Dudley Buxton

(1884-1951)

Dudley Graham Buxton was born on 27th November 1884 in Upper Holloway, in the London borough of Islington, first of the four children of William Buxton, a landscape painter, and his wife, Kate.

The family moved to Hampstead, and then out to Finchley. According to the 1901 census William was now managing director of a Fine Art publishing company, and 16 year old Dudley was working as a stockkeeper, possibly for his father. He had ambitions to be cartoonist, however, and from 1904 his cartoons, watercolours in a style influenced by cartoonists like Tom Browne, John Hassall and Will Owen, were appearing in The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch and Printer's Pie.

Postcards

In 1908 he was courting Winifred Wiltshire, who lived in Ealing, and sent her hand-drawn picture postcards, some of which can be seen on an online family tree page (see Links below). It is not clear when his first professional postcard designs were published, but an early example is a set of cards for the Rapid Photo Printing Company published in 1909. These were a series of monochrome cartoons featuring the Edwardian fad for rollerskating rinks, under the heading of "The Sensations of a Learner." These may originally have been intended as a magazine submission and are a departure for Rapid Photo, who had specialized in photographs of stage celebrities, notable buildings and cute animals.

Dudley and Winnie married in late 1909 and seem to have set up home in Bognor, Susswx. The 1911 census shows Dudley's mother and sister living with them. They may well have come to help out during Winifred's confinement: their daughter Iris was born on 7 July 1911.

By 1913 Buxton was producing full-colour cartoons for postcard publishers Inter-Art, A V N Jones & Co and J Beagles & Co. With the outbreak of war in 1914 postcards looked to morale-boosting pictures, and Dudley Buxton provided illustrations ranging from propaganda to cute kids mirroring contemporary issues, but his best work remained the depiction of comic characters in recognisable situations.

Tressograph Cartoons

In the cinema the 'Lightning Artist' film, where a noted cartoonist is shown creating sketches at great speed by an undercranking of the camera (exposing fewer frames per second), was being revived for propaganda purposes. The illustrator Lancelot Speed went a step further, using cut-out animation to bring his sketches to life. Producer Henry Tress hired Buxton to make such films for his company Tressograph. It is unclear how much animation, if any, was included in these Tressograph Cartoons but Buxton was clearly keen to follow in Speed's footsteps: when Tressograph ceased production at the end of 1914, Producer J A Clozenberg hired Buxton for his new company the Cartoon Film Company, Britain's first company created solely for animated film production.

John Bull's Sketchbook

Buxton embarked on a series entitled John Bull's Sketchbook (released from April 1915). Each episode containd a handful of topical cartoon skits, with an increasing reliance on cutout animation for their effect. While most items were humorous, a few were serious depictions of events, such as the shelling of Scarborough by German battleships, where an Edwardian family is shown falling victim, and the sinking of the German battleship Blücher by the Royal Navy, in the first film. Another serious item is The Sinking of the Lusitania from John Bull's Sketchbook No.4 (June 1915) where a depiction of the torpedoing of the liner is followed by a lightning sketch of German Admiral Tirpitz which is then converted to a 'skull-and-crossbones' pirate flag. However, the rest of the film is in more humorous vein, with 'Kaiser Bill' and his son 'little Willie' acting out comedian Harry Tate's famous 'Motoring' sketch, and a bit of knockabout involving Charlie Chaplin and a fly. Buxton used an animated Chaplin in a few more of his Sketchbook episodes

Towards the end of 1915 Anson Dyer joined the Cartoon Film Company, and he and Buxton worked on alternate episodes of the Sketchbook. Buxton had already created seven episodes, and by the end of 1916 he had completed a further six and Dyer had made seven.

Kine Komedy Kartoons

During the summer of 1916 producer Frank Zeitlin set up a studio called Kine Komedy Kartoons. It would appear that Buxton and Dyer had agreed to leave the Cartoon Film Company at the end of the year to work for Zeitlin. Whether Zeitlin had offered them more money or Clozenberg could no longer afford to employ them is a matter of conjecture, but the name of the studio reflects the type of film that Buxton and Dyer were intent on making.

