Before I took on the editorial gig here at SFCrowsnest when there were only videos and no one had ever heard of DVDs, I was collecting information for a book I was co-writing on British animation. The toughest aspect was the lack of availability of commercially available classic material to see first hand followed by few people in the industry were historians of their own product. In many respects, British animation could almost be described as a cottage industry nearly twenty year back. Chief amongst these that I wanted to see more of was the work of the Halas & Bachelor Studio which no longer existed. You’ve no doubt heard of and might even seen their animated ‘Animal Farm’ (1954) or in ‘Heavy Metal’ (1981) and even spotted the occasional animated opening film credits. However, their film shorts are a lot tougher to find.
‘The Halas & Bachelor Short Film Collection’ features eighteen of over 2000 films, showing a wide range of material. In the studio’s forty year tenure, they did everything and this is only a sample. From the surreal ‘The Magic Canvas’ and ‘Flying Free’ to the more comedic ‘The Owl And The Pussycat’ and ‘The History Of Cinema’ which could easily have been a template for ‘Horrible Histories’. What was even more remarkable was ‘Figurehead’ as it combined stop-animation with animation, which was something I didn’t know they had done. ‘Children And Cars’ predates Aardman by having a child’s monologue tipped into the animating their art. The samples here touched on everything with key animator Harold Whitaker involved in most of it, showing he could turn his hand to every style. The credits are invariably short and rarely have any date attached and some interesting names popped up. Elizabeth Beresford wrote ‘Snip And Snap’ and went on to create ‘The Wombles’. Composer John Dankworth worked on ‘Hamilton The Elephant’ and I don’t need to tell you how famous he was and became. The humour from the sight gags meant you really have to keep your eye on the screen. There’s samples of everything here, including and a BP advert.
The real paydirt comes with the extras. Back in the 1970s-80s, there was an afternoon film documentary series called ‘Clapperboard’ hosted by Chris Kelly. It covered new releases and such and did the odd special. Where Halas & Bachelor is concerned, it took three shows to cover their forty years in the business with an extensive interview with John Halas who reveals how he worked with other native Hungarian, George Pal, before moving to the UK at our request to work, long before WW2. There are also extensive display of his own short films. If you some insight into early British animation then you will see it here.
There is also a 67 minutes documentary about John Halas and even more samples of his studio and the 2000 pieces they made with a sharp reminder that he was the first to play around with 3D and even computer graphics, picking out the best people in the business to make it work. There are also a couple tributes to John Halas. What was weird though is other than a three and a half minute examination of her work, Joy Bachelor herself is resigned to a few photographs. It isn’t as though she wasn’t prolific at the studio as she was co-director on ‘Animal Farm’ (1954) and ‘Ruddigore’ (1966). As the piece on her shows, a lot of the style shown in their material comes from her hand. I should point out that their daughter Vivian has written a book about her mother and there is also a book about their material if you search the long river bookshop.
It’s now over thirty-five years since both of them have died and I suspect new generations haven’t heard of them or, at most, seen their work in ‘Heavy Metal’ film and realised it was their studio doing half the work. When you consider how much they dominated the British animation scene for over forty years, it seems odd that today they are more of a footnote.
The work that came out of the Halas & Bachelor Studio was varied and often experimental. A sharp contrast to the animation material from America. The single blu-ray or twin DVDs version will give you an enlightening sample and I only hope Network does a follow-up with more of their work.
(region 2 Blu-ray: pub: Network. 1 blu-ray disk. 146 minutes 18 short films. cat: 7958010. price: £14.99 UK). 2 DVDs. Price: £12.99 (UK). cat no: 79542271)
check out website: www.networkonair.com