The Chorlton studio produced over three decades of iconic animation from Count Duckula to Noddy, now its collection is under threat

Amongst the newbuild glass towers and purpose-built studios of MediaCity UK, there’s an unlikelier film location: a former Freshbake production centre. Once bustling with the manufacture of pastry, The Pie Factory is now a state-of-the-art filming location, hosting everything from Peter Kay’s Car Share to CBBC’s Hacker and even a Scottish National Theatre show. 

However, it’s not just shiny new productions The Pie Factory hosts. Languishing somewhere in the vast 3000+ square foot space is the memory of another film era entirely - the archive of animation studio Cosgrove Hall, whose origins as Stop Frame Productions precede even Aardman.

The brainchild of former Granada designers Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove, 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 with Cosgrove and Hall as lead animators. 

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Mark Hall (left) and Brian Cosgrove (right)

This BAFTA-winning Chorlton studio produced iconic animated content for over three decades before it was closed in 2009, with hits including Chorlton and the WheeliesEngie BenjyDanger 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.

"People don’t realise the significance of Cosgrove Hall"

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. 

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Cosgrove Hall now has a successor in CHF Entertainment, yet much of its legacy - a treasure trove of puppets, models, props, costumes, storyboards, scripts, artwork and sound files - are hidden away in The Pie Factory, forgotten by all but a few industry insiders.

That’s why Richard Evans at Sale’s Waterside Arts Centre, in collaboration with Animation Toolkit’s MD Westley Wood - former development producer at Cosgrove Hall - is launching a bid to rehouse the archive in better environmental conditions and provide the exposure it deserves. If the Lottery Heritage Fund proposal is successful, the eighteen-month project would see a touring exhibition and an online portal displaying each of the archive’s thousands of objects; many of which also need restoring.

The project came after Wood, who rescued the archive from its imminent demise at the hands of ITV, found an enthusiastic partner in Evans: creative industries coordinator at Waterside Arts Centre. 

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Both are keen to highlight both the significance of Cosgrove Hall, and Manchester’s lively animation scene as a whole: while the reputation of MediaCity has brought a wealth of talent to the city, from Brown Bag Films to Cloud Imperium Games, it’s our abundance of homegrown animation talent which 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.

As Britain’s first serious animation studio, much of this is rooted in Cosgrove Hall, so it would be a sad state of affairs if the collection were left to deteriorate. As Wood pointed out, “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.”

With the bid soon to be submitted, Wood is inviting people to register their interest via a quick survey. Click, share and let’s make sure this precious British institution is preserved for years to come.