Search form

The National Lottery: A Polemic

The unexpected success of Britain's new national lottery can be a means of mitigating the dire results of privatization in funding animated films. Jill McGreal explains.

The idea of a National Lottery has always seemed an un-British sort of thing, somehow colliding with the Protestant work ethic and distinctly continental in flavor. Nevertheless, when the National Lottery opened for business in December 1994, no one, least of all the Tory Government which devised it, had correctly predicted the spectacular take up rate from amongst all sections of the Great British population. Perhaps the shift from post-war settlement and the politics of consensus to monetarist economics and the politics of conviction has bred the kind of individualism that now embraces the opportunity for huge personal gain.

The five centers selected to distribute Lottery money were told to expect about £15 million (US$23.8 million) per annum income from the Lottery. This estimate was way out--each center receives between £250-£280 million ($396-$444 million) per annum from this fabulous source. Add to this sum the same amount again taken by the Treasury, 7% taken by Camelot, the company which administers the Lottery and the many millions won every week by the punters--the total is astronomical.

Jukebox by Run Wrake, Animate! 5 minutes, 1994.

Two years in five minutes ... How old are you? Employing a montage of xeroxed paintings and sound, Jukebox is a personal journey through fragmented experience. Former Royal College of Art student Run Wrake now works out of commercials production house Bermuda Shorts.

Where does all this money go? The five centers are: The Arts Council, The Sports Council, The National Heritage Memorial Fund (which purchased the Churchill papers for the controversial sum of £8 million [$12.7 million]), The Millennium Fund (which will build the new site for the Tate Gallery) and The Charities Board. All applications for Lottery cash must be processed through one or other of these five centers.

Funding for Film

The Arts Council is the center responsible for film and unofficially the figure allotted to this area from the Arts Council Lottery income stands at 15%. The cash will be accessed via the Film Programme which is in the process of being established and which will fund commercial features and other large scale film projects. The jury is still out on whether or not film applications will also be able to access cash from the Arts for Everyone program which is the bottom layer of funding, part of which is earmarked for initiatives which support the commissioning of new work from the youth, community, popular and amateur sectors.

As part of its pre-Lottery remit, the Arts Council has been administering a number of film funding schemes through its Film, Video and Broadcasting Department, currently headed up by Rodney Wilson. These projects range over a number of areas, including documentary films about the arts and films by artists. This latter category, which includes animation, is run by Film Officer Dave Curtis, who will be known to many readers as an expert on early animation. The Lottery has impacted directly on all these programs in the following way: applications for Lottery funding for film can only be made to the Arts Council; so therefore if a particular scheme is to benefit from the Lottery, then it can no longer remain inside the funding center. As a result, Rodney Wilson will leave the Arts Council, taking all these schemes with him, and set up an agency at arms length from which he will be able to apply for Lottery money. More of this later...

This film was inspired by the old children's rhyme. Ex-Royal College of Art student Petra Freeman created the images by painting on a hard plaster slab directly under the animation camera.

Jumping Joan by Petra Freeman, Animate!, 8 mins., 1994.


The various schemes which have been successfully launched by Rodney Wilson and Dave Curtis are all linked in some way to television, often with a particular television company as co-investor, as well as broadcaster. In the case of animated film the relevant scheme is called Animate! which is now in its seventh year and has financed a total of 25 new works since its inception, many of which have won major international awards. This year the Arts Council's contribution to the production of animation was honored by the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films which presented one of its most prestigious awards to Dave Curtis and the Animate! production adviser Dick Arnall. Animate! is a partnership between the Arts Council and Channel 4 (annual funding currently stands at £69,000 [$109, 365] from Channel 4 and £27,000 [$42,795] from the Arts Council) and is committed to supporting new talent and providing an opportunity for filmmakers to experiment in both form and content.

