Joy Batchelor (1914 – 1991)
compiled by Skye Lobell
“Whilst we may not yet have a fully-rounded portrait of a complex life that only a fully-researched and resourced biography could achieve, we have a number of detailed snapshots of Joy in various stages of her life. That these images of Joy are often contrasting – glamorous and driven; shy and aloof; warm and witty; bitter and exhausted – make her only more human.” – Jez Stewart, A Joy to Work With
Joy Ethel Batchelor was born on May 12th, 1914 in the English town of Watford to a family of artists and craftsmen as the oldest of three children. Her father, Edward Joseph Batchelor, worked at John Bale & Danielson Ltd in Clerkenwell as a master lithographic draughtsman. Joy’s mother, Ethel Amy Herbert, was once the manager of the Northwood Gold Club Course, but had given up her position to marry Joe because she fell in love with his good looks. Ethel was an ambitious woman who considered her husband a disappointment because he lacked that character trait - he was modest and indecisive, often passing up promotions.
When Joy was born her parents were somewhat disappointed, as they had really wanted a boy. Joy later told her daughter that she wished she’d been born a man because life was easier for them. Joy’s younger brother John was doted on and probably even spoiled by their mother, and Joy was jealous. Shortly after the birth of their sister Barbara in 1921, John died of diphtheria when he was only four years old. Her mother suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Joy felt guilty and unloved throughout her childhood.
Ethel, who grew up with strict Victorian values, would punish Joy by locking her in the cupboard under the stairs, where Joy would tell herself stories and develop her desire to “escape, shine, and be different”.
Joy took interest in drawing at an early age. Her father encouraged Joy’s drawing and brought home long paper off-cuts of prints and paper for her to draw on. Joe’s lack of ambition also hampered Joy’s educational opportunities, however, she regarded him as a friend and companion and was grateful for his support. She would later say that “…to him I owe what talent I have for drawing”.
Ethel channeled her own frustrated ambitions into Joy and Barbara, telling them they had to earn scholarships or they would end up in the workhouse. Joy won a scholarship to grammar school, and later studied at the Watford School of Art on a scholarship. She was also offered a scholarship to the renowned Slade, but declined in order to start working and support her family. But even with a scholarship, she would not have been able to afford to go.
Joy wanted to do something art-related, but not be a teacher. She began her artistic career painting knick-knacks and trinkets in an assembly line; she was let go for openly criticizing the poor working conditions.
In 1934, she came to work for Dennis Connelly’s animation studio in London. She began as an inbetweener. She had had no training, she just ‘found out’ how to animate. She openly criticized the animation; the characters “weren’t moving properly”, according to Joy - she promoted to key animator. At first, Joy was not enthusiastic about animation, but it gradually came to excite her.
When the studio closed she looked for other work in the animation industry, but being unable to find anything she took a job in a silkscreen printers designing posters. In around 1937 she came upon an ad in Evening Standard, which called for experienced animators for newly established animation studio. The person who had placed the ad was the Hungarian János Halász – or, anglicized, John Halas.
John and his business partners were already running a studio in Hungary when British Colour Cartoon Films Ltd offered John to set up a studio in London, where he placed ads for animators, which is how he came to meet Joy. Joy later described their attraction as instant and mutual, but they first focused on work before coming together. (John on the other hand described their first meeting thus: "Our relationship was certainly cool to start with. It was not at all ‘love a first sight’ on my part it was more a professional relationship based on a gradual interdependence on each other’s talent.")
When work on the film Music Man (1938) was completed, Joy was offered work by John on a picture in Budapest. Joy greatly enjoyed her experience there; she owned a pet angora rabbit, partied, worked hard, and took Hungarian lessons. She was admired and adored by John’s Hungarian colleagues. It was also the first time she began to take over responsibilities in pre-production, which would become her main strength in the creative partnership.
Financing for production was shut down before the film could be completed; John and Joy were left without money in a bad situation within a tense political climate, thus John and Joy returned to London. They left Budapest in June of 1938 in a hurry. They travelled third class on wooden benches on one of the last trains to London, having borrowed money from one of John’s brothers to pay for the train tickets. Friends gave them sandwiches to eat on their journey.
From 1937 to 1941, John and Joy ran a small freelance graphic design studio off the Strand, where they worked on a great variety of jobs and established useful business contacts. It is to be noted that during those early years of their partnership, Joy’s skills were of crucial function. John barely spoke English, and Joy’s abilities as cultural interpreter of John’s Hungarian sensibilities for the British clientele enabled their survival. Joy became an illustrator for cook books and fashion magazines, such as Harper’s, Queen and Vogue. She also created drawings for newspaper columns and gossip pages. It is these illustrations from her freelance years which probably best exemplify Joy’s fluid and expressive drawing style.
