This year marks the 60th anniversary of the release of Animal Farm, Britain’s first animated feature film, and is also the centenary of the birth of its animator, Joy Batchelor – who was born and lived in Watford.

“It’s been a very special year,“ says Vivien Halas, Joy’s daughter who, as director of her late parents’ animation studio Halas and Batchelor, has been busy with the preparations for the film’s remastering and HD release as well as writing and releasing a book about her mother’s life and work, A Moving Image: Joy Batchelor 1914-1991: Writer, Artist and Animator.

Animal Farm (U), which was released in 1954, was an animated, fully hand-drawn, adaptation of George Orwell’s scathing satire on the corruption of Communist ideals and the Soviet Union’s slide into totalitarianism. It was the project of Joy and her Hungarian husband and animation partner John Halas and was, Vivien believes, the most important thing they produced.

Joy was born in May 1914 and grew up in Watford, in Euston Avenue, attending Watford Grammar School for Girls before joining the Watford School of Art, Science and Commerce, which used to be on Queens Road.

“She came away with all kinds of awards,“ says Vivien, 69, who was born in Watford herself, “she was sort of a top student there and got wonderful references. She was very talented but felt that Watford was too small for her. She was offered a place at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, but couldn’t take it up because her parents were quite poor.“

In 1938, already an experienced illustrator/animator – a rare thing for a woman in the 1930s – she answered an advertisement that Hungarian animator and filmmaker John Halas had placed for an animator, and their collaboration began with a series of films that were made in Budapest. They moved to London in 1939 and began working for advertising agencies and, in 1940, established Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films. They were married in the same year.

During World War Two, they moved their studio to Bushey to escape the bombings in London and lived in Northwood Hills, before moving to Hampstead after Vivien was born. Joy passed away in 1991 and John in 1995.

While Animal Farm wowed young audiences on its release – in December 1954 in the US and January 1955 in the UK – the 11-year-old Vivien was rather less impressed as she had grown up surrounded by its storyboards, drawings and pre-production paraphernalia.

“It was amazing, of course,“ she says, “it’s just that I was very used to it by then. It’s more amazing now, to tell you the truth. The animation – when you think that this was all done without any computers, all by hand, it really is quite a feat.“

  • Animal Farm (U) is out in selected cinemas from Friday, October 17 and is released in HD on Blu-ray, DVD and iTunes on Monday, October 27. Details: