The mystery of the disappearing women

Recent posts on the staff of Halas & Batchelor in 1946, and the section of Roger Manvell's history of H&B about the production of Animal Farm seem like a good prompt to look at the changes in the company around 1950.

Those who read the 1946 staff profile will have noticed the high proportion of women who worked in the studio in the war and immediate post-war years. As the company was formed during WWII, many of the men with animation experience had been called up to the armed forces. The company built its staff partly from the few male and female animators who were still available, but mostly from training up young women who had recently graduated from art school.

Kine Year Book

The horribly formatted scans above are taken from the British film industry annual directory "The Kine Year Book". Halas & Batchelor were one of hundreds of production companies who submitted information on their line of work and contact details, and most interestingly also listed their key personnel. Although some of the wartime staff had left, the core of the animation unit was still female.

Rosalie "Wally" Crook, who had joined Halas & Batchelor as an experienced animator in 1942, is listed as a key animator from 1947 to 1951. Another woman in the animation room at that time was Vera Linnecar, who started at H&B in 1940 and begins to be listed as a Key Animator in 1949 and 1950 in recognition of her growing experience. Yet jump forwards to 1952 and the situation has all changed:

1952 Kine Year Book H&B listing

And look at the five named key animators on Animal Farm and they are all male:

Animal Farm animators credit

Three of the names are in the Kine Year Book listing, the other two are Harold Whitaker (whose name is name is sadly misspelled given that he would become such a central part of the company) and Frank Moysey. So what happened to Wally and Vera? In fact Beryl Stevens, who worked in Arthur Humberstone's animation team on the film, remembered that she was one of only three women in the whole 20-25 strong animation unit on the film. So where did all the women go?

The wartime, pull-together spirit of the studio seems to have continued in the immediate post-war period. There was steady work from the Charley series, and a sense of aspiration through the experimental art film, The Magic Canvas (1948). But the late-1940s were some very lean years economically for the whole country, with some goods more meagrely rationed than they ever were during the actual conflict.

In her interview with Ken Clark, Liz Williams (who began at the studio in 1940 and worked there with her later husband Dick Horn until the end of the decade) indicated that there was growing discontent at the rates of pay at the studio and a worsening relationship between the employers and the union.

Vera Linnecar describes another disruption in the atmosphere when, in her memory, all the men in the animation room were segregated off to another area. She associated this with the influence of Allan Crick who, as you can see from the Kine Year Book listings above, was a director of the studio. Commander Edward Allan Crick worked in the film training department at the Admiralty and first collaborated with Halas & Batchelor on the Handling Ships training series in 1944. The relationship with John and Joy proved to be mutually beneficial, and I would speculate that he bought into the company in 1946/7.

My interpretation of the events that Vera described is that by the late-1940s Crick was given his own unit within H&B to produce prestige sponsored films for the likes of BP. Bob Privett was the lead animator in his team and the two are credited as a pair on a series of films from 1950-53 such as We've Come a Long Way (1951) and The Moving Spirit (1953). I think that, whether by accident or design, the majority of the male animators were moved to this mini-unit whilst the women remained in the main animation department under the main direction of John and Joy. Vera found that by 1950 everything had gotten a little more serious, more formal and less fun, and moved to the Larkins Studio where she found the atmosphere much more suited to her creative needs.

But the biggest change in the workforce in the build up to Animal Farm was a flood of trained animators into the market caused by the closure of a rival studio, Gaumont-British Animation. The story of GB-Animation is too long to tell here (delve into this site), but basically, in 1944, British movie mogul J. Arthur Rank decided to set up an animation studio with the ambition of challenging the quantity and quality of the best American animation companies. He brought ex-Disney man David Hand across to the UK to run it, and gave him Moor Hall in rural Cookham (about 30 miles west of London), and an unprecedented three years to train up his new recruits largely from scratch. Most of those employed were returning ex-servicemen, and this seems to have been philanthropic goal/side effect of the whole project.

The ambitions for success were built around two series, Animaland (1948-1949) and Musical Paintbox (1948-1950), but whatever their artistic merits and detriments they were not a financial success and by 1950 GB-Animation was closing.

AF Production meetingMatyas Seiber, John Halas, Joy Batchelor and John Reed

When David Hand was brought across to run GB Animation he bought some other "Disney men" with him, one of whom was animator John Reed who was put in charge of training up the budding animators. With the closure of GB-Animation almost coinciding with the build up to Animal Farm, John was brought in as the Animation Director on the new film, presumably for his previous experience on the Disney features Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942). It is important to remember that the financial backing for Animal Farm was from America and the "Disney by proxy" training and experience of the out-of-work GB-Animation artists would have been of considerable benefit in giving confidence to the films sponsors.

Four of the five named animators on Animal Farm were ex-GB Animation men, the only exception being Harold Whitaker. Perhaps bringing in these men was part of the deal in securing the commission to make Animal Farm, or it may have been a heavy recommendation from John Reed, or it may have just been a gift horse for an expanding studio in need of talent.

What it is does not explain is why Wally Crook - the only credited animator on The Magic Canvas in 1948 was no longer a key part of Halas & Batchelor. She continued working in animation until she died in 1961 at the age of 46. But as far as I can tell, she is not credited on any film after H&B's The Shoemaker and the Hatter in 1950. Whether it was her attitude, gender, or role as union shop steward at H&B that caused her to leave; or whether, like Vera, she chose to move on for her own reasons, we sadly may never know. But I am going to work bloody hard to find out...

Wally Vera and LizWally Crook, Vera Linnecar and Liz Williams


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