The son of a trapeze artist, Chantrell was the youngest of nine children. He left Manchester Art College and went into advertising, eventually starting in 1933 at Allardyce Palmer who had accounts with Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox. In 1938 he designed his first film poster, for The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. Chantrell continued with posters until World War II service. After demobilisation he returned to Allardyce Palmer eventually doing over 7,000 film posters.
Chantrell did not see the films he drew for; he would only receive a plot line and a handful of stills and use friends and family for poses.