Zeitlin had arranged a distribution deal with the Broadwest Film Company, and it may be that they had helped finance the studio. When Buxton and Dyer had completed their contract with the Cartoon Film Company, at the end of 1916, they signed up with Kine Komedy Kartoons. Broadwest took an ad in Bioscope (December 28 1916) to announce the signing of the two cartoonists and promoting the forthcoming series.

While Buxton and Dyer were working out their contract with Clozenberg, Zeitlin hired photographer, cartoonist and 'lightning artist' Ernest H Mills to make some propaganda films seemingly sponsored and distributed by the Ministry of Information, under the title Britannia's Budget. Far from 'Komedies', these were dramatic depictions of recent events, such as the Battle of Jutland and the destruction of a Zeppelin over London. Mills continued to work for Kine Komedy Kartoons making serious animated depictions while Buxton and Dyer made humorous cartoons, sometimes only loosely connected to the War.

Buxton's first film for Kine Komedy Kartoons, The Devil's Little Joke, appears to have been a cautionary tale in which Kaiser Bill's dreams of conquest are brought to a rude awakening. Of his second film, By the Sad Sea Waves, no synopsis appears to exist. The title was originally that of a popular ballad from Jules Benedict's 1844 opera The Brides of Venice. In 1895 it was taken as the title of a music hall ditty about a holiday romance, sung by Vesta Tilley, and in 1898 became the title of an American ragtime comic 'opera' (actually more of a revue) written by and starring comedians J Sherrie Matthews and Harry Bulger. It would appear that the phrase acquired renewed topicality in 1917, as besides Buxton's film it was also used in America as the title of a Harold Lloyd comedy and a Katzenjammer Kids cartoon.

Gifford describes How to Run a Cinema as a "burlesque on contemporary films", and The Plot That Failed features the rivalry of two allotment gardeners. The reviewer in the Bioscope noted "real humour and clever animation of the figures of the suburban gardeners."

Buxton's humour and clever animation can be seen online as the man in the moon is fed a line in Ever Been Had? (see Link below). His reaction at the end is very neatly handled. The Office Boy's Dictionary is presumably a series of situational skits.

In 1918 Mills was absent from the studio, possibly conscripted, and Buxton contributed a straight depiction of The Raid on Zeebrugge.

Animating on paper

After the War, American cartoonist J S "Vet" Anderson, who had been animating for Raoul Barré in New York before enlisting in 1918, joined Kine Komedy Kartoons to demonstrate the American method of animating on paper and cel. (At the time Anderson left, cels - being more expensive - were primarily used for backgrounds and other static elements. They were just inked in black - the idea of painting the white areas to make them opaque had not yet been considered.) Anson Dyer preferred to continue to work with cutouts but Dudley Buxton was keen to adopt the consecutive drawing method. A title card designer called Joe Noble who worked in the same building became intrigued and joined Kine Komedy Kartoons to learn animation from Anderson.

Stiff competition

Kine Komedy Kartoons was now trying to compete with the US cartoons that were flooding into the country. The Mutt and Jeff series in particular had proved very popular in the UK, and the Bower-Barré studio, by using several animators, were turning out around an episode a week, enabling exhibitors to make it a regular part of the programme. Moreover, the US cartoons had already made their money back in the home market and could be offered abroad for a relatively low rental.

Buxton's first attempt at a character-based series was the Cheerio Chums, presumably comic tramps in the Weary Willie and Tired Tim tradition. In May 1919 the first two episodes were included in a trade show in New York along with five British feature films, in an attempt to break into the US market. The reviewer for the trade magazine The Moving Picture World was unimpressed:

Cheerio Chums — Well, I'll Be Blowed.
This cartoon offering might be said to match the American newspaper cartoon in animation — companion subjects to our "Mutt and Jeff." Two character plays play the leads, depending upon the style of the average English "droll" of the music halls to demonstrate their character. The titles are slang of the strictly British type and might not in every phrase be "caught" by the American "movie fan." Displaying the "Cheerio Chum" in this country would be a needless hazard of audience displeasure. Dudley Buxton is the creator- cartoonist.

