John Hambley is Chief Executive at Cosgrove Hall and a senior member of Thames Television’s programme management. As former Controller of Children’s Programmes he was responsible for creating and producing a wide range of children’s programmes for ITV. He co-founded Cosgrove Hall Productions as a subsidiary of Thames Television. He is interviewed by Ken Clark.
KC: I understand the Americans came to you for your series?
JH: Yes it was Geraldine Laybourne, then the Head of Acquisitions of Nickelodeon, which is the major children’s cable station in the States, bigger even than Disney’s. We’d never met before and she turned up on our stand in Cannes, at the MIP Television Market, about 3 years after we began making Dangermouse. She said “I hear great things about Dangermouse, I’d like to have a look at it.” We screened it for her and she loved it and said, “My colleague is here, I’d like him to see it.” (This was Cy Schneider, a great pioneer of kids broadcasting in the States.) He came over, chewed on his cigar a bit and said, “Yeah, yeah, it’s good.”
Now, up to that time we had been used to selling 13 shows at a time, never more. Cy asked, “How many have you got?” We said, “We’ve made 40 and we’re heading for 52.” He grunted, “Huh! What do you think Gerry?” and Gerry said, “I think we ought to buy it.” “O.K., we’ll buy all of those,” said Cy, “How quickly can you make some more?” And they’ve bought every show we’d made since then.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. As they got up to leave, Cy said, “We just have one stipulation, you are going to have to make one change for the United States.” We looked at each other, “Well we don’t want to put American accents…”
Cy broke in, “No, no, no, one little change,” he said, “that Crow called Stiletto who has a heavy Italian accent and is a criminal, the one thing you have to do for America is change his accent for something different. Change it to Cockney, change it to Polish, but change it. There are certain Italian minorities who might find it offensive.” That was the only time we have ever had to change anything for them. Stiletto became a cockney crow.
Nickelodeon have treated us very well and been great supporters and now, with our good friend Geraldine Laybourne having risen to be head of the channel, we are making Count Duckula as a co-production. It will be the biggest series we have made to date.
You mentioned the rival cable station, Disney, just now?
We have sold 53 Wind in the Willows, including the big feature, to Disney Cable. We were able to show them 26 and they committed themselves to buying a further 26. We are making a third series now. It is very, very helpful to be able to sell in advance. That was the first sale we’d made to them and we were enormously proud to think that we were selling to Disney.
Mark Silberman, head of Disney Acquisitions admitted that our series was the first they had promoted so heavily. They thought the standard was high enough to warrant it. It appeared on the front of their magazine, they were effectively selling it as a Disney show with Cosgrove Hall in the small print.
It suits us. All around the world, as you know, people transmit shows as if they were theirs. Of course, Mark would like to do more business with them, our problem is we produce too slowly for the American market, but we are getting there.
Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)