GILES – A 50 Years Celebration

On Tuesday 5th October 1993 the National Museum of Cartoon Art celebrated 50 years of Carl Giles art. Report by Ken Clark.

Ken Clark, Roland Davies and Giles sister, Eileen. Photo: Angela Nott.

“To all lovers of grandmas, cats, airedales, people, and so forth, I thoroughly recommend this.” – one of Giles baby twins had scrawled on the invitation. I am not quite sure whether it was young Lawrence or Ralph but whichever it was received a sound spanking from Grandma. It was a most undeserved punishment. Within moments of entering the exhibition and seeing Giles original artwork in all its glory, the young scribe was honourably vindicated.

Not many people know that Carl began his working life at ‘Superads’ in Charing Cross Road. Starting as office boy and receiving ten shillings (50 pence) a week, he soon left his tea-making and delivery chores behind him when he joined the artists at their animation desks. By the age of eighteen he had become a first-rate in-betweener. Laurie Price was one of the professional animators who befriended him in those early days. Years later, while working at Publicity Pictures he saw a photograph of Giles in the newspaper and turning to Chris Millett, he said, “That’s young Giles, who used to be with us.” Chris retorted, “No – never, he’s much too fat!” But Laurie persisted, “It is, it’s him. I’ll prove it.” He wrote to the newspaper and to his great delight received a card bearing a typical Giles cartoon of a little lad (himself) rolling downstairs in a film bin, a pictorial reminder of past rowdy humiliations. In the accompanying letter Carl wrote:

“Just over 20 years between now and the film days I take the liberty of dropping the Mr. Price. For having successfully dodged all forms of art schools I hold you and the ghosts partly responsible for my basic training, especially in the art of self-defence. Money came easy in those days, Ten shillings a week from Messrs Goodman and Alderson (studio manager) and one-and-a-half pence a cup for filthy tea twice a day from each of you and no tax.”

Superads closed its doors on Christmas Eve, 1931. Three years on, Giles was asked to work on what promised to be the first of a series of shorts based English pursuits. The first was titled The Fox Hunt. Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin fresh from the success of their cartoon Joie de Vivre came to lead the team. Although Fox Hunt echoed the stylistic approach to cartoon film-making the couple had used previously, it was not a commercial success, and Alexanda Korda closed the studio.

Fortunately a new studio in Ipswich was looking for animators to work on a series featuring ‘Steve the Horse’, Roland Davies had decided to bring his newspaper cartoon strip to the screen and was interviewing likely candidates After a stroll around the many exhibits of Giles work, Roland told me:

“Have you been down to see the old Victorian house where we made those films? It’s still there, including the air raid shelter we hid in during the war.

“The film project began this way – I visited the local cinema and saw a dreadful cartoon, it was awful, and I said to my wife, “Huh, I could do better than that, I’d certainly like to try.” Well, my father-in-law agreed we should have a chance to make them and offered to pay us a nominal sum each week. You see, it meant I had to lay off some of my newspaper work. All I had to guide me in the beginning was advice from a chap named Goodman, who worked for Shell Mex, and a little book entitled ‘How to Make Cartoon Films’. A brilliant artist came to see me – that was Carl Giles – and he showed me a sequence involving an Oxo cube. Gunboats were firing at it and blowing holes in it. That was very effective, so I engaged him as my supervising animator.”

Roland Davies also engaged twelve students from the local Art School, the girls doing the trace and paint on cels. Registration was achieved using the office punch. In the event, six black-and-white shorts were completed but, it has to be said, Giles was not helped by his enthusiastic, unschooled albeit young assistants, nor yet by the lack of finance which necessarily meant the series could not be made in colour nor sport a quality soundtrack.

By this time Giles pen and ink drawings were being reproduced in ‘Passing Show’, and he had a regular spot in ‘Reynolds News’. At the age of twenty-two, Giles was now a full-time newspaper cartoonist earning the princely sum of five pounds a week.

During the war years Giles again tuned his hand to animation, making three information shorts with his own team, for the Ministry of Information in 1944.

His only other brush with animation came in the Eighties when Brooke Bond/Tetley Tea invited the assistance of his ‘cartoon family’ to promote their wares on commercial TV.

By now the exhibition halls were packed with admirers and well-wishers, and a small jazz group added an extra note of jollity to the occasion.

Among the throng I spotted Michael Bentine, who told me, “I’ve actually got one of my drawings hanging in Carl Giles home – I did it for his birthday. He lives up in Dedham Vale country and I drew a cartoon of Constable dressed up as a Victorian constable complete with top hat, painting Flatford Mills and using his truncheon to do so. When Carl saw it, he said, “There’s only one place for that! “ I said, “I know – the loo!” He said, “You read my mind.” It’s there today, and I’m very thrilled about that.”

I asked after his brother Tony, who was one of the ex-servicemen who joined GB-Animation after the war. Arthur Rank, as he was then, brought over to Cookham, David Hand and Ralph Wright from the Disney studios to train our people in the ways of Walt. Referring to the Animaland cartoon series:

“David Hand used to say ‘You have beautiful pictures’”, Michael grinned, “ ‘You have beautiful music. What more can you ask?’ My brother said, ‘What about some beautiful humour?’”

“After GBA, my brother worked for Lintas and all sorts of other strange people. He’s retired now and living in Gloucester. He’s still drawing, for the hell of it, he does the most glorious sculptures and he’s making a chess set – and I just love the man.

“Giles is the Leonardo of the cartoon world. His perspective is never wrong’, it’s all instinctive, he doesn’t use set squares or anything. The secret of Giles is that he has lived all these experiences (he indicated Giles drawings). Most of the comics today are so bitter about things they know nothing about. Whereas Giles’ humour is so good-humoured.”

I am sure that the man of the moment would have enjoyed the accolades had he been able to attend. As it was, we were told he had succumbed to a virus infection and been taken into hospital. We could do no more than wish him a speedy recovery. Carl Giles is as British as John Bull’s bulldog, long may he reign and prosper.

Printed in Animator Issue 31 (Spring 1994)