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Halas, John (1912-1995) and Batchelor, Joy (1914-1991)


Main image of Halas, John (1912-1995) and Batchelor, Joy (1914-1991)

John Halas was born in Budapest on 16 April 1912; Joy Batchelor in Watford, Hertfordshire, on 22 May 1914. The couple initially worked as a graphic design partnership in the pre-war period and married in 1940, when they also founded the Halas and Batchelor studio to make animated advertisements for clients of the J. Walter Thompson agency, such as Kelloggs and Lux. Their work was immediately identifiable by its combination of Disney-style characters and Eastern European aesthetics (largely a product of Halas's training under former Bauhaus tutors, Alexander Bortnyik and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy). The Ministry of Information, recognising the capacity of animated films to entertain as well as educate, invited the couple to make wartime public information and propaganda shorts. Dustbin Parade (1941), about re-cycling materials for munitions, and Filling the Gap (1941), concerning the effective deployment of garden space for growing vegetables and other foodstuffs, are two examples of the seventy artful but highly engaging cartoon films made by the studio addressing domestic, government and military needs.

Promotional and instructional films made by the studio, including the Admiralty-sponsored Handling Ships (1944-45), and Water for Fire Fighting (1948), a 3D model animation made for fire-fighter recruitment purposes, led to an acceptance of animation as a mode of expression which could engage with mature subjects and serious themes. The studio was commissioned by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps to make a series of cartoons featuring the sourpuss 'Charley', a vociferous opponent of the proposed Welfare State reforms - and self-evidently in the wrong. Similarly, The Shoemaker and the Hatter (1949) and Think for the Future (1949) were commissioned by the US government to promote Marshall Aid and post-war European co-operation.

Halas and Batchelor also used animation in the service of high art, making the Poet and Painter series for the 1951 Festival of Britain and such experiments as The Owl and the Pussycat (1952), a 3D stereoscopic short based on Edward Lear's nonsense poem; The Figurehead (1953), a puppet animation with a progressive score by Matyas Seiber, a student of Bartok; and Ruddigore (1964), a cartoon adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera. They are best known, however, for their adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1954). Rumours persist that the film was funded by a CIA covert operation, but Halas insisted that it was humanist and anti-totalitarian rather than anti-Communist, and the film is a considerable achievement: a feature length work of poignancy and affect which revises our expectations of animal characters as comic or sentimental figures. The sombre satire of Orwell's novel is muted by a controversially upbeat ending in which the animals once again mobilise in resistance to authoritarian leadership, but the film's highly politicised viewpoint still seems a bold and unusual one, particularly within the context of the British film industry of 1950s.

Further innovation occurred through Halas and Batchelor's animated bridging sequences in Cinerama Holiday, designed for a three-screen 'half-cylinder' projection; their 'Foo Foo' cartoons (1960) for ABC-TV, featuring an Emile Cohl-esque matchstick character with echoes of Otto Mesmer's early Felix the Cat cartoons; and the part BBC-funded 'Tales of Hoffnung' series (1964), animating Gerard Hoffnung caricatures. The studio was sold to Tyne Tees Television in the early '70s, resulting in Halas and Batchelor making popular Saturday morning cartoons like The Jackson Five (1972) and The Osmonds (1973). Later in the decade they broke free to engage in further experimental film-making in the area of computer animation, and international co-productions. Halas published Masters of Animation in 1987 and served as President of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA). Joy Batchelor kept a lower profile but she was undoubtedly a brilliant and influential designer and animator. She died in 1991, followed four years later by her husband. They leave a legacy in the hands of daughter Vivien, and the extraordinary archive of work that defines some of the greatest achievement in British animation.

Halas, John Master of Animation (London, BBC Books, 1987)
Manvell, Roger, The Animated Film (London: Sylvan Press, 1954)
Manvell, Roger, Art and Animation: The Story of Halas & Batchelor Animation Studio 1940-1980 (Keynsham, Clive Farrow, 1980)

Paul Wells, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Animal Farm (1954)Animal Farm (1954)

Britain's first animated feature, an adaptation of Orwell's classic

Thumbnail image of Axe and the Lamp, The (1963)Axe and the Lamp, The (1963)

An animated examination of a Pieter Breughel painting

Thumbnail image of Birds Bees and Storks (1965)Birds Bees and Storks (1965)

An embarrassed Peter Sellers attempts to explain the facts of life

Thumbnail image of Charley Junior's Schooldays (1949)Charley Junior's Schooldays (1949)

Animated information film outlining postwar educational reform

Thumbnail image of Charley in New Town (1948)Charley in New Town (1948)

An animated introduction to a key postwar housing programme

Thumbnail image of Drink Drive Office Party (1964)Drink Drive Office Party (1964)

Public information 'filler' on the dangers of drink driving after office parties

Thumbnail image of Dustbin Parade (1942)Dustbin Parade (1942)

Jaunty animation promoting recycling for the war effort

Thumbnail image of Filling the Gap (1942)Filling the Gap (1942)

Cartoon urging the British to grow their own vegetables during wartime

Thumbnail image of Robinson Charley (1948)Robinson Charley (1948)

Postwar animation on Britain's need to step up production for export

Thumbnail image of We've Come a Long Way (1951)We've Come a Long Way (1951)

Animated look at the development of oil tankers

Thumbnail image of Your Very Good Health (1948)Your Very Good Health (1948)

The animated Charley learns the benefits of the new NHS

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Thumbnail image of Central Office of Information (1946-2012)Central Office of Information (1946-2012)

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