John Henry Victor Daguerre Hicks, known in the family as Victor, was born 26 June 1893 in Belfast, Ireland, the second son of John Walker Hicks and his wife Marie, proprietors of the Hotel Metropole, College Square North. Elder son Cyril William Hanna Hicks had been born in January 1891, and a daughter, Ogna Edna Muriel Kathleen Pearl Cockburn Hicks, was born in the autumn of 1899.
J Walker Hicks' hobby was photography and in the late 1890s he took up cinematography, touring around Ireland presenting his films under the pseudonym "Professor Kineto". In 1900 he filmed Queen Victoria's visit to Dublin, processing and printing the footage in time to show it in Belfast that evening. When Victoria died the following year it was reported in the Larne Times of February 9, 1901, that "Professor Kineto" had a wreath of shamrocks, in the shape of a harp with a broken string, sent for the funeral with an attached photograph of his sons Cyril and Victor, dressed as a soldier and a sailor posing either side of the wreath, bearing the words "From two little Irish boys."
J Walker Hicks put the Metropole up for sale, but initially there were no takers. After standing empty for a year it was finally bought in 1905 as a Mission Hall for the Adult Deaf and Dumb. The Hicks family moved to England, settling in the London Borough of Fulham, and "Professor Kineto" began touring the home counties.
According to the auctioneers Onslows' website Victor Hicks trained at the Slade, but there seems to be no record of this. The 1911 census shows Victor, at 17, going on 18, working from home as a freelance poster designer. His older brother Cyril is an assistant in a theatre box-office, and their father has taken a job as manager of the Aeroscope Company Ltd in Charing Cross Road. This company had been set up to sell the Aeroscope, a film camera that ran on compressed air, freeing the cameraman from the need to crank. Hand-cranked cameras needed to be on a sturdy tripod to allow the cameraman to use his other hand to adjust focus. The Aerosope could be hand-held, making it much more convenient, and it became very popular with newsreel cameramen. The Aeroscope Company Ltd, however, was a short-lived enterprise. The rights had been purchased from the inventor, Kazimierz Prószyński, by Gerald Michael Bishop, who set up the company. The engineering company made several changes to Prdszyński's design, rendering the camera less efficient and the business failed, going into liquidation in 1913. Naturalist photographer Cherry Keaton, who had bought one of the cameras and recognised its value, acquired the rights and put Prószyński in charge of supervising the manufacture, with successful results. J Walker Hicks subsequently joined the Williamson Kine Company. Cyril remained working in the Theatre, becoming a producer in the 1930s.
Victor Hicks was a talented and inventive artist and aware of the importance of self-promotion. His career can be pieced together from items in the press, starting with this entry, with photograph, from the Daily Mail, 16 June 1914:
BOY POSTER PROGIDY.
At the time of publication Victor was in fact already twenty: his twenty-first birthday was due in ten days time.
Promotion for sister Ogna, now an actress, became a family affair:
The subject of our illustration is Miss Ogna Hicks, a charming young lady who is now appearing as Miss Nancy in "Brer Rabbit" at the Repertory Theatre in Liverpool. Miss Hicks is the daughter of Mr. J. Walker Hicks, the topical manager of the Williamson Kine Company, and is the sister of Mr. Victor Hicks, the well-known poster artist and cartoonist. We hear it is not unlikely that this chic young lady will be seen on the screen shortly in a production by one of our leading managers.
One of a Clever Family.
Alas, there is no record of her appearing in films. Returning to Victor, a picture item highlighted his charity work:
SKETCHES FOR CHARITY.
Victor's interest in theatre design and effects led to the creation of a 15-minute act:
Victor Hicks, the well-known young cartoonist, whose sketch creation, "Something Simple," is at the Bedford this week, is the son of Mr. Hicks, of the Williamson Kinematograph Company, Limited.
In referring last week to Victor Hicks, the well-known artist and cartoonest, we made an error in stating that he was appearing at the Bedford. We should have said the Chiswick Empire; and so successful was he in "Something Simple" (a very original and clever sketch, the book and music being the work of Mr Leslie Stiles, who also produced) that the turn was secured by the management of the Coliseum, and he is appearing there this week.
