In 1924 I heard a British film company wanted a man to assist in drawing animated cartoons. Up to this time my main cartoon film fare had been ‘Mutt and Jeff’. It was work I thought I could and would like to do. I applied for the job and found that I was to make thousands of drawings to assist Mr George E. Studdy to bring his famous dog, Bonzo, to life upon the screen. I accepted and came to be a member of William Ward’s team of animators.
This series of films were being made for New Era Films Ltd. at their premises in D’Arblay Street; just off Wardour Street, London. While Bonzo films were line only, this is where the camera man, Pat Tobin, and myself used to scheme ways of mixing cartoons with live action. Besides Bonzo, Bessie Love was a New Era ‘star’ and her over-large portrait greeted us every morning from the ground floor window. I never met her.
After one week’s trial we started work in earnest. All told there were 11 animators of whom four were women. I remember M. York who I believe had done similar work previously; and Marjorie who married James Drawbell, the editor and writer.
As I could not move to London at this time, I travelled back and forth daily from home at 13, Bury Park Road, Luton on my Douglas motorcycle. I made that journey in all weathers for over a year. I had several soakíngs and not a few skids but it was great fun as I was doing what I really wanted. This activity did not go unnoticed and was the subject of a caricature by Kevin Moran, one of the animators whom we used to envy as he was ambidextrous and could change his pencil form left to riught hand and go on drawing effortlessly.
For relaxation we used to play football on the flat roof of the premised which only had a two-foot wall surround. The ball was of paper tied up with string. It very often went over the edge and dropped on to the fruit stall in the crowded streets below. Naturally it was just disowned by us – we justmade another.
A further diversion was being taught to whirl a lassoo by another of the animators, McCready. I think he had pretensions of being a cowboy.
Animation, timing and photographing was a very simple operation which was just as well as we were learning a new trade. The animation was on paper while the backgrounds were mainly transparent celluloid sheets and in those days it was celluloid. I have seen many a sheet go up in flames more than once when the ink (to which we used to add a little sugar to make it take) was being hastily dried rather too near a 100 watt bulb under the animating desk.
After a time the Animation Unit moved to Holland Park, almost opposite the Tube station, where we had more room and a garden in which to relax. It was not long though before the Bonzo series was completed. Most of the staff dispersed to leave the film world for good. Studdy, Ward, the camera man Pat Tobin and myself remained for a while as both Studdy and Ward each had hopes of starting a series of their own. Nothing came of it despite the Sunday Express devoting the best part of their film page to Ward’s proposed new series of cartoon films.