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Mark Hall
Mark Hall

30 years of Cosgrove Hall

Danger Mouse, Noddy, Chorlton & the Wheelies: just some of the nation’s favourite cartoons made at studios in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. As Cosgrove Hall celebrates its 30th year, we talk to co-founder Mark Hall:

Cosgrove Hall - on Inside Out

You can see more about 30 years of Cosgrove Hall on:

  • Inside Out
  • BBC One, 7.30pm
  • Monday 6 Feb 2006

How did it all begin?

“It began way back in the 60s. Brian & I worked together at Granada Television for about ten years. At the same time he was making films, we decided to get together and make some of the films. We found this little shed at the bottom of his garden and built it into a studio. It was called the Magic Shed and in a way it was, because that was where the dream started.”

When did you move from the shed to the studios?

“When I finally left Granada I formed a company called Stopframe Animations in the heart of Manchester - that was 1971. The Magic Shed went on but building the studios was the first step. It was in an old car showroom. And we finally ended up there five years later with the basement doing Noddy the first time around. That was where we cut our teeth. That first year was terrific!

Chorlton the Happiness dragon
Chorlton [FremantleMedia Ltd]

And then Brian joined me later and that was the real start of things. We started making programmes for Thames Television like Sally and Jake. Our first company was a wholly owned subsidiary of Thames and our first programme for them was Chorlton & The Wheelies."

Chorlton was unique, wasn't it?

"Brian came up with the idea. He’d had a dream and it was ‘heads on wheels’. We looked at him and said: ‘Heads on wheels??? You can’t do that!”  Animation, as you know, is a tedious job walking people everywhere but wheels are very easy to move around so it was a very good practical idea because you could steam through shows at a rate of knots to get stuff on the air."

And it was named after the place where your studios are…

"Brian came and said he’d had a dream: ‘heads on wheels’. We looked at him and said: ‘Heads on wheels??? You can’t do that! "
Mark Hall on the idea of Chorlton and the Wheelies

"Yes it was. And Chorlton was a Happiness dragon and actually this was pure wonderful happiness. Everything that started as magic in the Shed was coming to fruition. Ideas were coming together for the first time and really tell stories for the first time with a weird set of characters: Frenella was wonderful: she was evil, an evil witch but you never saw that. She was just that ‘little old lady’ who lived in a kettle. All the characters were fantastic – Pablo Petito, the champion Latin American dancing duck!!! I mean, where did that come from?!!"

Tell us about Wind in the Willows. It was very special to you..

"Very special. It was a favourite book from my childhood and the characters were sensational – Edwardian gentlemen really. For me, animation is better when you’ve got characters who come from an animal background. Wind in the Willows gave us the opportunity to explore the broad lip synch of Mole who has a tiny mouth and Toad who has a huge mouth. So lip synch came into its own. The feel for the character is in the recording and its the animators who give them the ability to deliver every nuance of the line. And we were able to make the characters very believeable. Animators are actors in their own right: they study people walking, running and so on. I think I realised through the team and onto the screen everything that I’ve ever wanted to in my life."

What’s like seeing your ideas come to life?

Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse [FremantleMedia Ltd]

"The first time you see it you’re critical, the whole team is. It’s a very odd feeling in the preview theatre and everyone’s gathered there: you can hear a pin drop because everyone’s looking for mistakes! It can be quite dispiriting. I’d take the film and look at it with the editor and we’d be laughing. And we realised we had to do that with the crew because what you’re after is that magic of where it comes together with the sound track. And then you see and hear the full roundness of the character. It’s a very special moment. You have lots of fun and lots of tears… "

Why was Danger Mouse so successful?

"DM was pure us – it was barmy. On the drawn side, we were doing strange things. Sometimes you would see the actual film, the actual sprocket holes go through! All sorts of silliness came into it. The adults watched because of that kind of anarchy and the kids watched it because they just loved the stories and the absolutely stupid gags.

"The barminess of the storyline was the essence of DM. And the voice qualities – David Jason was fantastic DM, Terry Scott was wonderful as Penfold. Penfold incidentally was Brian’s brother! When David came up with the voice, it was absolutely right. DM was a sort of cross between Bond and all sorts of things – he was supposed to be suave but he was a mouse with big ears! DM was watched by families – it’s still going, they’re still selling merchandising.“

What’s Cosgrove’s lasting legacy

“I think at Cosgrove we’ve got a studio that’s packed with talent that’s been hand bred here in Chorlton that’s come up through the system. The top creatives - producers directors etc have all come up through the studio system – they know how it works. They are now teaching people how it works. And if creative people can get a job here in the NW and then put down roots particularly here in the Manchester area, bring their families up here, then that’s a fair legacy.

"The other legacy is the kids: we’ve always put quality into kids’ programmes, it’s one of the things that defines us from the rest. My grandchildren now watch them: they know the difference between programmes made and elsewhere.  There’s also a legacy in terms of quality: of taking care of scriptwriting, voices, acting performances as well as the animation and everything that goes on to make this magical thing. And if that goes on for kids, I will be delighted.”

last updated: 08/02/06
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