In ten years Cosgrove Hall Productions has grown from a small studio to a major animation centre whose films are enjoyed by audiences around the World. The Cosgrove Hall animation studio is in a suburb of Manchester called Chorlton-cum-Hardy, writes David Jefferson.
It is a smart looking building of red brick and brown tinted glass. Inside is a honeycomb of passages and rooms on various levels. It takes newcomers a while to find their way around.
The ground floor is occupied by the puppet animation studios, puppet workshops and all aspects of puppet construction plus four rostrum camera rooms.
The first floor houses the cartoon animation department with sections for backgrounds, drawn animation, cel painting, sound-track laying and editing. There are also production offices and a canteen.
On the second floor, which can be reached by crossing a flat roof, is the story development section. This is a building of character whose loft-like appearance reflects the early origins of this part. It used to be a tobacco and sweet warehouse before Cosgrove Hall Productions took it over in 1976. A new section was completed in 1984 and it has more than doubled the size of the original building.
The company’s most successful cartoon product has been Dangermouse which has been sold to 48 countries and has over one hundred and fifty episodes. Their Wind in the Willows stop-motion puppet series has also proved a great success.
In its ten years Cosgrove Hall has won an American Emmy, the Prix Jeunesse and no fewer than three BAFTA awards for the excellence of its productions. This year it had three of the four nominations for best Animated Film at BAFTA and won with Alias the Jester.
The tremendous success of Dangermouse on the American MTV Nickelodeon cable channel has lead to the two companies joining forces to produce a new series called Count Duckula. The studio recently moved into top gear on the production of a feature length cartoon based on the book The BFG by Roald Dahl.
Brian Cosgrove is a co-founder of Cosgrove Hall Productions and an executive director of the company. The productions with which he has been particularly associated as originator, animator and producer/director have been Dangermouse, The Talking Parcel and Chorlton and the Wheelies.
Brian Cosgrove worked in the graphics department of ITV for nine years and made his first cartoon series for television, The Magic Ball, in 1970. This won awards at the Chicago and Venice festivals and is still shown regularly around the world.
In 1970 he formed an independent production company with Mark Hall, called Stopframe, to produce cartoon and puppet commercials and entertainment films, including Enid Blyton’s Noddy series for ITV. He produced and directed an animation version of the Flanders/Horowitz musical Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo, commissioned by Granada TV, which was chosen as the ITV entry for the Prix Italia in 1975.
Cosgrove Hall Productions was set up as a subsidiary of Thames Television in 1976. Starting with a staff of seven they converted an old tobacco and confectionary warehouse in Chorlton-cum-Hardy into a makeshift studio and began production of their first series -the tale of a happy dragon, a wicked witch and a land where people had wheels instead of feet. Stumped for a title, the team decided to put their little-known Manchester suburb on the map and Chorlton and the Wheelies began its 39 episode career on ITV. Brian Cosgrove commented, “There’s a sort of humour in the name Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It rolls off the tongue. You can get a private smile out of something like that.”
One of the company’s most successful series Dangermouse was produced and directed by Brian Cosgrove. They recently finished work on the eight series but at the start of the first series Brian Cosgrove had no idea how big it would become, “Dangermouse, effectively, was always like a training ground. I brought a new team together and I said, ‘We’re going to have some fun with this.’ It came as a surprise when it took off the way it has.”
Currently Brian Cosgrove is directing the full-length cartoon feature film The BFG. The film will receive an initial cinema release before reaching its ultimate destination, the ITV network and the rest of the world. The voice featured as The BFG belongs to David Jason who is also Dangermouse and Toad in Wind in the Willows. (Jason stars as Del in the live-action TV comedy Only Fools and Horses.) The cast of the film also includes Amanda Root as the voice of Sophie, Angela Thorne as the Queen of England and Mollie Sugden as Mary, her Maid. The film will be ready by late 1987.
The company now employs 120 – most of them young people who have entered as trainees from school or college. Cosgrove told us, “We are very lucky with our staff because they are all so enthusiastic. They are so creative that we are doing things now we never originally dreamed of. The projects are virtually self generating.”
Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)