In January 1976, animators Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove formed their own animation company, Cosgrove Hall, which was based in Manchester, in the north of England. Later that same year, their first series, Chorlton and the Wheelies, hit the screens. From a team of only seven animators, their company swelled to a peak of 160, producing some of the best-loved cartoons and animated series on British television of the last thirty years. Among their hits are Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, The Wind in the Willows and Noddy.
Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove first met at college in the 1950s. They spent ten years working for Granada Television until 1971 when Mark moved to Stop Frame Animations, to be followed about a year later by Brian. At Stop Frame they provided some animation for the new ITV children's programme Rainbow. In 1976 they moved out and set up their own company, Cosgrove Hall.
One of the longest-serving Cosgrove Hall employees is Jean Flynn, who joined the company as an animator in 1976. She rose through the ranks to become a key animator, animation director and eventually senior producer for the company. She has been involved in many of the company's successes including Danger Mouse, The Wind in the Willows, The BFG and Peter and the Wolf.
Chorlton and the Wheelies
The first production for Cosgrove Hall was a stop-motion animated series about a large, friendly dragon called Chorlton, and his friends, the Wheelies, so called because they moved around on three wheels rather than legs. The activities of the Wheelies and Chorlton were often interrupted by a witch, Fenella, who spied on them from her vantage point - a giant kettle perched on the top of a hill. However, Fenella's antics were destined to fail and fun and joy were always restored before any of the 39 11-minute episodes came to an end. There were three series in all, the last being produced in 1979. Joe Lynch provided the voices and narration for the show, while scripts came from actor and some-time TV presenter Brian Trueman; for Trueman, this would be the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with the company.
Jamie and the Magic Torch
Unlike every other child of his age, young Jamie looks forward to the moment when his mum tells him it's time for bed - for that's when his adventures start. The star of this, the first cell-animated production from the company, had a unique aid to insomnia. He possessed a magic torch which allowed him, along with his trusted dog Wordsworth, to ride down a helter-skelter for adventures in Cuckoo Land. There they would meet some strange characters, such as Officer Gotcha, the Yoohoo bird and Bully Bundy. Brian Trueman both wrote and narrated the series, creating numerous characters with a wide range of accents.
The Talking Parrot (1979)
The Talking Parrot was based on a Gerrald Durrell novel. It is the story of Penelope, who finds a talking parrot in a parcel by the sea. The parrot leads her away to the land of Mythologia for a series of adventures. The production involved some of Britain's best known voices, such as Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern, Freddie Jones and Mollie Sugden.
In 1980, twins Rosie and Robin Cockle find themselves in a new situation when their mum and dad move to the seaside to run a guesthouse. Their adventures over the next six years and eight series totalled 104 episodes, featuring the explorations of the twins, as well as individual stories about the guests and surroundings of the Bucket and Spade Guest House.
Danger Mouse and Duckula
1981 saw the introduction of Cosgrove Hall's most famous creation. The voice of Danger Mouse is none other than well respected actor David Jason and his incompetent sidekick Penfold1 was voiced by Terry Scott. These two greats in the lead roles were backed up by Edward Kelsey and Brian Trueman (who also wrote the scripts), between them providing all the other voices.
Dangermouse's adventures always pitted him against his arch enemy Baron Silas Greenback, heavily based on James Bond baddy Ernst Stavro Blofeld; the slimy toad even had a pet to stroke - though not a cat but a white furry caterpillar named Nero. Along with his henchman Stiletto, an Italian crow, and his airship the Frog Flyer Greenback did his best to thwart Danger Mouse and Penfold from fulfilling the mission given to them by Colonel K.
If you look carefully you will also see that Cosgrove Hall did some cost saving animation especially in the earlier shows. The footage of DM and Penfold going down on their sofa to the car are reused over and over, as are many of the opening a closing views of London. Also many of the early episodes are shot at either the North or South Poles or even in space to avoid having to paint complicated back drops.
Danger Mouse was in production for eleven years until 1992 and ran over an number of different formats in total there were 18 5-minute episodes, 52 11-minute episodes and 19 lasting half an hour. In total over 20 hours of DM were produced on 1,848,000 cells of animation.
Such was the success of Dangermouse that it led to the development of a spin off series, Count Duckula, based on a character who started out as a plot device in an episode requiring a vegetarian vampire duck. Count Duckula first starred in his own series in 1988 and appeared in 65 episodes in total.
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame's classic book from 1908 about Badger, Mole, Ratty, and Toad (of Toad Hall) was brought to life by the stop motion models of Cosgrove Hall. The initial film adaptation of Grahame's book led to a series of 52 20-minute episodes as well as an additional film, A Tale of Two Toads which won a BAFTA an international Emmy and first prize at the Chicago Festival.
The voices were provided by Sir Michael Horden, David Jason, Brian Trueman, Richard Pearson, Ian Carmichael and Peter Sallis2. The series raised the profile of the company, drawing attention to their ability to produce quality animation that shied away from the explosions and overly-simplistic stories of other children's series at the time.
