Marshall Plan money promoted a European common market using British film studios

by Stephen Hewitt

A BBC documentary broadcast on 24 April 2005 says that money from the American Marshall Plan was used to make animated propaganda films promoting a European common market. British film studio Halas and Batchelor made a cartoon about a hatter and another British studio, W.M. Larkins, made an animated film with Peter Sachs.

According to the BBC: "Marshall plan money not only made these films, but also paid for them to be translated into the major European languages including Russian and shown all over the continent."

Later the CIA funded one of these studios to make an animation of an altered version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, first shown in 1954. CIA "front man" Louis de Rochemont commissioned the film from Halas and Batchelor, which "went from being a small film studio with a good reputation to being the largest studio certainly in Britain if not in Europe."

The documentary was "Animation Nation", BBC Bristol 2005, Produced and directed by Merryn Threadgould and the programme described here was broadcast in England on BBC4 digital terrestrial television in the early hours of Sunday 24 April 2005.


The programme examines a film, made by British studio Halas and Batchelor, which starts with a shoemaker and a hat maker (called a "hatter" in the film) who have shops next door to each other.

In the programme it is explained that the shoemaker has the idea of making cheap shoes for everyone while the hatter makes the best hats. From the film itself we hear: "but when these shoes are needed so badly, surely he should make more, not less, why not make more shoes with less effort by using more machines?"

Again it is explained in the programme: .."and he realises that if he goes to another country, he can trade shoes for something that he needs"

Back to the film itself:

"somebody somewhere must need shoes and be able to pay for them and the shoemaker intended to find that somebody. First he had to explain about the machinery. Unless he can sell his shoes, he must send back the machines but this meant ruin for the machine maker, for he too must export Too many restrictions were ruining trade between them."

BBC narrator: "By the end of the film, the shoemaker succeeds in helping to overcome trade barriers between countries and business thrives in a European common market."

From the film we hear: "and efficient producers everywhere enlarge and increase production which meant more work and more goods all round. They were also able to compete successfully for much needed world trade."

BBC narrator: "The Americans had also commissioned the other principle British studio, Larkins, to make a film promoting the Marshall Plan and Peter Sachs responded not with a European folk tale, but a more personal address to the people and the continent and he'd left behind."

Filling the screen we see, "Produced by The W.M. LARKINS STUDIO In association with THE FILM PRODUCERS GUILD", with "Western Electric SOUND SYSTEM" at the bottom, and afterwards, also filling the screen, "WITHOUT FEAR".

With cartoon images of an idyllic rural landscape, vaguely reminiscent of Tuscany, and background music, the narrator of the film intones: "Europe Europe today in every country we face an unknown future we hope for peace for a life worth living and yet in Europe we still have barriers"...

At the mention of barriers the tranquil music rises to an ugly, threatening, Hollywood-style climax and a map of Europe appears, with jagged gaps opening up along the borders of the countries.

BBC narrator: "True to the aims of Marshall Plan propaganda, the film graphically illustrates the issue of European trade restrictions."

From the film sound track we hear: "They make it hard to trade the goods we have for the goods we need and we all need things we haven't got." A cartoon sign appears "DOUANE ZOLLAMT CUSTOMS".

BBC narrator: "Marshall plan money not only made these films, but also paid for them to be translated into the major European languages including Russian and shown all over the continent."

BBC narrator: "Halas and Batchelor's high-profile handling of animation with political content brought them to the attention of an American producer called Louis de Rochemont. In 1952 he hired them to make Britain's first animated feature film, an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm. The commissioning and making of this film was a great coup and Halas and Batchelor were touted in newsreels as the British Disney."

The programme shows what looks like the start of a black and white newsreel "PATHE NEWS", dated "MCMLIV" and then colour footage of John Halas pulling faces in a mirror as he draws a pig.

"They went from being a small film studio with a good reputation to being the largest studio certainly in Britain if not in Europe."

BBC narrator: .."we now know that the producer Louis de Rochemont was a front man for the American CIA and it was they who were funding this political warning of the perils of communism."

The film's own credits show "production and direction John Halas and Joy Batchelor" and "a Louis de Rochemont presentation".

This cartoon version of Animal Farm was first shown in New York in 1954 and it seems that it was not very popular, although this programme glosses over the details, simply describing it as "not an easy sell". Some one-line press comments are shown including "Too violent for children" from the New York Times. For Britain, the documentary says: "although the British press were more supportive, Animal Farm was not the hit its makers had hoped for".

Professor Paul Wells of Loughborough University appears saying: "In alighting upon Animal Farm as the perfect Cold war story and getting that made by a British studio what they could do of course was reinforce their ideas about the conduct of the cold war and the ways in which particular messages were made available to a general public."

The programme continues with comments about the further influence of the USA on animation in Britain, with the advent in 1955 of so-called "Independent" television, ITV, and the "American-inspired advertising breaks" which this provided. Animators were then used to make advertisements, which are examined.

Selected credits from the documentary

researchers: Rachel Jardine Matt Pelly

additional research: DARPANJITKAUR

executive producer: Michael Poole

series producer: Tom Ware

Produced and directed by Merryn Threadgould

BBC Bristol MMV

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