KC.: You were with J. Walter Thompson at that time, weren’t you?
G.H.: That’s right. I never worked for George Pal. When we made the Horlicks films in Eindhoven I was a Walter Thompson employee and had set up a films division within the organisation, a film-making and distributing division. The distribution half of it kept me involved in new business. The two things went reasonably well together.
KC.: Was this your first brush with film work or had you done anything before.
G.H.: No! I came back from Borneo in 1931 or so. I married and I couldn’t take my wife to the sort of Borneo I had lived in, it was way up-country, anyway, I chucked it. Then I was looking for a job in one of the worst kind of periods for my kind of background, having been brought up for the Colonial Service. Well. I got a job with Publicity Films Ltd (which later became the Film Guild) and I was sort of one of the two out-front boys for them and I couldn’t sell ice-cream on a hot day. How could I? – having just come back from Borneo. Anyway I did sell one or two films.
While I was with them I tried hard to convince J.W.T. of the benefit of film advertising. I used to speak to one of their directors once a month and never really got anywhere. Then, one day, I was talking to Bill Hinks in Bush House and he said to me over a cup of coffee, ‘Gerry, I don’t think you will ever be any good selling films to this organisation. We don’t believe in them.’ Then he added, ‘I tell you what, you’ve been here many times and you have got to know a lot of us. How would you like to join us?’ Well, I was absolutely staggered; Thompson’s was quite a going concern. I didn’t reply at once, just muttered that I was quite expensive, had another cup of coffee desperately trying to come up with a figure. I supposed I was getting about £850 per annum so, I took a deep breath and asked for £2000. Bill said, ‘I think this is a do!’ – and I staggered out, feeling rather shaky, and bought myself a stiff drink.
My association with George Pal began one evening in 1936 when I went to the cinema and saw an extraordinary puppet film called Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. As far as I was concerned it was absolutely unique. Now it just so happened a few weeks later that Horlicks asked J. Walter Thompson’s to make them an advertising film. Because David Blain and I had eulogised about this puppet film I was asked to trace the producer. So I saw the cinema projectionist, slipped him a couple of quid and asked him for the name. It turned out to be George Pal.
I looked for him in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. He was no longer there but I was given an address; Philips of Eindhoven. There I met Mr Numann a multi-lingual ebullient man and their publicity manager, and it was arranged I should meet George Pal with Numann acting as interpreter.
We met in a converted butcher’s shop. Pal was an Hungarian, he spoke German but no English whatever. But Numann could deal with anything and we soon came to the conclusion that we could do something together. This suited Numann who had a contractual agreement with Pal. Since Horlicks only wanted British distribution, (that was if they agreed the idea) then it did not interfere with what Philips wanted to do on the Continent. We arrived at an excellent agreement which worked fine for two or three years. We did well together. I should think all those films still exist in a library somewhere.
K.C.: I received a letter from Mr Duffheis of Philips, Eindhoven in September 1979. In it, he wrote:
‘35mm archive copies of all cartoons and animated films made since 1925 are still available, as well as stills made during the production of some films.’
To sum up: Holdsworth made no mention of Pal ever working in England. Peter Sachs did not come to this country before Pal fled the Germans in 1939. Frank Hendrix did not come here until after the war, when Holdsworth formed Signal Films.
The ideas for the films were originated in London by the J.W.T. scriptwriters, while Pal worked to his own specially drawn story-board pictures. So one can fairly assert the Horlicks films originated in this country, but were actually made in Holland.
Even so, I put the question to Frank Hendrix second wife: ‘Is it possible that any one of the Horlicks films might have been made here?’ Her reply was emphatic, ‘Rubbish!’ she retorted.
But I was not satisfied. I needed undeniable proof and I telephoned Peter Sachs. He replied: ‘George Pal came to England once or twice to discuss film projects at the J. Walter Thompson offices in London. None of the Horlicks films were made here. None at all!’
Future film historians please note!
Printed in Animator Issue 14 (Winter 1985)