W Heath Robinson


William Heath Robinson was born in Finsbury Park, North London, in 1872. His father Thomas was an illustrator and engraver, and hs elder brothers both took up book illustration. After training at the Royal Academy Schools, William set out to be a landscape painter. Finding it hard to earn a steady income, he too turned to book illustration, with much success.

In 1903 he married and the next year the couple had a baby girl. That year, however, a publisher for which he had done a large amount of work went into bankruptcy. In order to pay the bills he submitted some humorous drawings to The Sketch and The Tatler, quality magazines that paid well for elaborately finished cartoons. This led to a secondary career as a humorous artist.

By the First World War, the market for lavishly illustrated books had shrunk considerably, but the demand for his comic work rapidly soared, especially from advertisers, and he continued working in the humorous vein for the rest of his career, doing the occassional book illustration commission, and painting watercolours in his spare time. He died in 1944.

In 1998 copy of an animated advertising film for Amplion speaker horns credited to Heath Robinson was discovered in a radio shop on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Titled The Tale of the Amp-lion, with the only credit By W. Heath Robinson, It starts with a drawing of two loudspeaker horns. The one on the right transmogrifies into a stout woman, and the other, an Amplion speaker, becomes a long-necked bird. The bird lays a pile of eggs, to the surprise of them both, then flies off. The eggs hatch into miniature speakers, which then join together to form a lion which pursues the woman and finally swallows her whole, licking its lips before morphing back into a speaker. The drawn speaker becomes a photographic image and the words "THE AMPLION." wipe on below; this lettering is then replaced by the slogan "The World's Standard Wireless Loud-Speaker." The film then ends with a title card reading "E. Marshall, 52 Easton Street, PORTLAND."

Presumably this film was commissioned by Amplion, with "dealer end" titles cut on for any radio suppliers who wished to purchase a print for local showing, a practice later adopted by Pearl & Dean. The animation has a professional quality, and uses some standard techniques. It is the only known film associated with Heath Robimson, so I am inclined to think that he designed the film, providing drawings of each key set-up, but that it was then animated by studio staff. If all the drawings were indeed made by Heath Robinson himself I would think it done with the help of an animation studio, if only in supplying the equipment, such as a registration pegboard and camera facilities. But the question remains, which studio? There are as yet no clues. The date is estimated at circa 1925.


The Amp-Lion(Production company unknown c.1926) Designer, possibly animator

Links to Other Sites

The William Heath Robinson Trust - About William Heath Robinson: Career outline page from website of the Trust that runs the W Heath Robinson Museum.

The William Heath Robinson Museum - William Heath Robinson: life and work, spread over several pages.

YouTube - A Tale Retold: Trilith's film about the finding of The Tale of the Amp-lion, featuring Frank Marshall, Gerry Wells and Geoffrey Beare.

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Peter Hale
Last updated 2017