This is a guest post for Silent London by Robyn Ludwig.
The animators whose films will be showcased at the British Animation Film Festival this Sunday owe a debt to Anson Dyer – though many may not even know it. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernest John Anson Dyer (1876-1962), a masterful animator and pioneering director in the silent-era years of the British animation industry. Much less is known about Dyer and his early films, than of his peers in America and continental Europe. Yet film historian Geoff Brown notes: “For all the current lack of critical attention, Anson Dyer was a major figure in British animation for over 30 years, from the first world war to the aftermath of the second … [He] was promoted for a time as Britain’s equivalent of Walt Disney, with a prolific and popular output of children’s cartoons” (Brown, BFI Screenonline). Donald Crafton, in Before Mickey: The Animated Film (1898 – 1928), credits Dyer as helping British animators come “closer than anyone else in Europe to establishing a significant cartoon industry” (Crafton 252).
Dyer began his animation career in 1915, at the late age of 39, having spent 20 years as an ecclesiastical artist designing stained-glass church windows on commission. Yet most of his earliest films were secular in theme: propagandistic political satires in the “topical sketcher” tradition. When he joined Kine Komedy Kartoons in 1919, however, he began directing children’s material, including the Phillips Philm Phables series (also known as the Uncle Remus series). Later that same year, Dyer signed with Hepworth Picture Plays in Walton-on-Thames, and during this prolific period, he produced a number of Shakespearean parodies, and the family-friendly Kiddie-Graphs fairy tale series, including The Three Little Pigs (1922) and Little Red Riding Hood (1922).