Friday, 15 October 2010

Following up on Gifford: the 1950s

The sixth in a series of posts using Denis Gifford's book British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography to provide a decade-by-decade analysis of British animation's history.

Disclaimer: Although wide-ranging Gifford's book is not perfect. He missed out several films (such as the Lotte Reiniger piece I mentioned at the end of this post; I have since found that this short was not alone) and sometimes provided incorrect dates or crew information. I have done my best to correct any errors which I have found myself repeating in these posts.

The major animation studios of the forties remained active in the fifties. In 1950 the Musical Paintbox and Animaland series initiated by G-B Animation in the late forties concluded; Larkins made River of Steel, a propaganda film for the British Iron and Steel federation; and Halas & Batchelor made As Old as the Hills for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, The British Army at Your Service for the War Office and the entertainment film Fowl Play. Halas & Batchelor actually took over the production of Fowl Play from Anson Dyer after he ran out of finance for the film; earlier that year Dyer had directed a Cherry Blossom Boot Polish commercial, Very Good Sergeant, for Stratford Abby Films. These appear to have been the last pieces of animation that Dyer, active in the industry since World War I, ever worked on. He died in 1962.

Dyer was not the only figure from the silent era to still be active that year: a feature-length live action biopic about the life of Hans Christian Andersen, Mr. H.C. Andersen, boasted animated sequences by Joe Noble. Gifford quotes a negative review published in Film Report which complains that "Instead of telling the story straight, many lengthy and irrelevant cartoon sequences are introduced. They contain a few amusing moments but on the whole are very crude."

New names of the year include Julius Pinschewer of Pinschewer films, who made Save Baby Save for the National Savings Committee and Bread for Harry Furguson tractors; and Sadfas, a company which released The Fox and the Crow and The Magic Chalks for Saturday morning children's clubs. Gifford does not identify the directors of these two films.

The Shoemaker and the Hatter: folktale-style propaganda from Halas & Batchelor.

The next few years were dominated by Halas & Batchelor. In 1951 the studio made the four-part Poet and Painter series for the BFI to be shown at the Festival of Britain; adapting the work of famous poets, the films contained animation by the likes of Ronald Searle and Mervyn Peake. In the same year Halas & Batchelor made Submarine Control for the Admiralty and The Flu-ing Squad for Aspro, while the next year saw the studio release The Shoemaker and the Hatter for the Economic Cooperation Administration and Service: Garage Handling for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

Larkins' Balance 1950. More stills can be seen here.

Meanwhile, in 1951, a studio named Kinocrat made a puppet animation based on the folktale The Tinderbox in 1951; Larkins released two promotional films for ICI entitled Enterprise and Balance 1950; and Lotte Reiniger directed Mary's Birthday for the Crown Film Unit.

Mary's Birthday by Lotte Reiniger, which can be viewed online here.

In 1952 Peter and Joan Foldes entered the scene with Animated Genesis, a film containing a warning about nuclear war.

Joan and Peter Foldes' film Animated Genesis.

In 1953 Halas & Batchelor released two inventive entertainment films: a stop-motion short entitled The Figurehead and The Owl and the Pussycat, the first British animation to use stereoscopic 3D; the studio also made a short for the Petroleum Films Bureau and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, The Moving Spirit.

Halas & Batchelor's The Owl and the Pussycat.

Sadfas released another film the same year - Bouncer Breaks Up, in which some live action children find a drawing of a dog which comes to life - while Larkins made Full Circle for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (quite a benefactor to animation by this point) and something of a masterpiece, Without Fear, for the Mutual Security Agency.

Without Fear, directed by Peter Sachs for the Larkins studio. Go here for more stills.

And we come to 1954, the year which saw Halas & Batchelor release Animal Farm. The first British animated feature for mainstream audiences, much has been written about the film; it needs no introduction. Less well-known are the studio's short films from the year: Early Days of Communication, made for the Insulated Cable Company and the Automatic Telephone Company; Linear Accelerator, for Mullard; and The Power to Fly, for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Larkins, meanwhile, promoted the British Iron and Steel Federation with The House that Jack Built.

Halas & Batchelor's landmark Animal Farm.

Also released in 1954 was Watch the Birdie, made by Bob Godfrey, Keith Learner, Vera Linnecar and Richard Taylor under the banner of Biographic Films - an independent group which would rise in prominence in the following decade. Another non-professional outfit was the Grasshopper Group; amongst its number was John Daborn, who directed The Battle of Wangapore in 1955.

1954 saw the beginning of a cycle of fairy tale shorts from Primrose Productions and the BFI: The Little Chimney Sweep, Puss in Boots, Snow White and Rose Red and The Magic Horse. Directed by Vivian Milroy and animated by Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch - with Reiniger's delicate silhouette animation the dominant element - the cycle lasted for fourteen films between 1954 and 1956, the later films being Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Three Wishes, Thumbelina, The Caliph Stork, The Frog Prince, The Gallant Little Tailor, The Grasshopper and the Ant, Jack and the Beanstalk and Star of Bethlehem. In 1958 Reiniger, Koch and Gerry Lee made two animated operas for Phantasia Productions: Helene la Belle and A Night in a Harem.

