The Shadows Move – the British pioneers

In the peace that followed, Dyer, ‘Poy’, and J.A. Shepherd each made three films for a Cecil Hepworth series; Philip Philm Phables. Dyer stayed with Hepworth to make six Shakespearean Burlesques; while Buxton went his own way and introduced series of MIFFY cartoons and BUCKY’S BURLESQUES.

Despite the introduction of cels the cut-out technique prevailed well into the Twenties. Speed’s PIP, SOUEAK & WILFRED films were made in this manner; also innumerable shorts made by newly formed studios.

In 1923, Tom Webster introduced his popular newspaper character TISHY THE X-LEGGED HORSE to cinema patrons, and a year later, G.T Studdy followed with BONGO THE PUP. Studdy was not an animator, but then, neither were those other famous names: Tom Webster, Bruce Bairnsfather, Louis Raemakers, H.M. Bateman, all of whom employed others to do the animation. Studdy’s team was led by the very capable Billy Ward, who favored the separate drawing system.

The Twenties were bad years for British animation. While the Americans went from strength to strength, our artists faltered before the torrent of imported American material offered to distributors at reduced rental charges. Unable to compete, many turned away from entertainment cartoons to films financially assured by a sponsor, concentrating instead on local and national advertising shorts, diagrammatic animation for documentary and instructional films, and series of ‘bouncing-ball’ song cartoons.

A.C. Hopkins, known as Hoppy, joined forces with Reg Wyler and co-opted Laurie Price to start a unit devoted to advertising and entertainment cartoons in 1926.

The same year Pathé were looking for an alternative to take the place of the American FELIX THE CAT cartoons. In Cardiff a cinema projectionist named Sid Griffiths had analysed the Felix films frame-by-frame on the rewind bench and then animated a story featuring a little dog called ‘Jerry the Tyke’.

Pathé representatives saw it, liked it and signed Griffiths to produce short animated stories for the next two years. Brian White became his assistant animator while Sid’s original cameraman A.Bilby completed the team.

Also at Pathé, Buxton made a series of ‘Pongo the Pup’ films and a series of ‘song cartoons’. Joe Noble was brought into make a series featuring a little boy and his dog called ‘Sammy and Sausage’. Joe and his brother George went on to make the first British sound cartoon, having first taken out an initial patent on a sound system of his own invention.

Dyer now worked for Andrew Nettlefold who had bought up Hepworth’s studios. For his new employer Dyer spent one year of his life making THE STORY OF THE FLAG, well over 4,000 feet in length, and animated single-handedly. Renters were disinclined to release a cartoon film of this length, fearing that audiences would be bored and so it was cut up and released as a six-part serial.

Live action and diagrammatic work continued to occupy his time and in 1930 he made an important live action film with some model animation sequences for the Port of London authorities. Then he dropped out of film work for a few years.

Len Lye came to Britain from New Zealand, and using Hoppy Hopkins and Reg Wyers studio facilities, began work on COLOURBOX in 1935, and RAINBOW DANCE in1936. These successful and unorthodox cartoons were made in Gasparcolour.

Norman McLaren had begun his drawing-direct-on-film experiments at Glasgow Art School in 1933. A system he was to develop to a very high degree in later years in this country and afterwards with the National Film Board of Canada.

Little Ronnie Giles had begun his career in animation in 1930 as tea-boy at the ill-fated Superads Studio. When it collapsed, he went to Younger Films, still in the capacity of apprentice-cum-tea-boy.
Dyer returned to the scene in 1934 under the company title: Colour Cartoon Studios; received backing from his old boss Andrew Nettlefold and formed Anglia Films in 1935.

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