A diverse collection of shorts from across the 20th century have been remastered by the BFI National Archive to give a portrait of one of Britain’s most idiosyncratic contributions to world cinema.

British animation is recognised internationally thanks to the recent success of Aardman and Peppa Pig and earlier landmark features such as Animal Farm and Yellow Submarine. This feature-length programme of shorts from 1907 to the 1990s, curated by the BFI’s Jez Stewart, traces the history of the art and the industry, and also offers an animated portrait of a nation. The silent films are accompanied by a newly commissioned score by Stephen Horne.

Films in the programme

The films start with the first stop-motion flourishes in early trick films. The period after 1945 saw the development of the modern animation industry and its blossoming as a unique art form. In the last 2 decades of the 20th century unprecedented support from television, the development of animation courses in British art schools and everything that had come before meant that the art and industry was riding high.

The programme consists of the following films:

  • Sorcerer’s Scissors (Walter Booth, 1907): Mixing live-action, cut-out animation, statue smashing and dancing scissors, this is one of the earliest animated films in the BFI National Archive. [Silent]
  • Animated Doll and Toy Town circus (G.A. Smith, 1912): Stop-motion film using toys and dolls. A female doll smokes. Circus scenes with horses and clowns.
  • Ever Been Had? (Dudley Buxton, 1917): The man on the moon meets the last Englishman on Earth, in a clever mix of propaganda, science fiction and comedy, with a killer punchline. [Silent]
  • Booster Bonzo; Or, Bonzo in Gay Paree (1925): Britain’s answer to Felix the Cat hitches a ride to Paris, chats up a barmaid and goes a little overboard on vin rouge. [Silent]
  • Shadows (Joe Noble, 1928): Sammy and his dog Sausage were a cartoon double act of the 1920s, but they co-starred with their creator – the innovative animator Joe Noble. Cleverly interacting with his pen and ink creations, in this episode Joe comes off worse in a bout of shadow boxing. [Silent]
  • Fox Hunt (Hector Hoppin and Anthony Gross, 1936): A Technicolor follow-up to the modernist masterpiece Joie de Vivre (1934), travelling from the English countryside to its new suburban towns.
  • Adolf’s Busy Day (Lawrence Wright, 1940): Lawrence Wright was an architect who turned his hobby into a vocation, using animation to take Herr Hitler down a peg or two in this comic propaganda cartoon.
  • Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (Biographic, 1959): An irreverent but affectionate poke at the pretensions of the industry, enlivened by the creative spirit and offbeat humour of Bob Godfrey.
  • Transformer (Trickfilms, 1968): All aboard the psychedelic steam engine. Key creatives from Yellow Submarine (1968), including Heinz Edelmann, produced this stunning animation festival ident.
  • The Ladder (George Dunning, 1967): This George Dunning short sees his art pared back to the barest of brushstrokes. Simple daubs of colour make up our cast of characters in a stark tale that elevates cartoon logic to a fine art.
  • Mr Pascal (Alison De Vere, 1979): A spiritual tale of remarkable humanity, going beyond religion to show faith in the value of small gestures of kindness.
  • Night Club (Jonathan Hodgson, 1983): A vicarious night out lived through an animated sketchbook, offering a boiling, colourful study of human behaviour laid down to a hypnotic post-punk beat.
  • Britannia (Joanna Quinn, 1993): A concise, caustic history of the British Empire, which sees the British bulldog let off the leash but brought firmly to heel.
  • Queen’s Monastery (Emma Calder, 1998): An acrobat returns from the military to the woman who loves him, but comes back a changed man. Her fantasies about the man he used to be puts the solider in conflict with his former self. Love and war played out to the music of Leos Janácek in a strikingly unique watercolour style.

A History of British Animation is available on DCP for international venues and festivals. We can supply stills, programme notes and in some cases a curator may be available to introduce screenings.

For general information on international programmes, please contact international booking enquiries.

For bookings, please email our team via the distribution booking enquiry form.

Format: encrypted DCP (requires kdm)
Running time: c.75min
Cost: c. £400 GBP plus £25 GBP (customs/duty/clearances where applicable)

Also recommended

Below are a number of features that complement the shorts programme. Rights holder information is included under each title.

Animal Farm (UK, 1954)

This powerful political allegory based on George Orwell’s book was Britain’s first animated feature film and was directed by Halas & Batchelor, the husband and wife team behind The Figurehead (1952) and Automania 2000 (1963).

Rights: Park Circus

Watership Down (UK, 1978)

A fiercely independent tale of rabbits, survival, despair and new hope set in the English countryside, animated by many of the artists who had worked on Animal Farm.

International enquiries: Screenbound

When the Wind Blows (UK, 1986)

A peaceful retirement in the country for a loving retired couple is interrupted by a nuclear nightmare. Made by TVC London, the company established and inspired by the legacy of George Dunning – The Wardrobe (1958), The Ladder (1967), Damon the Mower (1972) – with music by David Bowie and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

Rights: Park Circus

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (UK, 2005)

Wallace and Gromit effortlessly make the transition to a feature-length film in “the world’s first vegetarian horror film”.

Rights: Dreamworks

Ethel and Ernest (UK, 2016)

Follow the lives of two ordinary Londoners through the sweeping changes of the 20th century in this richly accomplished adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ affectionate but honest comic book biography of his parents.

Rights: Park Circus