Zany DJ Kenny Everett was well-known for his wacky characters and almost Goon-like grasp of surrealism. In making the transition from radio to television, Everett decided to bring one of his radio creations with him - Captain Kremmen would become one of the new stars of his Kenny Everett Video Show, which was due to hit ITV in late 1985. Inspired by Danger Mouse, he decided to make the character in animated form and turned to Cosgrove Hall. In the series (which were short episodes that appeared as a segment in the show), Kremmen and his busty cadet Carla fight to protect the Universe from the Krells, an alien blancmange-like species. The level of innuendo and (frankly) pneumatic women on display ensured that this was definitely not a children's cartoon.
Roald Dahl was another children's favourite to be tackled by the company. In 1989, they turned one of Dahl's many books, The BFG, into a cell-animated musical feature. In the story, a young girl called Sophie is snatched from her bed by a big friendly giant and ends up on an adventure that needs the assistance of the Queen of England. Brian Cosgrove yet again based one of his drawings on a real life person; he was watching an interview with Roald and his daughter Sophie and sketched Sophie based on her namesake.
David Jason starred as the voice of the BFG and Amanda Root voiced Sophie. Other voices were supplied by Don Henderson, Mollie Sugden, Angela Thorne, Frank Thornton, Michael Knowles, Ballard Berkley, Myfanwy Talog and Jimmy Herbert.
One of Enid Blyton's most famous creations, Noddy, along with his friends from Toytown, got the Cosgrove Hall treatment from 1992-1994. A series of the perennial favourite was produced with the now politically-corrected monkey3. Chris and Julia Allen adapted the books for the television and the voices of Sue Sheridan and Jimmy Hibbert brought them alive for a whole new generation. It was a continuation of the adaptations of cannon pieces that the prestige of the company was now getting this level of commission from the BBC.
Peter and the Wolf
In 1995 a life action and cell animation of Prokofiev's famous children's piece was commissioned by ABC in America for a Christmas special. Lloyd Bridges, Kirsty Alley and Ross Malinger provide the voices. Cosgrove Hall worked on this project with the legendary animator Chuck Jones as director, and the production won a clutch of awards, including an International Emmy and a Silver Hugo.
Sooty's Amazing Adventures
When is a glove puppet not a glove puppet? When you let Cosgrove Hall produced two animated series of Sooty, Sweep and Sue's adventures. The creations of Harry Corbett which had lived on through his son Matthew had now become a cartoon.
Another great fan of the work of Cosgrove Hall was Terry Pratchett, but even he was nervous in 1997 when they tackled his baby, the Discwold series, and produced Wyrd Sisters. As with most authors, he had his own firm idea of his characters, which included Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlick. However the production did not disappoint nor did the second adaptation they did of Soul Music the following year. Indeed, Terry has said that he wishes they would do all his books even if only for him so that he can enjoy his creations at any time.
Again the voices were a list of greats. Christopher Lee played Death, while Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield and Annette Crosbie played the witches. Other voices included those of John Jardine, Neil Morrissey, Eleanor Bron, Graham Crowden, Bryan Pringle and others.
Gerry Anderson's Lavender Castle
Another collaboration came in 1999 when they teamed up with master puppeteer Gerry Anderson, who brought us Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Stingray. It was set on a thatched cottage spaceship, 'The Paradox'. Captain Thrice is the leader of a crew who are the heroes of the universe but is on a mission to protect the Lavender Castle. The Lavender Castle is a floating city in the clouds but its peace and harmony are threatened by Dr Agon, Short Fred Ledd and other intergalactic villains.
There were two 13-episode series, the second of which aired in 2000. If you look carefully at episode seven, 'Double Cross', you will see the damaged remains of Thunderbird 1 in the background of a scrap yard scene.
Foxbusters is based on a book by Dick King-Smith, who also brought us Babe4. It was produced for ITV in 1999 and told the story of the world's only chicken defence squad, fighting against the villainous foxes who are attempting to infiltrate the farm yard. The 26 episodes won a British Animation Award for Best Children's Series and a BAFTA award for Best Children's Animation.
Bill and Ben
The revival of this classic children's puppet show from the 1950s also came from Cosgrove Hall. For the first time, the two flowerpot men (who live at the bottom of a garden in two large flowerpots) was seen in colour and instead of string-puppets, all the characters were animated by stop-motion. The years have been good to Bill and Ben; not only had colour come to their cheeks but they also seemed a lot more mobile than in the old black-and-white episodes, indeed they wandered well away from the watchful eye of their chief advisor, little Weed.
...and the Rest
There are many other programmes and films that Cosgrove Hall have worked on but readers may be glad to spared all the details. Here then is a brief run-down of the rest of Cosgrove Hall's output.
- Alias the Jester
- The Animal Shelf
- Avenger Penguins
- Brambly Hedge
- Creepie Crawlies
- Engie Benjy
- Father Christmas and the Missing Reindeer
- Fetch the Vet
- The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
- Little Grey Rabbit
- Okie Doke
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin
- The Reluctant Dragon
- Rocky and the Dodos
- Rotten Ralph
- Vampires, Pirates and Aliens
- Victor and Hugo