Joy Batchelor 12 May 1914 – 14 May 1991

Young Joy 25 years since her death and the world is a different place.

After spending the war making propaganda and information films such as Dustbin Parade (1942) viewable here (1942), and the immediate post war era making films to rebuild Europe such as Shoemaker and the Hatter (1950) clip and Think of the Future (1953) clip both made for the Marshall Plan, Joy passionately believed in the socialist dream. Both she and John felt that animation could be used to make the world a better place as their series of films for the COI featuring Charley an everyman character who helped introduce the idea of the National Health Service and social security.

I think she would have been very saddened to see how those very principles of a fairer society are being dismantled or at very best eroded as I write.

Here is one of the early Charley films explaining the idea of social security.

Although we have not achieved those grand ideas or progressed much as the caring society she dreamt of, in the past 25 years so much has been achieved in animation techniques that I am sure that both parents would marvel at the way animation has evolved; it is hard to find a film that does not use CGI or animation as part of its’ production.

In many ways Joy and John foresaw the future very clearly, as in their film Automania 2000 (1963). Scripted by Joy, they already realised that whilst making our lives more comfortable technology has its dark side.

Looking though this blog started last year I realize that once again Joy has been a little overlooked so here is my chapter about Joy from the book about her life and work A Moving Image, Joy Batchelor 1914-1991: Artist, Writer and Animator.
Joy book cover For more information please buy the book that has wonderful essays by Clare Kitson, Jez Stewart, Jim Walker and Paul Wells, as well as an introduction by Brian Sibley. See here for this and other books on H&B

A personal view

Joy started out believing that men and women were equal. Her mother had channeled her own frustrated ambitions into Joy with the idea that a woman’s place was not necessarily in the home. She was told that hard work and talent would save her from the workhouse. So work hard she did, and with good results. Not many women were able to use their talents so effectively, developing a career as an animator, writer, director and producer, at a time when most women in animation worked as painters and tracers.

When I was little I thought of my mother as a completely wonderful, beautiful princess. I remember her swirling about in a beautiful burgundy silk dress that I hung on to and had to be pulled off so that she could go out for the evening. I might not have been so clingy had I not been sent to a weekly boarding nursery when I was still a baby. My earliest memory is of watching dancing telegraph wires, while lying on the backseat of the car and then clinging to my mother’s yellow jacket and silver seahorse brooch, not wanting to be separated.

Joy with brushes

I recently found a cache of letters between Joy and John, neatly tied with a blue ribbon in one of the archive boxes. Joy was in a nursing home having just given birth to me, worried about John who was in hospital nearby having just had his appendix out. The year before, in 1944, he had collapsed from overwork and malnutrition due to the wartime diet. The letters show how involved she was with the day to day organisation and running of the studio and how she thought more about John than herself.

It never seemed to have occurred to her that having a child might interrupt their work. Joy had always seen herself as a bohemian, an artist with ambition, and said later, ‘I was not looking for a husband but to find my place in the world.’ In John she felt that she had met a soul mate, not just romantically but as an equal work partner with whom she could make a difference to the world. By sending me to the weekly nursery she was able to carry on as usual for a while, but later in an interview she told the documentary film maker Kay Mander, ‘I had to leave animation, work in studio and directing and production, I took up script writing because you can't have children and hop into the studio each day, and that's when I really began to write scripts.’ The separation from the day-to-day life studio left her feeling isolated and, for the first time, the Halas and Batchelor partnership felt less than equal.

Vera Linnecar one of the animators who worked at Halas’s, as they called it during the war, told me in an interview, ‘Joy was very shy, workaholic and a perfectionist but approachable and fun. We used to go to parties at their house and have ping pong tournaments, everyone in the studio was invited. Joy showed me some beautiful drawings that she’d made of herself pregnant’ Vera also recalled that, ‘...we never knew when we left the studio if our homes would still be there because of the bombing.’

John and Joy were bombed one night in their Chelsea flat. John was lucky but Joy said, ‘I was buried up to the neck in rubble whilst John was more or less untouched as he happened to be standing in the doorway. The full effects of the bombing came out over twenty years later. At the time I thought little of the vertigo and blackouts that followed soon after.’

This was the seed of her troubles as her medical history shows. She wrote it with John’s help whilst in hospital trying to come to terms with illness, depression and alcohol misuse. As a child I was often frightened that she would die in the night, such as the time she had double pneumonia and the hospital delivered oxygen canisters to the house so that she could breathe.

After birth of my brother Paul in 1949 we moved from Northwood Hills in Middlesex, where we had lived next door to my grandparents, to Hampstead, to be nearer to the studio in Soho. After three years living in a flat we moved again, to a modernist single story house, both of them just opposite Hampstead Heath, and within walking distance of their émigré colleagues such as Matyas Seiber, who composed the music for Animal Farm. In those days it was a village and not at all expensive. John and Joy could now afford a series of live in au-pair girls to look after us, and Joy was able to organise her work between home and the studio. She would write out long detailed lists of instructions to the home help, listen to their problems (one young Swedish girl needed help in fending off perverts on the Heath), and still find time for tea and bedtime stories with us.

