Handmade by iconic studio Cosgrove Hall, they kickstart an exciting season of animation events

Back in June 2017, we published an article on the plight of the Cosgrove Hall archive: a treasure trove of puppets, models, props, costumes, storyboards, scripts, artwork and sound had been left to languish in a vast MediaCity warehouse, forgotten by all but industry insiders. 

We are so grateful that their previous owner took great care of them

Considering this BAFTA-winning Chorlton studio was one of the UK’s leading animators for over three decades - producing classics like Chorlton and the WheeliesDanger Mouse and Count Duckula before closing in 2009 - it was a sad state of affairs, one that Richard Evans at Waterside Arts Centre and Westley Wood (the studio’s former development producer) determined to change.

Following an overwhelming response, their bid to house the archive at Waterside was successful - thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Sale arts venue has hosted the Cosgrove Hall archive since October 2017. 

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Mark Hall (left) and Brian Cosgrove (right) - founded their namesake company in 1976

But not all the characters were reunited yet... Cosgrove Hall also reworked many classic tales, including a 1983 film and acclaimed TV series based on The Wind in the Willows featuring 25 cast resin handmade puppets. These were feared ‘lost’ for over 30 years and only recently discovered when put up for auction in Dorchester in April.

It turns out that Andrew Dunning, an animatronics and set designer who’d acquired them post-production, had safely stored the puppets for over 26 years before deciding to auction them at Duke’s. The story alerted Waterside to their existence, whereupon Dunning and Duke’s MD Lee Young generously donated them to the Cosgrove Hall archive.   

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Ranging from five inches to 14-inch Badger, the Wind in the Willows puppets contain metal jointed skeletons for movement

Councillor Jane Baugh, executive member for culture & leisure in Trafford, said: “What a real coup for (Waterside) to take possession of these childhood favourites. Wind in the Willows is regarded as a real classic, which has delighted readers and viewers down the generations since being first published in 1908. We are so grateful that their previous owner took great care of them and we are so appreciative that, thanks to his generosity and that of Duke’s Auctioneers, we are now able to bring them home to Greater Manchester and to be a part of Waterside’s CHF archives.”

The Wind in the Willows puppets aren’t the only recent coup for Waterside. The arts centre has also received vital funding from Arts Council England to make new animated films that respond to the Cosgrove Hall Films Archive, following its co-production with the studio's director and Oscar nominee Barry Purves. Animators and artists can get involved here.  

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Waterside Arts Centre is home to the Cosgrove Hall archive

Waterside will also be hosting an exciting season of events focused on animation and stop motion next month, inspired by Cosgrove Hall.

Delivered by Creative Industries Trafford (CIT) and Manchester Animation Festival, the Materials in Motion two-day symposium will bring a roster of international, award-winning speakers to Waterside to explore how animation archives can be saved for future generations (1st - 2nd November).

Also on Saturday 2nd November, CIT’s Puppet Masters Animation Conference welcomes leading figures from the worlds of animation, puppetry and voice-acting to Waterside: including Cosgrove Hall’s very own Brian Trueman, Francesca Maxwell (art director, ParaNorman & The Fantastic Mr Fox) and many more. The event features talks and masterclasses, as well as screenings and exclusive previews. 

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Cosgrove Hall: Frame by Frame will reveal the processes behind favourites like Danger Mouse

Finally, a special exhibition - Cosgrove Hall: Frame By Frame - will reveal the processes behind some of the best-loved children's animation. Expect original puppets, costumes, production material and inside stories; as well as a focus on stop motion production and techniques, inspiring a new generation of animators to draw inspiration from Cosgrove Hall classics. Free entry, 14th November to 4th January 2020.

Find out more about the Cosgrove Hall archive here. Animation fans should also check out Manchester Animation Festival, which runs from 10th to 14th November  

Cosgrove Hall and Manchester animation

The brainchild of former Granada designers Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove, Cosgrove Hall originally began life as Stop Frame Productions. Preceding even Aardman, Stop Frame came to an end in 1975 after six years of trading, but hits like children’s series Rainbow meant ITV’s Thames Television saw potential and created a new subsidiary company - Cosgrove Hall Films - with Cosgrove and Hall as lead animators.

This BAFTA-winning Chorlton studio (now reincarnated as CHF Entertainment) produced iconic animated content for over three decades before it was closed in 2009, with hits including Chorlton and the Wheelies, Engie Benjy, Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. Cosgrove Hall also reworked many classic tales, from an acclaimed TV series based on The Wind in the Willows to a feature-length film of The BFG and an adaption of Terry Pratchett’s The Nome Trilogy. Other projects included a reboot of Bill and Ben and a Doctor Who webcast.

During its peak, the studio employed many of Manchester’s most creative minds, who went on to make a huge cultural impact in other areas of the arts - from Joy Division’s Bernard Sumner to Stone Roses’ John Squire. It also helped create an established animation community in Manchester, spawning the likes of Chapman Entertainment - later acquired by DreamWorks - and Animation Toolkit, which has supplied armatures (puppet skeletons) to over 10,000 professional and student stop frame animations.

While the reputation of MediaCity has brought a wealth of talent to the city, from Brown Bag Films to Cloud Imperium Games, it’s Manchester’s abundance of home-grown animation talent that frequently draws the attention of Hollywood heavyweights. Mackinnon and Saunders have brought the likes of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox to life, while Studio Distract and Studio Liddell both count Disney as clients and Factory Create is home to iconic characters like the Clangers.

The phenomenal growth of Flix Facilities, meanwhile, saw it shortlisted for best post-production house in the prestigious Broadcast Awards and the Manchester Animation Festival is one of the UK’s biggest events of its kind.