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Produced for ABC by Hanna-Barbera, The Flintstones is an American cartoon set in the Stone Age. It depicts the lives of the Flintstones and the Rubbles, who are next-door neighbours in the fictional town of Bedrock.
The show’s humour stems from the fact that its version of the Stone Age is more like suburban America in the mid-20th century, although with primitive technology.
In this fantasy version of history, humans with modern ideas co-exist alongside various creatures from different eras in the past, such as sabre-tooth tigers, dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. The main characters, Fred and Wilma Flintstone and Barney and Betty Rubble, are embroiled in plots that deliberately resemble the sitcoms of the 1960s, when it was made.
The characters have modern kitchens with 20th century appliances, but they are worked manually by animals. With rocks for wheels, they have cars that are large, wooden vehicles with no fuel – they are powered by the driver and passengers running along inside, completely defeating the object of having a car!
The setting has led some fans to speculate that it’s set in the future, rather than in the distant past, after some kind of apocalyptic event has wiped out humanity as we know it!
They believe society has had to rebuild itself and the Flintstones are described as a “modern Stone Age family” in the theme song because they are not from thousands of years ago, but more from the future.
However, when William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created The Flintstones back in 1960, there was no mention of it being set in a futuristic, post-apocalypse setting and this theory appears to have been dreamed up in the 21st century.
The Flintstones and the Rubbles are neighbours and also best friends who hang around together in their leisure time to take part in modern-day activities. Fred is a crane operator at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company, while Barney is a quarry worker.
Their wives, Wilma and Betty, are best friends too. Both housewives who don’t work, they are depicted as level-headed ladies who enjoy spending money.
Fred and Barney enjoy socialising and they go bowling and take part in other fun pursuits typical of the 20th century.
In Bedrock, the ten-pin bowling alley is equipped with balls that are circular rocks, skittles that are pottery bottles and a bowling alley mechanism that is worked by a group of small monkeys, who descend on a trapeze to remove the knocked-down bottles and stack them up again for the next bowler.
Fred lifts the ball with remarkable ease, considering it’s a solid rock about the size of a small melon, even throwing it through the air so that it splits with the impact of landing! There’s even a soft drinks machine at the bowling alley, called Coco-Nut Koola, where Barney puts a coin in the slot and a person standing inside pops a coconut with two straws out of the hatch.
When it’s Barney’s turn to bowl, his finger gets stuck in the ball and its weight sends him hurtling down the bowling alley, crashing into the wall at the end and knocking himself out! Barney, rather than the skittles, is picked up by the trio of monkeys and deposited on the ground.
As he arrives back to where Fred is standing, a fuzzy-headed Barney says, “Did I do good, Fred?” to which his friend replies sarcastically, “Just great!”
The premise of The Flintstones was said to be inspired by an American sitcom of the era, The Honeymooners, which starred actor Jackie Gleason. Fred’s voice was provided by actor Alan Reed, who based it on Gleason’s character in The Honeymooners, bus driver Ralph Kramden.
Barney’s voice was provided by Mel Blanc, who was later permitted to record from his bed as he recovered from a near-fatal car accident, so he could carry on being Barney’s voice during his recuperation!
Actress Jean Vander Pyl provided Wilma’s voice throughout all six series, while Betty’s voice was provided by Bea Benaderet in seasons one to four and Gerry Johnson in seasons five and six.
The Flintstones was first broadcast in September 1960 and continued until April 1966, occupying a primetime TV slot – a rarity for an animated series in those days. In 2013, a poll in the magazine, TV Guide, ranked The Flintstones as the second best television cartoon of all time, beaten only by The Simpsons.
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