A novel and amusing little sketch was recently incorporated in the Coliseum programme, called "Something Simple." A schoolboy's slate, ascribed to the familiar nursery hero, Jack Horner, forms the scene, and is adorned with typical schoolboy drawings by the well-known black-and-white artist, Mr. Victor Hicks. Certain figures not so grotesque as the Special Constable, for instance, come to life off the slate, so to speak, and proceed to dance and sing with entertaining effect. Miss Alice Russon and Mr. Gregory make very good use of the opportunities thus provided for them in a quaint setting. "Something Simple" is a refreshing change.
I am inclined to suspect that the source of the following story was Hicks himself rather than the Gaumont Film Hire Service (who would hardly complain at the free publicity)...
The Gaumont Film Hire Service have received many inquiries as to the identity of the artist who has been designing the posters for the G.F.H.S. Comedies, and they ask me to make it generally known to the trade that Mr. Victor Hicks is the gentleman in question. Mr. Hicks is a young Irishman who has very quickly made his name in London. He was for a time caricaturist for The Star, and afterwards devoted his attentions to revue posters. He then turned to black and white comedy sketches, producing about five a day as advertisements for "Ye Gods," the comedy which recently ran so successfully at the Kingsway Theatre.
In March 1918 comes the first mention of an animated cartoon:
I am told that that clever poster designer, Mr. Victor Hicks, has almost completed work upon a film cartoon. His ambitious pen work allied with his natural wit should result in an exceedingly clever and amusing film cartoon.
In April, in an article announcing his intention to produce live-action comedies, comes the first mention of his link with Kine Komedy Kartoons):
FROM POSTERS TO PRODUCING>
The following week Frank Zeitlin confirms they have a contract:
Mr. Frank Zeitlin, the proprietor of Kine Komedy Kartoons, informs us that he has entered into a contract with Victor Hicks for a series of animated cartoons in that artist's well-known style. The K.K.K.'s latest film, "The British Through German Eyes," by Anson Dyer, has proved a big success, while a further edition of an "Office Boy's Dictionary," by Dudley Buxton, will be ready at an early date. Mr. Zeitlin is to be congratulated upon his connection with clever Mr. Hicks.
A part of this association, it would appear, involved Zeitlin helping Hicks revive the Something Simple sketch:
THE CHELSEA PALACE.
In June it seems that Hicks has completed his cartoon film:
Mr. Frank Zeitlin, of the Kine Komedy Kartoons, informs us that Victor Hick's latest cartoon, "Twice Nightly," a burlesque of a music hall show, has been purchased by Walturdaw, and will be released by them during the week. Mr. Zeitlin is also busy on a series of propaganda cartoons which will shortly be shown throughout the country.
Again I wonder if it was Hicks, rather than Zeitlin, who supplied this story. Unfortunately this film seems not to have survived; moreover, I have found no record of its release.
It appears that Kine Komedy Kartoons only managed to release 8 or 9 films during 1918 — not enough to match the American studios' output. It was clear to the animators that the company was in trouble. Zeitlin approached more noted print cartoonists and signed up Poy and J A Shepherd, their published cartoons to be animated by Zeitlin's staff. He made a deal with distributors Phillips Film Co for a series of 12 cartoons, three by each of Zeitlin's animators, to be released in 1919 under the name of Phillips Philm Phables.
Victor Hicks was not a contributor to this series. He seems to have been the first to jump ship, making a deal with the film exporter Lionel Phillips, who had left Phillips Films a year earlier to form the Lionel Phillips Company.
In the Kinematograph Weekly dated 6 February 1919 Lionel Phillips took out a full page advertisement in the form of a spoof serial entitled:
OUR EXPORT FEUILLETON
The main body of the text recounts the successful exporting of various titles, and ends on a cliffhanger: "Was the wire being tampered with?— (To be continued in our next.)". But it begins:
SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS.