Animate! will follow Rodney Wilson out of the Arts Council into the newly-created quasi-private sector. This movement from public to private is part of a wider trend towards privitization of public services that the Tory administration has pursued relentlessly since 1979. Banner headlines greet each sale of the major utilities--water, railways, telecommunications, etc.--but less publicity attends the extensive privatization of public services previously offered through local authorities, for instance, street cleaning, building and road maintenance, healthcare, education, etc. This privatization process, known as compulsory competitive tendering, has been widely promoted by the Tories as a "value for money" policy, which ultimately relieves the public of burdensome taxes and other levies.

But beneath this acceptable face of capitalism lies a single-minded political ambition to smash the post-war settlement and replace its broad-based nurturing ideology with something more akin to a Hobbesian state of nature, a free-for-all in which everyone competes in an open market. As a result, the UK is undergoing a period of massive social change the outcome of which is only now beginning to be predictable.

How does Animate! fit into the wider picture? Animate! is a fragile scheme, nutured within the Arts Council by Dave Curtis and within Channel 4 by Clare Kitson, Commissioning Editor for Animation--two individuals whose passion and commitment to animation have set the rigorous selection standards for the scheme which has resulted in the production of award-winning work. Animate! will pass from this warm environment into an unfriendly marketplace, where it must jostle for funding with more glamorous, high profile, commercial projects.

Tim Webb graduated from the West Surrey College of Art and Design and now teaches in the Royal College of Art Animation Department. 15th February mixes live action and animation to describe a symbolic rejection and its sadistic outcome as related in the poem by Peter Reading.

15th February by Tim Webb, Animate! 7 mins., 1995.

The first alarm bells have already rung. Over at Channel 4, the newly-appointed Controller of Arts and Entertainment, Stuart Cosgrove, has put the Animate! scheme (and other such schemes) on hold. It's a sensible move. In the first place, Cosgrove will need to ascertain what the new funding implications are for the Channel 4 budget. In principle, Animate! should receive more money from the Lottery than it previously received from the Arts Council, but this may not necessarily reduce Channel 4's contribution: in fact, it may increase it. Worse, it may make it unnecessary; in which case, Animate! would be cut loose from its personal connection with Clare Kitson and, already at arm's length from David Curtis, may drift away from first principles and lose sight of its standards. This gloomy scenario is further complicated by problems over at Channel 4, where Chief Executive, Michael Grade, is fighting a battle against privatization--more Tory dogma. Privatization will inevitably undermine the original 1982 remit of the Channel to provide innovative programming for minority audiences, a remit which was entirely appropriate to the funding of schemes such as Animate!

Sunset Strip by Kayla Parker, Animate! 4 minutes, 1996

Time-lapse drawings of one year's sunsets--including those obscured by clouds--are rendered directly onto 35mm film stock using a variety of materials, including nail varnish, magnolia petals, hair and net stocking. The result is a dazzling expression of the visual music revealed by 365 setting suns.

But there may be a silver lining. What the Lottery taketh it may also giveth away! Dave Curtis has informally floated an idea for an Animation Trust, the thrust of which is to establish an entity which would support the animation community in the UK. Its major functions would be to provide a research academy, comprised of information data banks, archive material and a film and publications library, and, more importantly, an ongoing production fund. Through the Trust, not only would the Animate! scheme survive (in another form perhaps), but a much wider commitment to animation in the UK would be established. It would be able to pick up the slack from a privatized Channel 4 and sustain the talent that has been nurtured by Channel 4, the Arts Council and other similarly-threatened public funding bodies over the last decade and a half. The prodigious sums of money available from the Lottery may be used to purchase buildings, for capital expenses, personnel costs and project funding--the Animation Trust might just slip through as just one of a multitude of other hare-brained schemes. But the idea had better be floated soon before the Lottery dust settles and public accountability becomes an issue. The Government may be chuckling over its reduced public spending budget as a result of the success of the Lottery, but when the public wakes up to its own spending, then it may withdraw or question its support for schemes which are relatively unaccessible to the majority of punters.

Jill McGreal owns and runs her own Londonbased animation production company, CODENAME The Animation Agency. She produces television series for children and represents many wellknown international directors for commercial work. She continues to write and teach about animation and film in general.