This page is a transcript of the journal of Jenny Reyn posted as scans here
How I came to work for Halas & Batchelor
In 1939 I was working in an advertising studio in Eccleston Square. At the outbreak of war our Mr Mott and Mr Ralph told us that they were to conserve the firm’s capital and start again at the end of the war. We fully expected it to be the end of everything; that we would at once be bombed and gassed, so we all went out to lunch and claimed the tower of Westminster Cathedral to take a long last look at London.
As it happened all was quiet apart from the occasional jittery air-raid siren and we all went home to await events and find alternative work. I stayed at home for a while feeling very guilty about living off my parents until someone told me they wanted a cashier at Bonsey’s the butcher at Gerrard’s Cross. Now I had always hated Maths, in fact was very hazy with basic arithmetic, but to my surprise I passed the interview and was about to start after a week-end when my
good friend Frank Burrows (we’d met on the train to London) came round to tell me that a firm of Goldmiths, Silversmiths, Assayers etc. called Johnson and Matthey were moving some of their staff out of London to a private house in South Park at Gerrard’s Cross and as he knew the manager of the unit, had asked him to take me on in the office there. Luckily I found that it was a very minor job, checking off invoices with photostats as they came in. It was a big house and the people working there boarded and had a resident cook, so I had a free meal at midday and was given the scraps for our few weedy hens. Some of the girls working there came from the East End, and when the bombing on London started they were often in tears as they heard news of their homes being shattered.
On the whole it was very pleasant there, with the office work incidental to the domesticity. At that time I occasionally stayed with Joyce whilst Iain was out with the Fire Service who were very busy helping out in London. Derek Pike and Rodney
used to come and meet me as I walked from Joyce to South Park along what was then the Lower Road. Lovely blue skies and beautiful sunshine. War seemed far away.
Meanwhile, Ernest was looking in the papers for a more suitable job for me and he found the advertisement for people to help Halas and Batchelor in creating their cartoon film. They agreed to see me and in fear and trembling to the sound of anti-aircraft fire, I made my way to Cheyne Walk in Chelsea where the two were living in a flat. On the strength of my specimens from Ralph & Mott they took me on and after a week or two was told to join them at Bush House where they were working in the basement, sponsored by J. Walter Thompson. John and Joy worked very hard to devise the characters, do the key animation and Joy to set all to the music. The first film I remember was advertising Lux soap flakes which I had to animate. There was a little Ballet Dance in it and some little deer - like the Babycham deer - and they danced to the sound of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony - pieces from it which suited the characters.
As war progressed and bombing more purposeful it was decided to move out of London to a private house in Bushey. Halas and Joy’s flat had been destroyed and John came in to give us work, but joy had been buried, we heard, under rubble and John’s hands were sore where he had scrabbled to get her out. However it could not have been too serious - I think her legs were hurt - and in a few weeks she was back and we all rejoiced to hear that wonderful Hungarian violin concerto, which rises to exquisite heights, coming from their room next door.
We were only about six of us at that time and our wages were nominal - about £7.10s, until one of us, a little fellow called Mac agitated for us to join the union of Cine Technicians and decided that we should go on strike. I was very upset about this as I knew that John & Joy sometimes worked all night so that we would have work next day, and there was little Mac wasting time with all his Union Propaganda.
After a meeting with Betty Box during which I tremblingly put my point of view, which was ignored, we were told by John that we should all join the union
including them, and miraculously our wage packets increased to £11.00 which was quite good in those days. Helping Halas & Batchelor was Ian Mackenzie who used to rush in and no time the ‘storyboard’ drawings which he had done were surrounding the walls. He was so full of energy and I was not surprised later in life to hear of him in the “real” film world directing and producing films.
Rodney Price had introduced me to a “Dad’s Army” man who worked at the Town Hall in Watford, so he kindly gave me a lift into Bushey and I caught the bus home to Chalfont St Peter - the blacked out bus, which really made me depressed.
I was not involved in any major films of the company as I left when they were just talking about Animal Farm. Although hostilities were still going on, we moved back to London to Soho Square. There was a shelter in the middle of the Square, but when the sirens went we all, except John’s secretary, went on working, and her agitated footsteps could be heard rushing downstairs as soon as the siren started.
Luckily nothing dropped on us, although it was sometimes quote close, and on coming out at lunch time, the air would be full of choking dust whilst police and ambulances rushed around. I wondered what happened to a poor woman who went rushing along Oxford St, her face streaming blood, evidently in extreme fear. We did some films for the Admiralty and the War Office at this time. Dig for Victory was for the Home Front and much to my shame i animated one potato character into his partner, which caused a lot of head scratching until my mistake was discovered. The War films were to tell soldiers how to avoid V.D., leeches, foot rot and other horrible things which they might encounter.
Ship Control was for Navigation and I had to go down to Technicolor and move tiny ships along a route of pin pricks which Joy had planned on a large sheet of blue. All went well, the camera clicking each frame as I moved the wee ship - until lunch time. When I got backI was unable to remember the next move as the ship had been jogged off its
position. The best I could do was to move on and hope for the best. As it happened there was a sudden jerk when the rushes were seen but I expect by cutting they were able to use the film. Commander Crick used to breeze in from time to time, and knowing that I visited my sister in Kent, asked me to visit his yacht whitewash at Tong. I may have the name wrong. Anyway we never went. Now the V bombs started and we had to get used to the chug-chug as they went over hoping they wouldn’t cut out and land on us. Walking down Regent Street one was plainly visible like a toy plane, and people rushed into shops door ways, which was unwise with all the glass around, but luckily the plane chugged on and someone else may have been unlucky.
When Victory Day came Ernest and I went up to London and joined the press of people hoping to see the King and Queen. Poor Ernest wanted to go to No. 10 Downing St to catch a glimpse of Churchill but selfishly I had arranged for us to meet some of the people with whom I worked and they wanted to go to Buckingham Palace. There was a great crush
of people there and we were unable to get very near but after waiting for hours the Royal Family came on the balcony and we all cheered and sang. Home again to Clayton Way and the end of the street party.
When Sue decided to come - she was born in 1946 - I told Halas that I should be leaving and he said “Jenny we had not expected this” and apart from a little freelance work for them that was the end of my film career.