In the Export Supplement of the same issue the series is one of four items featured in a Lionel Phillips advertisement offering Foreign and Colonial Rights for sale. The second A Geni and a Genius film in this proposed Fun Fantasy Comedies series was completed by April 1919 and reports started to appear in the press:
A New Note in Comedy.
Lionel Phillips, in collaboration with Victor Hicks, has produced a series of cartoons entitled "A Genii and a Genius," which for sheer originality surpass anything of the kind yet seen on the screen. It is certainly no exaggeration when stating they are the funniest things ever offered and right away from the ordinary. Charlie Chaplin is portrayed visiting the realms of phantasy, and his journey through Mars and the Milky Way are worth going a long way to see. These cartoons are in one reel, each of about 650 feet.
The BFI holds copies of the two films, which are in the cut-out animation tradition. I have not found any release dates. No further episodes were made.
One of the latest recruits at the great Joy Loan "stunt factory" is Victor Hicks, the brilliant young cartoonist, who tells me that he is drawing a special animated cartoon to assist the good cause. George R. Sims has promised to write the sub-titles for the film, which will be seen at the kinemas as soon as it is ready.
The "Joy Loan" was a bond scheme launched in June 1919, intended to pay off the government's short-term loans and revitalise the economy. It was heavily promoted and brought in significantly more funds than the exchequer had anticipated.
In issue 6 of the British film magazine Film Plays (not to be confused with the American magazine Film Play) published 20 December 1919, Victor Hicks contributed an article titled How a Christmas Screen Cartoon is Made. It makes no mention of the Charlie Chaplin series or Lionel Phillips; instead it promotes a new series:
When I sat down to create "Spick and Span," the well-known cartoon heroes for the film booking offices, it seemed to me it would be a matter of years rather than weeks before these laughter-makers reached the audiences in the cinemas.
If the text of this story has been sub-edited it is to the detriment of both content and grammer. "Well-known" seems to be Hicks' favourite phrase: I can find no reference to Spick and Span other than those citing this article. The phrase "for the film booking offices" presumably refers to the distribution company Film Booking Offices (1919) Ltd.
Silent films were projected at around 16 frames per second. Sequential animation drawings were sometimes exposed twice per drawing, making a rate of 8 pictures per second (this does not flow smoothly but is just about acceptable for simple movements). "a picture a second" is most likely a sub-editor's revision — oherwise it would suggest that Hicks was not that closely involved in the animation process. Redrawing the same picture over and over again "with very little difference" is an accurate enough description of drawn animation to impress the reader with the time-consuming monotony, but for a sequential animator it is the difference that is the point of the exercise and the motivation for pressing on.
Victor Hicks' previous films had been animated by moving jointed cut-out figures under the camera a frame at a time and it would seem that the Spick and Span series was no exception. The article shows three pictures of "Spick and Span" on the screen: (1) In the "Island of Apes"; (2) Down in Dixie; and (3) They visit a Sea-Serpent. It is not clear if these represent three seperate films, or different scenes from one film. There seems to be no other record of these films.
WONDERFUL COVENT GARDEN BALL.
Trotsky, of course, is the Russian Revolutionary, at this point in time in charge of the Red Army as it sought to crush the opposing White Army in the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution. He believed that Communism could not be maintained in one country alone but required "permanent revolution" with the proletariat taking control worldwide.
Pussyfoot, however, may require explanation. William Eugene Johnson (1862-1945) was an American who campaigned for the outlawing of intoxicating beverages. In 1906 he was made a federal agent to enforce law in Oklahoma and earned the nickname "Pussyfoot" from his stealthy pursuit of suspects: a local paper had referred to him as "the gent with the panther tread". His raids on gambling saloons and other dens of iniquity resulted in 4,400 convictions. He retired from law enforcement in 1911 to concentrate on campaigning for the Anti-Saloon League. A favourite tactic was to write to leaders of the anti-prohibition movement posing as a brewer and asking for advice on dealing with prohibitionist activists. He would then publish any replies that suggested underhand tactics. In 1919 he came to London on behalf of the World League against Alcoholism to "make England dry". On 13 November while speaking at Essex Hall he was abducted by medical students and paraded through the streets — a prank that turned nasty when a missile from the crowd blinded him in one eye. Johnson took the ragging in good part, and later called the lost eye a good investment for the cause of prohibition.