"Cheerio Chums — Hot Stuff."
The foregoing reference to this Dudley Buxton cartoon series will serve as mention of this one. The "chums" are firemen — members of the "fire brigade" as England knows them — and their proceedings through the cartoon "comedy" are but mildly interesting.

After completing the third Cheerio Chums episode Buxton abandoned them in favour of a single character. Bucky's Burlesques clearly derives from Buxton's name but presumably the protagonist of In the Spring a Young Man's Fancy and Clutching Eyebrows is 'Bucky'. When this young man failed to click Buxton came up with the older, more comic 'Miffy'. But the Memoirs of Miffy also only ran to two episodes, Running a Cinema and A Fishy Business.

Narrative failure

In his book Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928 Donald Crafton gives one reason for the lack of success of British cartoons as "the abysmal level of narrative inspiration" and cites Running a Cinema as an example. While Buxton had demonstrated in films like Ever Been Had? that he could build a film around a single idea, too often he resorts to a collection of independent fragments that had worked for compendium shorts like John Bull's Animated Sketchbook.

Running a Cinema (spoiler alert - click link to watch film before reading on!) starts promisingly with Miffy reading a newspaper ad about a cinema for sale. Next we see him in top hat and tails outside his newly acquired cinema. The business of his rushing off, on spottng a potential customer, to change into an ill-fitting commissionier uniform in order to promote the film now showing is nicely absurd, and the delivery of the punchline is delayed: we observe Miffy's reaction before the man turns to show us what Miffy saw. So far so good, but from here the film degenerates into piecemeal segments, harking back to Buxton's previous How to Run a Cinema. "The Orchestra" shows Miffy operating a 'Heath Robinson' music-making device - amusing but without narrative flow. "The Projector" similarly shows Miffy place a candle to illuminate the projector, which he operates by winding the exiting film through a mangle - - not as ingenious as the mechanical orchestra.

And here we abandon Miffy altogether to watch "the Programme". "The Weakly Budget" has an item which seems to show a mule dancing with an insect - until the slow-motion of the "ultra-rabid camera" reveals that the insect had stung the mule. At this point the film breaks and a couple of slides are pushed on and off the screen. Finally we see episode 48 of an 85-part serial "Dirty Dick's Destiny". The heroine appears from over a hill on a scooter, only to fall into a pond. Her cries for help are heard by the hero, but he is too busy trying to shoot a rabbit that he is chasing round on his tricycle. Eventually he responds to her call, but his only strategy is to fire his rifle over her head. He then exits, leaving her to rescue herself by using a mug to bail out the water. After touching up her make-up she climbs out of the pond and stomps back to her house, which she drags further into frame before entering. Tooting his horn the villain hurtles over the hill in his jalopy. He pushes his way into the house and after a prolonged struggle emerges with the heroine, throws her in the car and drives off. The hero turns up, figures out what has happened and, whistling up his faithful tricycle, sets off in hot pursuit, stopping to shoot the house, which dramatically expires. The villain arrives at the raiway track where he dumps the heroine and drives off. The hero turns up in the nick of time and shoots the approaching train, which goes into melodramatic death throes.

This has been an entertaininging, if eccentric, narrative but has nothing to do with Miffy. The print ends abruptly, so the end of the fim may be missing, but even if Miffy reappeared at the end it would not have been enough to hold the film together. The segmental approach worked in the Sketchbook series because the series of sketches were linked by their Wartime theme, but fails when the audience is expecting a sequential story.

Miffy's next film, A Fishy Business did have a continuing narrative: when a burly fishmonger insults his wife, Miffy goes round to sort him out. When the fishmonger proves more than a match for him, Miffy takes a self-defence course. Knocked unconscious by his instructor, Miffy dreams that he is fighting animals on a desert island. Finally he jumps into the sea and wakes up to find the instructor has poured a bucket of water over him.

Alas, whether or not this would have been enough to engage an audience became irrelevent, as time had run out. Unable to continue with insufficient returns, Kine Komedy Kartoons appears to have closed its doors at the end of 1920. Apparently Miffy was later revived by Buxton as a cartoon strip that ran in the Glasgow Evening News in 1934, although I have not been able to confirm this.

Work during the 1920s

Dudley Buxton had still been designing postcards during his years as an animator, and would continue to do so, but he also found work as an animator on advertising films, possibly working with Joe Noble.