George Pal, a former colleague of John Halas, introduced them to Alexander Mackendrick, a designer and producer at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which was near John and Joy’s freelance studio. During the war, paper shortages made newspaper advertisements unviable. Since film stock was not rationed, cinema advertising seemed more attractive to sponsors – thus, Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films were formed in May 1940 as an independent part of the JWT advertising agency at Bush House, Aldwych, London. The main responsibility of the studio at that time was to develop talent for the production of commercials, information films and war propaganda.
Joy Batchelor and John Halas married on the 27th of April, 1940. They had previously held off marriage, believing it be an ‘institution’ which could harm their creative relationship, but during WW2, John held the status of ‘enemy alien’ and he was threatened with internment on the Isle of Man. John was spared from internment, but Joy was now considered a ‘friendly enemy alien’ and lost her British citizenship, which she was not to reacquire until December 28th, 1945. Both Joy and John were subject to a strict curfew in those years.
During her freelance years, Joy had done work for Shell, whose publicity director Jack Beddington later became head of the Ministry of Information’s (MOI) film division (post-war known as Central Office of Information). Joy credited him for supplying steady work for the studio throughout the war.
By 1943, they were directly entrusted with commissions from the MOI. By then, John and Joy’s relationship was a full collaboration – they worked together on story, scene planning, scriptwriting and direction. While John’s main concern were the visuals and production values, Joy emphasized the importance of clarity in the script (“What does it matter if nobody knows what you are trying to say?”)
During the war the studio moved to Bushey, near Watford, for a short time before moving back to central London, where the studio was set up at 10A Soho Square.
A bomb hit John and Joy’s Chelsea flat in 1941. John was under the doorway at that time and remained uninjured, but was in shock. Joy was buried to her neck in rubble, which is considered the root cause for her lifelong health-issues which included back pain and depression.
The post-war government commissioned, among other things, a seven part film series which explained the new policies of the Labour regime, the Charley series. The studio also returned to creating advertising work for JWT as well as producing ‘free films’ which, unlike sponsor films, they produced for themselves and were often experimental.
John and Joy’s daughter Vivien was born in 1945. While Joy was in a nursing home, John was in hospital to have his appendix removed, and they corresponded through daily letters while Joy was also writing instructions to the studio. At first, Joy did not believe that a child would interrupt their ‘bohemian’ lifestyle, but that quickly changed.
Joy started working more from home, focusing on scriptwriting and storyboarding, which were always considered her greatest strengths. Joy greatly enjoyed reading and researching ideas for films, but the separation from day to day studio life made her feel isolated from production. To her, the partnership did not feel equal anymore, as she still worked as hard as before but was also responsible for taking care of the home and family, as was expected of women at the time. When Vivien was a baby, she was sent to boarding nursery on weekdays and frequently cared for by grandparents, especially her grandmother, to relieve some of the stress. Joy seems to have been a more committed mother than John was as a father. These circumstances, as well as the wartime injuries, put a mental and physical strain which caused further damage to her health. In spite of this, Joy was still a convivial party giver and hosted a book club.
After the birth of John and Joy’s son Paul in 1949, the family moved to Hampstead, which was closer to the Soho studio. They moved into a flat in which they lived for three years, then to a modernist single storey house. As it was not expensive to live there, they could afford a series of live-in au-pairs.
Halas & Batchelor’s most famous and probably most significant project came in the form of the first British full-length animated feature, Animal Farm (1954), based on George Orwell’s political fable of the same name. Joy is credited as scriptwriter, director, producer and designer, which is to be noted since she often remained uncredited onscreen. Animal Farm was somewhat a commission from Louis de Rochemont and he is credited as producer.
Pre-production of the film began in 1951. Both Joy and John were very passionate about the project. They travelled back and forth to New York during production while Joy’s mother Ethel stayed with the children. Joy tried working around the children’s needs, having family breakfasts and spending time with them on the evenings and weekends. Vivien states that she and Paul did not feel neglected, but their family life was intrinsically tied to the studio. Joy later stated it was her most enjoyable filmmaking experience.
