Manchester Histories Festival

Cosgrove Hall Films Exhibition

Sunday 15 October 2017

Ahead of the opening of the Cosgrove Hall Films Exhibition at the Waterside Arts Centre, we invited the exhibitors curator, Georgia Taylor Aguilar to write a guest post for the Manchester Histories blog.

 Danger Mouse

This exhibition celebrates animations created by Cosgrove Hall Films by delving into their archive, which has recently relocated to Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester. Curating this exhibition has been a wonderful opportunity to reveal the hidden workings and methods behind popular animated television programs such as Dangermouse, Wind in the Willows, Truckers, and many more. Selecting from hundreds of individual items has been a challenging process because everyone has favourites; the exhibition contains items from animations spanning the life of Cosgrove Hall Films. The animation process has been just as important to exhibit, with developmental drawings to puppets, and moulds to armatures. This exhibition highlights hidden processes of a significant British animation studio, with favourite characters seen by four generations of viewers.

During the 1960s, Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall worked in the graphics department for Granada Television. The pair were keen to set up their own animation company working with both drawn (cel) animation and stop-motion puppetry, so while Brian continued work at Granada around 1970, Mark spent a year establishing their company – Stop Frame Animations.Due to the success of Rainbow films, which Stop Frame Animations worked on in partnership with Thames Television, a subsidiary studio was created. With Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall as the new directors and lead animators, Cosgrove Hall Films was created.The studios opened in May 1976 in a converted tobacco warehouse in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. This location bore the name of their first successful series Chorlton and the Wheelies (ITV 1976-79).

Since the creation of Cosgrove Hall Films, they have created many popular favourites spanning four generations of audiences. Danger Mouse aired from 1981 to 1987, and was an early success, so much so that a spin-off was created following Count Duckula (a vegetarian vampire duck). Through syndication in the United States on the Nickelodeon network during the 1980s and 90s, Danger Mouse became an international hit. Westley Wood, former development producer of Cosgrove Hall Films, feels that in relation to Manchester - “Danger Mouse should be our Mickey Mouse, an icon of the city. People don’t realise the significance of Cosgrove Hall, yet it actually came before Aardman and is arguably the crown jewel of UK animation.”[1] After spending much time with the nostalgic Cosgrove Hall films archive during the curation process, it has been impossible not to fall in love with these wonderful characters.

Stiletto, Dangermouse cartoon

Stiletto, Dangermouse cartoon - Cosgrove Hall Films Archive, Waterside Arts Centre

Wind in the Willows has been another popular favourite, with many tuning in to watch the weekly instalment of Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole and their encounters with the cunning Weasels. I have been stunned at the detail in which the props, costumes, and figures have been fabricated. For example, in a side pocket of Toad’s backpack exists is a miniature bottle of champagne filled with an iridescent liquid to mimic an infinite stream of bubbles. In an interview with Barry Purves, who was the steady hand behind Toad, notes the joys of animators is the detail – to make every single thing mean something. He comments that animation is a performance through the hands, for example – how do you get a toad to listen when he has no ears?

Engie Benjy set - Cosgrove Hall Films Archive, Waterside Arts Centre

As well as original content, Engie Benjy setCosgrove Hall Films were part of several re-makes such as Postman Pat, Noddy in Toyland, and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. Thirty years at the Chorlton studios came to an end in 2008, when only four members of staff remained and moved ‘in house’ to Granada Television (ITV). The studios were sold and demolished between 2010 and 2012.

Bill and Ben Bill and Ben - Cosgrove Hall Films Archive, Waterside Arts Centre Photo: Jason Lock

Their spectacular skills and attention to detail combined with creative problem solving at its best ensured nothing less than living characters in the Cosgrove Hall kingdom. It seems incredible that for earlier works, they had one shot using 16mm film to get it right, compared with the liberty of current editing and post-production processes. Despite exponential advances in animation during and since the work of Cosgrove Hall films, this particular studio was crucial in paving the way for the development of animations, methods and individuals; whose talent has graced our screens for further years.

[1] Westley Wood, ‘Remember Danger Mouse? Help save the archive of Cosgrove Hall’ [accessed 10th October 2017]

Animation City presents The Cosgrove Hall Films Exhibition at the Waterside Arts Centre, 1 Waterside Plaza, Sale, M33 7ZF from at Saturday 21 October 2017 to Saturday 17 February 2018.




Guest Blog by Georgia Taylor Aguilar @georgiataylora

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