If Victor Hicks did any further work on cartoon films it never made the press. In January 1921 he started drawing cartoon sketches of current productions for The Stage and from May to December he provided header panels and cartoons for the Truths and Trifles page of The Bystander.
In October 1921 he registered the company Victor Hicks Limited, "to carry out the business of artists, cartoonists, publishers of artistic, literary and dramatic works, proprietors of dramatic cinematograph theatres or music-halls, box office keepers, etc."
In 1922 he married Beatrice May Whitley (née Parker, a divorcée with a three-year-old daughter, and they had a son, Peter.
Victor Hicks, the artist, who is about to produce a series of two-reel comedies, is fortunate in securing a very pretty star in Lily Lansdown. This actress is at present appearing in "The Surpassing Show," and, as you see by her photograph, she will make a charming flapper.
Victor as potential live-action producer. Again a story that is good promotion for both Victor and, in this case, the music hall prformer and actress Lily Lansdown, but does not appear to have resulted in any recorded films. The activities of the Victor Hicks company ceased soon after, and the company was removed from the register in 1927. With no new projects to promote the need for self-promotion was over: he was already the well-known artist he had claimed to be.
Hicks continued producing cartoons and posters. In the autumn of 1930 a series of stylish, full-page caricatures entitled Sheiks of Laughter pairing stage celebrities in surreal combinations – Sophie Tucker marooned on a desert island that is Jack Hulbert's chin; Stanley Lupino climbing the inverted, rocky face of Laddie Cliff – appeared in the Illustrated Sporting Life and Dramatic News, and from June 1931 he experimented with photographed montages using curled and textured paper shapes etc. to create full-page illustrations, some in full colour, for The Bystander.
His polished art deco style and theatrical design experience led to commissions from bars, clubs and hotels seeking to attract a sophisticated clientele:
DANCE AND SOCIAL CLUB
He also designed Modern Playcraft: A Book of Things to Make and How to Make Them, a pack of 72 printed sheets of simple toys to cut out and make, with an instruction booklet included.
In 1938 his father died, aged 75:
Cyril's business was theatrical production, and if he inherited any money from his father it might have helped fund the following production:
This show was subsequently retitled Grand Goings On. In September 1943 a revue called Sky Larks opened at the Finsbury Park Empire, presented by S H Newsome "by arrangement with Cyril Hicks" and with décor and costumes by Victor Hicks.
During World War II Victor Hicks was also kept busy designing posters for the Ministry of Labour, using cartoon imagery and simple slogans to discourage absenteeism and promote better working practises in factories.
Victor Hicks died on 23 September 1946 in St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, aged 53:
Death of Victor Hicks
The Chelsea School of Commercial Art, located at 50 Glebe Place, SW3, offered courses on Poster Design; Lettering; Layout; Illustration; Fashion; Textile Design; and Interior Design. A 1947 advertisement reads: "Prospectus of Morning, Afternoon and Evening Classes in all Branches of Commercial Art willingly sent on application to the Secretary of the School." It closed down in the 1950s.
|Twice Nightly||(Kine Komedy Kartoons, 1918) Designer, Animator|
|A Geni and a Genius No. 1||(Lionel Phillips, 1919) Designer, Animator|
|A Geni and a Genius No. 2||(Lionel Phillips, 1919) Designer, Animator|
|Spick & Span (In the "Island of Apes"?)||(The Booking Offices, 1919?) Designer, Animator|
|Spick & Span (Down in Dixie?)||(The Booking Offices, 1919?) Designer, Animator|
|Spick & Span (They visit a Sea-Serpent?)||(The Booking Offices, 1919?) Designer, Animator|
Links to Other Sites
BFI Player - A Geni and a Genius No. 1: video of a rather dark, tinted print of the first of Victor Hicks' films for Lionel Phillips, released 13 1919.
Last updated 2021