During the making of Animal Farm Joy would travel to New York with John, leaving Paul and me with our grandmother, who, although kind, brought a no nonsense discipline into our lives. I was not good with authority and one of the worse moments of my life up until then was when I slipped out of the front gate to play with friend for just a little too long and she called the police. Her anger frightened me so much that, to my shame, I never admitted where I had been and pretended that I had been hiding behind the garden shed. This made things even worse and I got a taste of how an adult could become hysterical when hurt and how things might have been for Joy.

Animal Farm was a pivotal time (1951-1955) for Halas & Batchelor. Both Joy and John felt that here at last was a worthwhile project after all the years of making short films for the government on a shoestring budget.

Joy interview clip from Halas & Batchelor at 75 on Vimeo.

Joy was hailed as ‘The Woman Disney’ and there were journalists all over the studio and our house taking photos for magazines. Joy thought all this was fairly patronising, as the press seemed to take more interest in her as a homemaker than a filmmaker, but on the whole she enjoyed the attention and so did John.

It must also be said that she became a good cook and a great party giver. Initially it was John who cooked but as time passed she took an interest in cooking and gardening. She read all manner of books on the subject and grew what were then considered unusual vegetables, such as purple sprouting broccoli and mange-tout peas, as well as carrying out romantic ideas such as a thyme lawn... that came to a sad end when we cut it and a toad in two by mistake.

John and Joy with the New World cooker in Hampstead

She not only taught me to cook but to always be on the lookout for new recipes and the best ingredients. Much of her early work as an illustrator was for a series of cookery books by Josephine Terry, who devised post-war recipes to make to with scarcities. Cook Happy, The Key to Cooking and Tell me Chef. My first sex education came through another book that she illustrated, the Truth about Stork.

Illustration from Truth about Stork

Joy took great pleasure in reading and researching ideas for new films. After the success of Animal Farm there were plans for other features with DeRochemont Films: John Bunyan’s A Pilgrims Progress, A Midsummer’s Nights Dream and her favourite The Lays of Marie de France. Sadly these projects never came to anything through lack of either interest or funding. Joy pointed out to me how many of these early precursors of the novel were written by women: Marie de France, Maria Edgeworth and Anne Radcliffe for example. Living with Joy was to have a book club at home; not just women writers but other favourites such as Shakespeare, Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, Graham Green and Laurence Durrell to list just a few. Life for men was easier, she told me at a tender age, and she wished that she had been born a man.

While Joy was alive I thought I knew her because our relationship felt so close, but since I have spent from 1996 taking care of the Halas & Batchelor archives, researching and preserving my parents’ work while bringing up my own daughter, I realise that closeness does not always give insight. For instance I never thought it odd that Joy would serve dry Martinis out of her bedroom cupboard!

You could have the best chats with Joy. I often felt I was on the verge on understanding ‘the meaning life’ when talking with her, and even imagined that I knew about everything from the Greek myths to gardening until she finally died and I realised that I knew very little. In fact the thing I miss most about her is not being able to ask her about any subject, literature or nature or art. I once called her from France while staying in Picardy with friends and asked her what tree could be flowering in the winter woods with small yellow flowers? ‘Cornus Mass dear, it’s a kind of dogwood.’ In the days before the Internet she was my source of all information.

After her early ambitions Joy was in the end bound by the idea that she was an applied artist rather than an ‘Artist’. Her subversive nature possibly stopped her from enjoying her own work. Her films were all made for a purpose and her ideas of story-telling were rigorous; she believed in a beginning, middle and an end. When we were young she used to tell us exciting stories that she made up, but professionally she was immensely critical, suspicious of pretention and just waiting to pounce on pomposity, however, like John, she was immensely kind to young hopefuls and always ready to encourage them. She would spend hours listening and chatting to the teenage son of a friend who was not getting on with his parents and lived with us for a while, and gave a college friend of mine such sound advice that she claimed it saved her marriage: ‘My dear I think you expect too much out of marriage. It is all about compromise.’ To another, she gave all her ’50s vintage bras and corsets saying, ‘Ah Linda you collect this kind of thing, and I couldn’t possibly throw them out because I had such a good time in them!’

It must also be said that from around 1970 she suffered from terrible arthritis that stopped her from drawing. So there she was, getting drawn into a life of illness, trying her best to get John to retire from the studio, the very thing that he loved, so that they could travel more or live in a Mediterranean climate, but finding that the best she could do was to create a garden in wet Wiltshire, not far from the Stroud studio. Instead of a house in Majorca their weekends were spent at their damp cottage, were she gardened and cooked and entertained while John wrote articles and books, sitting on the sofa, furthering the cause of Animation.

Joy always joked that when she got old she wanted to be a bad tempered old lady in a wheelchair who would whack people with her walking stick. As in the stories she used to tell us when we were very young, beware what you wish for. By the time she was 70 she had emphysema and her legs swelled up so badly that she did indeed spend much of her time in a wheel chair, or lying in bed. One day, while in bed, two teenage boys tried to climb through her bedroom window from the garden. Undaunted, Joy jumped out of bed and whacked them hard with her stick. They ran off in shock.

Joy may not have lived up to her early potential but was nevertheless one of the founder members of ASIFA, an Honorary member of the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society, and the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers. She served on countless animation festival juries as well as teaching and becoming a governor of the London International Film School. Right to her last moments her mind was razor sharp and she made a bold attempt to be equal in an unequal world.

Ode To Joy (2014) from Martin Pickles on Vimeo.