Halas & Batchelor's The History of the Cinema. More stills here.

Throughout the rest of the decade Halas & Batchelor focused mainly on instructional and promotional films, including The World that Nature Forgot for Monsato Chemicals, Basic Fleetwork for the Admiralty, Refinery at Work for Esso Petroleum; Down a Long Way, Speed the Plough and The Energy Picture for British Petroleum; To Your Health for the World Health Organisation; Think of the Future for the European Productivity Agency; Invisible Exchange, Follow That Car, Best Seller and Paying Bay for Shell Petroleum; Animal, Vegetable or Mineral for the Petroleum Film Board; The Candlemaker for the United Lutheran Church in the USA; All Lit Up for the Gas Council; The First 99 for Seagram; and Dam the Delta for the government of the Netherlands. During the latter half of the fifties the studio released only four films outside of this area: The Sea of Winslow Homer, a compilation of Homer's sea paintings; The History of the Cinema, which I posted about here; The Christmas Visitor, based on The Night Before Christmas; and The World of Little Ig, a short about a caveboy made for American audiences.

The Larkins studio's Put Una Money for There. More stills can be seen here.

Larkins carried on down a similar path, making Gas Fuel Turbine Systems for the Admiralty; Strictly Instrumental for Crompton Parkinson; Shippham's Guide to Opera for Shippham's Pastes; Cool Custom for B.E.D.A.; Mr. Finlay's Feelings for Metropolitan Life Insurance; Put Una Money for There for Nigerian branches of Barclay's Bank; and Earth is a Battlefield for the British Iron and Steel Federation.

The towering figure of Minos passes judgement in Peter King's 13 Cantos of Hell.

Funded by the BFI Experimental Committee, Peter King made 13 Cantos of Hell in 1955. The BFI also backed another film on nuclear war by Peter and Joan Foldes - A Short Vision.

Peter and Joan Foldes' harrowing depiction of nuclear holocaust, A Short Vision. The film can be viewed here.

Pearl & Dean produced a couple of films: David Hilberman directed Calling All Salesmen for Life Magazine in 1954 while in 1957 Digby Turpin directed Pan-Tele-Tron, a Phillips promotional film that won a British Film Academy Award.

Digby Turpin's Pan-tele-tron. More stills can be seen here.

Another studio from this period was Campbell Harper, which made Tam O'Shanter for the Scottish Joint Production Committee in 1956; the film was directed by W.J. Maclean and reportedly contains almost no animation, consisting largely of static pictures with added camera effects. In 1958 the studio made the similarly-limited Sir Patrick Spens for Educational Films of Scotland.

Gifford attributes a 1956 Ministry of Transport propaganda film called Peak Period and the 1958 Bowaters ad All Aboard to World Wide Films, and Ken Woodward's 1959 instructional film Your Skin to World Wide Animation. It is not clear from the book whether these two companies are the same, but according to the BFI database Woodward later made a film for World Wide Pictures.

In 1956 a documentary entitled Cartoons and Cartoonists was released. Covering the likes of W.A.S. Herbert, George Sprod, John Taylor, Brockbank, "Fougasse," Rowland Emmett and Michael Cummings, the otherwise live action film included animated sequences by George Moreno, producer of the Bubble and Squeek cartoons of the forties.

In 1958 a major new talent arrived on the scene: Richard Williams. His independent film The Little Island won a British Film Academy Award.

In 1959 the Halas & Batchelor animator Allan Crick made a promotional film for Shell Max, Sales Promotion: The Key to Efficiency, after going solo and starting up Allan Crick Productions. In the same year Ronald Searle provide designs for an instructional film for the Admiralty, Ship Husbandry Part Two: Painting. Ship Husbandry Part One was directed by John R.F. Stewart the same year and is not included in Gifford's book; presumably it is live action.

A couple of bits and pieces are left over: an outfit named simply Film Workshop made a puppet film for the Gas Council entitled New King Coke in 1956, and in 1957 R. Potter made a Unilever commercial named Quick Freeze at Ronald H. Riley's RHR Films.

And that wraps up the fifties. You could say that this is the decade in which British animation history - as is now generally known by the animation community - begun to take shape. While the animation that came out of the country in previous decades is widely treated as a footnote at best (with the honourable excptions of several GPO-funded films), the fifties produced a number of films that are today seen as classics: Animal Farm, A Short Vision, The Little Island, 13 Cantos of Hell, Reiniger's fairy tale films.

In the next post in this series I will be looking at the sixties, in which the animation landscape would be altered by the growth of television and more classics would be produced, alongside a large number of lesser-known works.

One final note: in 1951 Lotte Reiniger directed a film for the GPO titled Christmas is Coming; it can be seen on the BFI's YouTube channel here. The film was not included in Gifford's book; whether this is because it failed to meet some kind of qualifying criteria, or because he simply missed it, is not clear.

Other posts in this series:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

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