Art and Animation - A History of Halas & Batchelor - Part 2

This post continues Roger Manvell's history of Halas & Batchelor, written for the 40th anniversary of the studio and re-edited by Paul Wells for the book Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History in 2012. If you missed part one then you will find it here. This part covers the immediate post-war period up to the start of the end of the 1940s.

Charley Cinema promo

The immediate postwar period led, as anticipated, into an extension of the unit's work into the instructional and public relations field. On behalf of the new Socialist government, Sir Stafford Cripps (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) personally commissioned a series of films to help the public understand Socialist intentions in initiating new legislation affecting Britain's postwar reconstruction. Halas and Batchelor proposed that they introduce a man-in-the-street type of cartoon character called Charley, who at first would voice popular objections to all these reforms but was capable of being won over by persuasion, and Cripps accepted the idea with enthusiasm. The outcome was a series of seven Charley cartoons, each playing ten minutes, and shown to audiences estimated at some thirty million in the cinemas during the period 1948-9.

For example, working hard for export was the subject of Robinson Charley (1948) (for which Cripps himself carried a script credit), while the new Education Act was explained in Charley Junior's Schooldays (1949).

Other officially sponsored films were a series on the fighting services commissioned by Denis Forman (later Sir Denis Forman of Granada Television), and the marvellously menacing Fly about the House (1949), on domestic pollution by the housefly, with a dramatic score by Francis Chagrin. The unit's work extended into the international field when the American government commissioned two films about Marshall Aid and the need for the countries of postwar Europe to cooperate between themselves The Shoemaker and the Hatter (1950) and Think of the Future (1956)1.

Fly about the house

The unit had meanwhile turned away from propaganda, public relations and other sponsored films to experiment on its own with films that John Halas and Joy Batchelor made for their own personal satisfaction. The most significant of these in the 1940s was Magic Canvas (1948), which John Halas designed in association with Peter Foldes, the artist-animator who was to contribute so much to animation later both in Britain and France. Matyas Sieber, who composed the music for this film, has written about it, describing not only the nature of the film, but the contribution the composer was to make to it:

The film was an abstract project; consequently, I considered that a similarly 'abstract' chamber music piece would be the most appropriate musical equivalent. I chose the rather odd combination of one flute, one horn and a string quartet. The form of the piece is that of a rather free 'phantasy', consisting of several sections. A slow contrapuntal piece covers the first section. At the dramatic moment of the human shape breaking into two the horn enters for the first time. The speed increases, and at the moment when the bird breaks away the flute takes over. Now follows an ‘allegro' movement which covers the stormsequence. The next section, the revival of nature, is expressed by a 'pastorale' in the music. This is followed by a ‘scherzo', covering the play with the waves. Then a bridge section leads back to the recapitulation of the slow movement, as the bird returns to the human shape. But the slow movement returns transformed: instead of the lowpitched, brooding mood as it appeared originally, it comes back now in a higher register, and a solo violin ends the piece, as the bird disappears in the distance.... It was one of the rare cases when, within the framework of the story, it was possible to create an autonomous musical composition, a ‘Phantasy' consisting of a slow Introduction, an Allegro, a Pastorale, a Scherzo and, finally, a Recapitulation of the slow Introduction.

You can watch The Magic Canvas here


Many of the dates in the original text have been corrected, particularly for the Charley series. Both of the films from the series quoted were credited as 1947, and I think this discrepancy comes from dating films from the start of production, which can often be more imprecise. This site will use dates of release unless otherwise indicated.

1. In the original text this film was dated as 1949 which is why the film appears in this section. In fact it was not released until 1956.

H&B at 75

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