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Dyer, Anson (1876-1962)

Director, Writer, Animator

Main image of Dyer, Anson (1876-1962)

For all the current lack of critical attention, Anson Dyer was a major figure in British animation for over thirty years, from the First World War to the aftermath of the Second. Stylistically he remained unadventurous, avoiding the playful mixed-media games of Sid Griffiths' Jerry the Tyke cartoons of the 1920s, let alone the speed and wilder anthropomorphic habits of Hollywood studio animation. Yet he was promoted for a time as Britain's equivalent of Walt Disney, with a prolific and popular output of children's cartoons and advertisements; and only producer Archibald Nettlefold's caution prevented him from being credited with Britain's first animated feature, The Story of the Flag (1927), released to cinemas as a series of six shorts.

Ernest John Anson Dyer was born on 18 July 1876 in Brighton. After studying at Brighton School of Art, specialising in industrial design, he worked on church commissions in C. E. Kempe's stained glass studio, using the surname Anson-Dyer. With the onset of war such work dwindled. Rejected for army service, Dyer applied for work in films as an actor. His excessive height told against him, but his design skills earned him employment at the British Colonial and Kinematograph Company; three of his Dicky Dee cartoons emerged in 1915. Dyer soon specialised in topical wartime cartoons, finally switching to children's material with Kine Komedy Kartoons' Uncle Remus series in 1919. He joined Hepworth's company at Walton that same year, supplying a series of Shakespeare parodies and developing his own cartoon character, Bobby the Scout. After Hepworth's bankruptcy, Dyer continued at the Walton studio, working for its new owner Archibald Nettlefold, and ultimately securing backing from him for his own animation studio, which opened in 1935. The Story of the Flag, a bracingly patriotic survey of changes in the Union Jack's design, aimed more for respectability than popular success; but Dyer returned triumphantly to favour with sound, colour, and his highly successful cartoons featuring the Sam character from Stanley Holloway's comic songs. Sam and his Musket (1935) became the first of six. Advertisements for Bush radios like All the Fun of the 'Air equally enlivened British cinemas' supporting programmes.

Responding once more to changing times, Dyer formed Analysis Films in 1939, supplying material for the Ministry of Information and other propaganda outlets. With peacetime he returned to his forte, children's entertainment, at his studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire, providing cartoons for Rank's subsidiary Children's Entertainment Films, including an animated serial, Squirrel War (1947). At his peak, Dyer was notable enough to be featured in two films showing his studio in action: You're Telling Me (1939) and Cartoonland (1949), but changes in taste and his own iron-clad style contributed to his later neglect. Dyer died in Cheltenham on 22 February 1962, long-forgotten by the industry.

Dyer, Anson, Technique of Film Cartoons (London: British Kinematograph Society, 1936)
Gifford, Denis, 'Anson Dyer', in Maurice Horn (ed.), The World Encyclopaedia of Cartoons (New York: Chelsea House, 1980)
Gifford, Denis, British Animated Films, 1895-1985: a filmography (Jefferson: McFarland, 1987)

Geoff Brown, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Day in Liverpool, A (1929)Day in Liverpool, A (1929)

Liverpool travelogue, concentrating on the city's commercial side

Thumbnail image of Oh'phelia (1919)Oh'phelia (1919)

Cut-out animated parody of Hamlet by pioneering British animator Anson Dyer

Thumbnail image of Othello (1920)Othello (1920)

Cut-out parody of Othello by British animator Anson Dyer

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