from Picture Show annual 1961
From a spacious office set in a fascinating warren of technical studios and workshops overlooking Soho Square, works a man who can proudly claim to be head of “the busiest cartoon film unit in Europe.” His name? John Halas, of Halas and Batchelor, the partnership that virtually put the British cartoon film industry on the map.
The way in which this unusually successful team came into being is quite a story which began when tall, charming John Halas came to England in 1936.
Born in Budapest he grew up with a passionate love of the theatre but when he left school his parents apprenticed him to a carpenter. That job lasted a matter of weeks before he turned it in and obtained another with a cartoon film company — sweeping floors and cleaning paint pots. From that time on John Halas relinquished any other ambition he may have had and became dedicated to making cartoons. He worked his way up to a better position (at one time he was assistant to George Pal, who later found fame in Hollywood) before taking a job in Paris. This fell through, however, and it wasn’t long before he was back in Budapest where he formed his own company. A couple of years later the invitation to form a cartoon film unit in England arrived and John Halas was on his way here.
An advertisement for an assistant brought him an attractive blonde by the name of Joy Batchelor and after launching the Halas and Batchelor company four years later they were married.
A husband and wife team unique in the world of film making, the production that brought them real fame was the full-length controversial cartoon of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. This success was by no means an overnight one for together they had already produced more than 100 cartoon and puppet films before winning this enviable and much sought after assignment.
Today the company is busier than ever, dividing its time equally between cinema and television, and under the guidance of Halas and Batchelor their large creative staff is always perfecting techniques of film-making and developing new and unusual characters.
Their most recent films and character creations include features like: The Cultured Ape (this won a first prize at the Venice Film Festival), The Insolent Matador, The Widow and the Pig, The Lion Tamer and I Wanna Mink, and their latest character due to be seen in cinemas and on television this autumn is a cut-out paper dog called Snap, the basic idea for which came from a Danish artist now working with the company in London.
Halas himself prefers to produce for the medium of the cinema—he says it offers him more scope and presumably, for an artist, it is always more exciting to work in colour.
Halas and Batchelor are also unique in another way, for their films have done more to make the cartoon “adult” than anything else produced. A form of screen entertainment which was at one time almost completely limited to children’s films or as fill-ins to the main cinema feature, the cartoon, thanks to this still young company, now occupies an important and very successful place in both cinema and television.
As John Halas himself says: “The past few years have shown us that there is a very real demand for screen entertainment of significance— and we intend to play our part filling it.”
We wish him every success.