults, with human beings as the main characters. They thought the idea could catch on, especially if the characters were recognisable and had problems people were familiar with. A clumsy husband, arguments with a bossy mother-in-law or a nasty boss, and living in a suburb where not much happens. Barbera and Hanna literally copied these standard ingredients for comedy series, which are still valid today, to their cartoon. They just had not decided yet on the period in which their cartoon should take place.

Barney, Betty and Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones chess set

The creators drew all sorts of sketches to try out the comic content: from families in togas like the Romans, to the first pilgrims in the 17th century, and even contemporary figures. The idea of prehistory was the one that really made their hearts beat faster: how many funny situations and puns would they be able to create around that!? Barbera and Hanna really let the creative juices flow and transferred almost everything from the sixties to their Stone Age series: pedal cars, baby mastodons as vacuum cleaners, dinosaurs as cranes or pets and so on. Naturally, all the names on the show referred to stones, such as the placename Bedrock, and baby Pebbles.

Bad reviews

Once the idea was conceived and developed more extensively, the men had to sell their series to the broadcasting stations. Everyone thought it was funny, but no one dared to broadcast a 30-minute cartoon on prime time. The idea was simply too outrageous. How would the audience react? After many fruitless presentations, when Barbera and Hanna had started to lose hope, television station ABC accepted their pitch. On 30 September, 1960, the first episode was aired. The critics did not like it. They believed that the male cartoon characters in particular were too ugly and not very likeable, so they did not think The Flintstones would last very long.

They couldn’t be have been more wrong. The series was an instant success with viewers and in 1961, The Flintstones was even nominated for an Emmy Award, the most prestigious television award in the United States. Big stars were keen to participate and got recognisable guest roles in the series. Actor Stony Curtis, with Tony Curtis as his voice-over, taught Fred Flintstone how to become a movie star, for example.

In the following years, the Flintstone family, and their friends and neighbours The Rubbles, would have many more adventures, until the curtain fell on the series in 1966. If you want to see The Flintstones now, you can come and have a look in the Chessmen Museum, where the comical figurines are arranged opposite each other on a brightly coloured chessboard.

By Marjolein Overmeer