British Animated Films


British Colour Cartoon Films


Not to be confused with George Moreno’s British Animated Productions, British Animated Films Ltd remains something of a mystery.

According to the book Halas & Batchelor Cartoons by Vivien Halas and Paul Wells, in 1936 Hungarian animator John Halas was invited to come to London to make cartoon films on the strength of a 2 minute animation test (or pilot) for a proposed cartoon on the childhood of Hungarian composer Frans Liszt, set to the Hungarian Rhapsodies. The people making this invitation appear to include filmmaker Henry J. Elwis and photographer Erik Trigg.

Elwis is credited with an animated short called The Composer's Dream dated 1936. This 5 minute B&W semi-abstract film consists of musical notes syncronised to the soundtrack. The BFI hold copies, but does not mention who wrote the music.

The company British Animated Films Ltd was registered in November 1936 and run by Elwis (at least, his is the name given as Producer of the two films it appears to have made). Halas also later claimed to have been a director of this company.

It seems Elwis was looking for an animator to make a series of shorts based on the works of Hans Christian Anderson, and Vivien Halas asserts that this was the first project on which her father worked. Halas advertised for animators to form a unit, and his advertisement was answered by illustrator/animator Joy Batchelor. She did some test animation for The Brave Tin Soldier and was hired on the spot. This film may never have been released, and when her work on it was completed Joy’s contract ended.

She was re-employed when Halas persuaded Elwis to let him complete the Liszt film. In January 1938 John Halas appears to have formed a subsidiary company called British Colour Cartoon Films Ltd, of which he was a director. (The other directors are given on its letterhead as James Willing, Richard Weisbach and Frederick Willing. Weisbach, the managing director, a playboy once married to film actress Brigitte Helm, was the son of a Berlin businessman and put a large sum into the company.) It appears that Halas intended this company to function as the UK arm of Coloriton, the Hungarian studio he had co-founded in Budapest back in 1932.

Halas arranged for himself and Joy to complete the production of the film back at Coloriton, where he has made the original test footage. (Joy did not contribute her own design style to this film, as the style had already been set.)

The finished film, Music Man, was released in 1938 and, together with another British Animated Films production (according to Gifford) How the Motor Works, was reviewed in Today’s Cinema on the 8 September.

In Music Man a young boy falls asleep, exhausted from his attempts to satisfy his strict violin tutor, and dreams he enters the picture hanging on the music room wall. He explores this magical land in the company of the young girl from the picture. They find some flowers that can turn into human figures – various comic national stereotypes. When one of the flowers turns into his music teacher, the boy fights with him. Waking up to find the violinist prodding him with his bow, he pulls his tutor’s nose and hurls him in the air. He then helps the little girl down from the picture, where her place is taken by the violinist. Today’s Cinema concludes:

“Of fair technical quality, this cartoon has a certain amount of quaint charm.”

How the Motor Works, with animation credited to Kathleen Murphy, is described thus:

“This diagrammatic cartoon in pleasing Gasparcolor explains, with the aid of excellent commentary, exactly how a car engine works, the functions of the petrol pump, carburettor, distributor, engine block, crankshaft, cooling system, etc. being personified by amusing little figures. Excellent draughtsmanship and animation are a feature of an astoundingly interesting and novel subject of wide general appeal.” (Today’s Cinema 8 September 1938)

Quoting the Board of Trade's listings of films registered under the Film Act (which established a quota system for British films) The Kinematograph Year Book 1939 gives the "filmmaker" of How The Motor Works as Pamphonic Reproducers. This was a manufacturing company that made sound systems, not a film production company - perhaps they put up the money for the film.

Both films were released by Technique Distributors Ltd, a new company registered in April 1938.

The boy in Music Man, though originally conceived as the young Liszt, was named Jackie, and the girl Jill, in the titles to the finished film - I presume this is because Elwis wanted to turn this into a series. Certainly, in Hungary John and Joy were expecting to be making a series of films, but at the end of the same year the company secretary of British Colour Cartoon Films Ltd wrote to tell them that the company was in “financial difficulties”, and releasing Halas from his contract “until such a time as the Company’s position is improved”. According to Joy Batchelor, one of the directors, James Willings, was about to be sent to jail for selling arms to both sides in the Spanish Civil War.

Despite the formation of British Colour Cartoon Films Ltd it is worth noting that it is the name British Animated Films that appears on the opening titles for Music Man.

British Animated Films Ltd was struck off the Companies Register and dissolved on 29 June 1943, as an inactive company under the 1929 Companies Act. British Colour Cartoon Films Ltd was removed from the register in December 1948, as a defunct company under section 353 (5) of the 1948 Companies Act.

Henry J. Elwis, went on to form his own animation studio, Elwis Films, which produced five information films in 1944.


How the Motor Works1938
Produced by:Pamphonic Reproducers/British Animated Productions
Producer:Henry J. Elwis
Animator:Kathleen Murphy
Voice artist:Charles Spencer
Distributor:Technique Distributors
Length:700 ft (7 min)
Released:September(?) 1938
Music Man1938
Producer:Henry J. Elwis
Story:Imre Hajdú
Animators:John Halas, Joy Batchelor
Music:Harry Hilm, F. Grunland, J. Lally
Distributor:Technique Distributors
Length:776 ft (8 min)
Released:September 1938

Links to Other Sites

The Lost Continent: post on Music Man, with a good number of stills.

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Peter Hale
Last updated 2015