John Halas Memoir - The Origin of Halas & Batchelor

In 1991, after the death of Joy Batchelor, John began to dictate his life story. This section is his recollection of setting up his first animation studio in London and meeting Joy Batchelor.

"It was an experimental film test based on Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody that first brought me to London. My generous partner Macskassy encouraged me to do it myself while he continued to work on commercial projects. The result was a two minute colour test that though lacking in polish, with the music of Franz-Liszt, succeeded well enough for the backers to invite me to London. They consisted of a German banker’s son Weissbach, a playboy formerly married to Birgitta Helm the famous actress from ‘Metropolis’ (1927), Trigg, a commercial photographer and Denes, another photographer but of artistic type."

Music Man magazine profile 1938

"Soon after my arrival in London I discovered that there was no studio, only a back room in the photographic studio of Trigg without equipment or room for an animation unit. It was located in an attic in Denmark Street, just near Piccadilly. My first task was to obtain equipment and build up a unit and then to advertise in the Daily Telegraph for staff. Out of many applications there was one that caught my eye.

"It was from someone called Joy Batchelor, claiming to have experience as an animator. The test revealed that she was an excellent animator, better than anyone I had met before. She was immediately hired for £2.50 a week which was the standard rate for the job at the time (1936) Later I found that she could not only animate but had drawing skill considerably superior to my own or my former colleagues left behind in Hungary."

Joy Batchelor c1936

"It is not easy to compress an association of over 50 years into a few pages. Our relationship was certainly cool to start with. It was not at all ‘love a first sight’ on my part it was more a professional relationship based on a gradual interdependence on each other’s talent."

(Joy on the other hand remembered their first meeting ‘in addition to being an experienced animator I was not bad at exchanging looks. This one was riveting and I think the attraction was instant and mutual, but work came first as it has done ever since’)

"From the very start there was a basic difference in character. She was cautious, cool and rather pessimistic. I was daring, liked to take risks, and optimistic. She preferred to stay in the background while I liked the excitement of meeting new people. She had constant difficulty in adjusting to new situations. I had no problem in changing location and adjusting to a new environment. She seems to have been a local English product; constantly ready to criticise, sharp in observing the shortcomings of others, more comfortable in opposition. While from my point of view such matters carried no importance. From my perspective work was the prime element of existence and since she was talented, especially in areas where I was weak I had no problems in deepening our relationship."

"Joy’s skills in draughtsmanship her command of English, sense of story and natural wit combined with my mad insistence in seeing a project through, my acute interest in techniques, in organisation and constant application of new ideas and both our enthusiasm for animated cartoons made for a natural partnership."

"It was not until April 27th 1940 that we married and not until later that year that circumstances impelled us to form Halas & Batchelor. Throughout the early period of the war we had survived just as freelance designers. Joy in fashion for Harpers Bazar and Queen magazines and I as an illustrator for Lilliput and Graphic Designer for the Ministry of information. Animated film was at a low ebb. Nevertheless the agency J. Walter Thompson discovered our existence and commissioned us with two important films. Train trouble for Kellogg’s and Carnival in the Clothes cupboard for Lux Soap. Both were ahead of their time."

"John Grierson, Jack Beddington and Sir Arthur Elton discovered our skill and from September 1940 onwards until the end of the Second World War all our time was devoted to making propaganda, informational and educational animated films."

"By the end of the war we had lost half our natural weight but made seventy four films of between half and ten minutes length. According to the law only a Limited company could work for a Ministry, with a strictly controlled costing and expenditure. Wether we looked it or not we had to form a company. Halas & Batchelor Cartoon Films came into being because of governmental regulations."