After Animal Farm, Halas and Batchelor went into television commercial production and continued working on commissions from large companies. There were also plans for future collaborations with de Rochemont, among them the a series of films based on the twelfth century poems Lais de Marie de France which seems to have been Joy’s dream project, but due to lack of interest or funding it never came to fruition.
In 1960, Joy and John were among founder members of ASIFA (Association Internationale Du Film d'Animation). One of the few live-action films produced by the studio was the 1961 fantasy Monster of Highgate Ponds, based on a story by Joy, who also designed the monster, though she dismissed the project in retrospect.
Joy felt a divergence in hers and John’s films and interests by the end of the 1950s and continuing throughout the 60s. She felt she was handed off the boring film subjects, which resulted in creative frustration, which in turn worsened her illnesses. Joy was suffered depressed during this time and started relying more heavily on alcohol. She felt neglected and left out, yet it also seems that John always sought Joy’s advice on everything he did.
Joy’s enthusiasm for creating animation began to wane alongside Halas and Batchelor’s impetus. The demand for commercial television and sponsored works began to decline, thus Halas and Batchelor ventured into American TV cartoons which were either produced in-house or were outsourced commissions.
By this time Joy enjoyed gardening more than animation work, nevertheless, she took on the responsibility of directing a TV adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, released in 1964. Joy worked on Ruddigore, considered the first animated operetta, for three years. One challenging aspect of the production was the reduction of the opera by over half of its original length. As no words or songs could be altered or rewritten, she employed voice-over narration for clarity and continuity.
The 70s and 80s were a stressful time for Joy, as Halas and Batchelor was sold and bought back again twice, the second time in particular as they were forced to release the remaining shares of the studio, a task which fell to Joy, as John was at an international film congress. In 1972, the same year Vivien moved to Paris, Joy began suffering serious arthritis which prevented her from writing and drawing. She wanted John to retire so that they could travel and perhaps live in a warmer climate, but this never happened. She collaborated with Janos Kass on Contact (1973) before retiring from filmmaking in 1974, by which time she had worked on over one hundred animated productions.
BFI National Archive curator Jez Stewart described Joy as “the most successful woman in British animation to date. Her forty-year career as first an animator, but then very quickly as a writer, producer, director, and joint creative head at what was one of the biggest animation studios in Western Europe, has never been matched, and probably never will.”
She taught animation at the London International Film School and continued to be a presence in the international animation scene.
Joy Batchelor died of a ruptured stomach ulcer on May 16th, 1991.
Vivien Halas has been managing the Halas and Batchelor archives since 1995.
Vivien Halas, A Moving Image: Joy Batchelor 1914-91 Artist, Writer and Animator (Southbank Publishing 2014)
Vivien Halas and Paul Wells, Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History (Southbank Publishing 2006)
John Halas Memoir – The Origin of Halas & Batchelor: http://halasbatchelor75.co.uk/john-halas-memoir-the-origin-of-halas/
Jez Stewart, A Joy to Work With: https://womensfilmandtelevisionhistory.wordpress.com/tag/joy-batchelor/
Emma Boden, A Moving Image – Joy Batchelor: http://armadillocentral.com/?p=220
Ode to Joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN0897fFc3Y
A Moving Image – Joy Batchelor: http://armadillocentral.com/?p=220
Joy Batchelor - An Animated Life: Panel Discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPQZNL2_Xog
Interview with Joy Batchelor conducted by Kay Mander, 1972: https://www.bectu.org.uk/advice-resources/library/1200
Beatrice Okoro, Joy Batchelor – Life in Animation: http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-US/blog/bridgeman/post/2658/joy-batchelor
Angela Saward, Animated wit : the work of Joy Batchelor: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2014/05/animated-wit-the-work-of-joy-batchelor/
Halas, John (1912-1995) and Batchelor, Joy (1914-1991): http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/581849/
Joy’s and John’s Illustrations for the Animal Farm Book: http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/?p=6058
Jo Duncombe, Joy Batchelor: A Centenary Celebration: http://birds-eye-view.co.uk/2014/05/12/joy-batchelor-a-centenary-celebration-of-an-animation-icon/
Filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0060742/ and http://explore.bfi.org.uk/4ce2ba122be7d
Official Halas and Batchelor Website: http://www.halasandbatchelor.co.uk/
Halas and Batchelor at 75: http://halasbatchelor75.co.uk/
Vivien Halas Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvq-1HSPcsNXUd04HGSD0gQ
Ruddigore, full feature: http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-GB/search?filter_text=ruddigore&filter_group=all
More images and footage can be found at www.bridgemanimages.com