Art and Animation - A History of Halas & Batchelor - Part 6

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. Here are links to parts one, two, three, four and five. This part covers the second half of the sixties.

Two special productions in the field of entertainment involved the unit in a new kind of undertaking. The first was a wholly live-action film, The Monster of Highgate Pond (1961), sponsored by the Children’s Film Foundation, which specialises in producing entertainment for younger children. Conceived and scripted by Joy Batchelor, and directed by the celebrated film-maker, Alberto Cavalcanti, this charming fantasy was, even as late as 1975, voted, by children attending the special matinees in London’s cinemas, the best live-action feature. The other production, also primarily the work of Joy Batchelor, was a one-hour animated feature based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Ruddigore (1968), sponsored by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation of New York, and made with the assistance of the voices of the D’Oyle Carte Opera Company with the music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was only made possible by the impending release of the operas from copyright, which permitted much freer and more experimental forms of production than had hitherto been the case. The animation, and in particular the choreography of the chorus, was highly stylised.

Ruddigore 1967Ruddigore (1967)

The other principal productions of the 1960s were educational – indeed, education was to be by now John Halas’s primary interest. Longmans, the publishers, sponsored two series of language-teaching films – The Carters of Greenwood (English) and Martian in Moscow (Russian), each series consisting of twelve four-minute films. Macmillan in turn sponsored twelve twelve-minute films for teaching French, Les Aventures de la Famille Carré, while McGraw-Hill promoted eight twelve-minute films on the Evolution of Life (1964); the latter, like those made by the unit for BP, have a schematic stylisation in graphic design which combines clarity of exposition with beauty of composition and use of colour. Other informational films developing John Halas’s special talent for graphic exposition were Wonder of Wool, (1961) made for the International Wool Secretariat, with finely designed animation showing the growth and chemical nature of the wool fibre, and the scientific films, Linear Programming, Matrices and Topology (1966) (on the science of shapes), designed and directed by Harold Whitaker, who was also responsible for a spoof educational film, Flow Diagram (1967)1, on what is in effect a time and motion study of the processes involved in bathing a dog. Also, at the close of the 1960s, a series of films on mathematics, including Functions and Relations (1968), were produced in co-operation with the distinguished mathematician, Patrick Murphy; these were animated by Harold Whitaker to storyboards drawn up by Stan Hayward, who also directed a two-reel film, What is a Computer? (1967), showing the evolution of calculation from the abacus to the data-storing computer, and scripted Tony Guy’s equally lucid film about the history of weights and measures, Measure of Man (1969). To this period too, belong two of Joy Batchelor’s best informational films, The Commonwealth (1962) and The Colombo Plan (1967), both made for the Central Office of Information.

During the early 1960s, a new organisation, the Educational Film Centre (EFC), was established in association with Halas and Batchelor at the suggestion of the educationalist, Maurice Goldsmith; the initial directors also included Lord Snow (C. P. Snow) and Roger Manvell, who was at that time working on research and scriptwriting for the unit. The Centre’s primary interest at this stage was the so-called ‘Concept film’, brief 8mm silent film loops contained in cassettes and designed to illustrate in colour specific points in scientific and technological textbooks which were written with their use by the teacher in mind, providing immediate classroom animated illustration as and when required. With the backing of Technicolor, which was interested not only in marketing the films but in selling the very inexpensive miniature projectors needed for demonstration, some 200-loop films on biology, mathematics and general science were produced between 1961 and 1969, under the direction of Brian Borthwick and the sponsorship of the publishers, Macmillan and Longmans. The idea of the concept film was excellent for its period, but its function in the classroom has now been superseded by other media. The EFC also sponsored in 1967 two one-reel films on elementary sex education for schoolgirls, Girls Growing Up (1967) and Mothers and Fathers (1970), scripted and designed by Dorothy Dallas.

1. I don't believe that this actual is a "spoof" educational film, rather a demonstration of how well H&B could bring entertainment as well as education in a concise script. Judge for yourself via the embedded link, or even better look at the handsome-looking remastered version on the new Halas & Batchelor Short Film Collection DVD.

H&B at 75

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