Pongo the Pup

by 1924 Felix the Cat had become Britain's most popular American import. Pathé had been distributing the cartoons in the UK but it would appear that in the summer of that year the contract was not renewed. Pathé hired Buxton and Noble to create a new series to replace Felix. The cartoons would be shown as a segment of the Pathé Pictorial newsreel. The two animators set to work at 103 Wardour Street, home of Pathé's studios and offices, and the first Pongo the Pup cartoon, Pongo Arrives appeared in early October.

Unfortunately Buxton was not the only animator looking for a rival to Felix. And Britain already had a popular puppy in the magazine cartoons of George E Studdy. Bonzo first appeared in print in 1922, although he had evolved out of earlier Studdy dogs. By 1924 Bonzo was appearing on postcards and jigsaws and as a range of soft toys. Animator William Ward approached Studdy about making a series of cartoon films featuring the mischievous dog, and the first film, Bonzo, previewed on 14 October. Buxton and Noble had provided Pathé with three more Pongo the Pup films by November, which were released fortnightly in an attempt to establish Pongo as a regular series, but there was a lag before they could build up more episodes. The 6th Pongo the Pup cartoon, Pongo Catches the Crossword, did not appear until 23 February 1925, the same day that the first Pongo was released as part of a fortnightly series.

Both series had been promoted by their distributors (Pathé in the case of Pongo and New Era for Bonzo) as a rival to Felix, but Pongo, a black dog with a white muzzle and chest who walked on his hind legs, was attempting to play the cat at his own game. Reviewing the second film, Pongo gets a Meal, the Kinematograph Weekly of 18 October 1924 warned:

...clever though the films are, they will undoubtedly suffer from their close likeness to the immortal Felix.

With the well-known Bonzo now starring in his own animated cartoons, Pongo's name also sounded derivative. Pathé declined to renew their option and Pongo disappeared after his seventh film.

NB: The correct sequence of the Pongo films is uncertain. Gifford gives a series number to each film, but these do not agree with the ordinal numbers given in the opening titles of three of the films on the British Pathé Library website. At some point during the series Pongo was given white paws to further differentiate him from Felix, which should be a guide to separating earlier films from later ones where an image is available. In the Filmography below, the films with queried numbers have merely been entered in the gaps between the known numbers in the order that Gifford gives, and are not reliable.]

Pathé replaced Bonzo with another dog, Jerry the Troublesome Tyke, bringing creators Sid Griffiths and Bert Bilby from Cardiff to Wardour Street. Buxton remained at Pathé and started work on a series of "Song Cartoons", according to Brian White's memoirs. Pathé had been distributing the US series Song Car-tunes, short animated films where the audience was encouraged to "follow the bouncing ball" and sing along to the onscreen lyrics. These proved very popular in Britain and several other distributors commissioned series of their own.

Super-Ads

While still augmenting his income by designing postcards, it is likely that Buxton continued animating on advertising films. In 1929 producer A Goodman started Super-Ads, a studio intended to provide animation to advertisers and other production companies, and hired Buxton along with several other leading British animators. It would appear that the enterprise was underfunded, however, as it closed down at the end of 1931.

Felix and Mickey Mouse postcards

Whether Dudley Buxton continued to animate for advertising is not known, but he was still making a living from his postcard work. And there is another animation link here - Michael Hauskeller, writing in Picture PostCard Monthly ((June 2010), showed that a series of Felix postcards from the 1920s bear all the hallmarks of Buxton's style, as do a series of Mickey Mouse cards c1931. They are unsigned (only the names of Pat Sullivan and Walt Disney, respectively, were to be associated with their characters) but Buxton managed to sneak the initials DB into at least two of the early Felix cards. The cards would have been made under licence, and Buxton was obviously given some kind of model-sheet for each character, which he followed scrupulously - with one exception. He has deliberately given Mickey and Minnie 5-digit hands!

Dudley Buxton died at Richmond upon Thames in 1951.


Filmography

Proverbs and War Topics
(War Cartoons Series 1)
(Tressograph, 1914) Artist, Animator?
War Cartoons Series 2(Tressograph, 1914) Artist, Animator?
War Cartoons Series 3(Tressograph, 1914) Artist, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 1(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 2(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 3(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 5(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 6(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
All for the Love of a Lady
(John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 7)
(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 9(Cartoon Film Co, 1915) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 11(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 13(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 15(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
Gossip
(John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 17)
(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 19(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 21(Cartoon Film Co, 1916) Director, Designer, Animator
The Devil's Little Joke(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1917) Director, Designer, Animator
By the Sad Sea Waves(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1917) Director, Designer, Animator
How to Run a Cinema(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1917) Director, Designer, Animator
The Plot That Failed(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1917) Director, Designer, Animator
Ever Been Had?(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1917) Director, Designer, Animator
The Office Boy's Dictionary(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1918) Director, Designer, Animator
The Raid on Zeebrugge(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1918) Director, Designer, Animator
Blood and Iron(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1918) Director, Designer, Animator
Well I'll be Blowed!
(Cheerio Chums No. 1)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1919) Director, Designer, Animator
Hot Stuff
(Cheerio Chums No. 2)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1919) Director, Designer, Animator
Cheerio Chums No. 3(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1919) Director, Designer, Animator
In the Spring a Young Man's Fancy
(Bucky's Burlesques No. 1)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1920) Director, Designer, Animator
Clutching Eyebrows
(Bucky's Burlesques No. 2)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1920) Director, Designer, Animator
Running a Cinema
(Memoirs of Miffy No. 1)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1920) Director, Designer, Animator
A Fishy Business
(Memoirs of Miffy No. 2)
(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1920) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo Arrives
(Pongo the Pup No. 1)
(Pathé, 1924) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo Gets a Meal
(Pongo the Pup No. 2)
(Pathé, 1924) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo's Rodeo
(Pongo the Pup No. 3)
(Pathé, 1925) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo Cleans up the Goat Family
(Pongo the Pup No. 4)
(Pathé, 1924) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo's Day Out
(Pongo the Pup No. 5?)
(Pathé, 1924) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo Catches the Crossword Craze
(Pongo the Pup No. 6)
(Pathé, 1925) Director, Designer, Animator
Pongo's Supper Gazette
(Pongo the Pup No. 7?)
(Pathé, 1925) Director, Designer, Animator
Song Cartoon series (unconfirmed)(Pathé, 1925) Director, Designer, Animator
Various advertising cartoons(Super-Ads, 1929-31) Director, Designer, Animator

Links to Other Sites

Dudley Buxton: page from online Buxton Family Tree

Dudley Buxton Postcards to Winifred Wiltshire: 3 hand-drawn cards from Buxton Family Tree.

BFI Player John Bull's Animated Sketch Book: propaganda compilation of 2 serious items from the first film of the series by Dudley Buxton; the British sinking of the Blücher is compared to the German shelling of Scarborough.

BFI Player John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4: video of 1915 film by Dudley Buxton (missing opening title sequence); includes item on the sinking of the Lusitania, "The Crowning Act of PIRACY".

BFI Player Ever Been Had?: video of 1917 film by Dudley Buxton.

BFI Player Running a Cinema: 1920 film by Dudley Buxton, first in the "Memoirs of Miffy" series. Animation on paper, with cels used mainly for backgrounds and static elements. Missing the end.

British Pathé Library - Pongo Arrives: 1924 film by Dudley Buxton and Joe Noble, first in the "Adventures of Pongo the Pup" series.

British Pathé Library - Pongo's Rodeo: 1924 film by Dudley Buxton and Joe Noble, third in the "Adventures of Pongo the Pup" series.

British Pathé Library - Pongo Cleans Up the Goat Family: 1924 film by Dudley Buxton and Joe Noble, fourth in the "Adventures of Pongo the Pup" series.

British Pathé Library - Pongo Catches the Crossword Craze: 1925 film by Dudley Buxton and Joe Noble, sixth in the "Adventures of Pongo the Pup" series.

British Pathé Library - Pongo's Supper Gazette: 1925 film by Dudley Buxton and Joe Noble, sixth in the "Adventures of Pongo the Pup" series.


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Peter Hale
Last updated 2018