Warning: include(/opt/awn/public_html/mag/banner/mag/java.head.txt): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/awncom5/public_html/mag/issue4.06/4.06pages/kotlarzch4/kotlarzch43.php3 on line 12

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/opt/awn/public_html/mag/banner/mag/java.head.txt' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/cpanel/ea-php72/root/usr/share/pear') in /home/awncom5/public_html/mag/issue4.06/4.06pages/kotlarzch4/kotlarzch43.php3 on line 12


The History of Channel 4 and The Future of British Animation
(continued from page 2)

A Fresh Beginning
The channel was very free-form and radical to begin with, and its founding Chief Executive, Jeremy Isaacs, who himself had been Director of Programmes at the Independent TV station, Thames, decided not to hire people from the old boys network which controlled the other channels.

Isaacs was well-known for his open-mindedness, accessibility, and preference for film-makers over bureaucrats. On a model adopted from publishing, programming was to be handled by Commissioning Editors, who would deal with contractual and budgetary as well as creative matters. Among the first four of those he hired was Paul Madden, who had originally worked in the TV archive of the British Film Institute and had been a member of the Fourth Television Group. He was hired as a generalist Commissioning Editor, responsible for one-off programmes. Soon Isaacs also asked him to take on animation, an affirmation of the significant role it was to have in the new channel.

The independent film organisations and pressure groups came from the live-action sector, but as plans for the new channel got under way, the British animation community, then fairly tiny, did not waste time. A small group of people came together in 1979 to revive the Cambridge Animation Festival, which had been a successful event in the 1960s then had disappeared. This group of enthusiasts represented the areas which at that time were the emergent independent sector.

The Queen's Monastery by Emma Calder. Courtesy of Emma Calder.

Art and film schools were encouraging innovative work and creating alternatives to mainstream cartoon practices. There was support for independent and experimental animation from the British Film Institute's Production Board (which funded films in the 1970s by among others the Brothers Quay, and the feminist animator Vera Neubauer), and the Arts Council's Film Department (which gave grants for example to films by Geoff Dunbar and Paul Vester). There were also Regional Arts Associations which gave small grants throughout the country and were themselves funded by the BFI and Arts Council. There were one or two film workshops and collectives which specialised in animation, such as the feminist Leeds Animation Workshop.

The idea to revive the festival came from John Cannon, film officer for the Regional Arts Association for Cambridge. The group included the original festival's director Dick Arnall; Richard Evans, who acquired and programmed animation for the BBC; veteran animator Bob Godfrey; West Surrey College's Roger Noake; Mary-Jane Walsh from the BFI Production Board; and Clare Kitson, who at that time was programmer at the BFI's National Film Theatre. The director they hired for the first three festivals was Cambridge local, Antoinette Moses. Others joined the group to organise the 1981 festival, including the Arts Council's David Curtis.

Writing about education and contemporary animation in Art and Animation, Andy Darley describes the importance of the festival for the new independent animation: "Eschewing the competition format of other festivals, it adopted a bold new strategy which was entirely consonant with new developments in the rest of the sector. Its approach was to be educational. It encouraged (re)discovery and reassessment, historical contextualisation, diversity, and the new practices and styles emerging from the resurgent independents....It was particularly sympathetic to indigenous young animators and students; exposing them not only to a range of old, new, commercial and non-commercial films, but, through shrewd programming, helping them to new ways of understanding and appreciation."

The Cambridge festival became a major British event, moving to Bristol and then Cardiff. The steering group were quick to approach Jeremy Isaacs some time early in 1981; he gave them a small amount of sponsorship and most importantly, came to the Festival himself in September of that year. It was the start of a long and happy relationship, with the Channel becoming a major sponsor of subsequent festivals. Isaacs maintained the personal contact, coming to the 1985 Cambridge festival where he hosted a panel discussion fielding questions from the now swelling ranks of British animators.

He came to the 1981 festival wanting to meet film-makers. At a reception hosted by Cambridge millionaire inventor Clive Sinclair, he met Peter Lord and David Sproxton, and invited them to a meeting with the new Commissioning Editor, Paul Madden. They saw a couple of films Peter and David (otherwise known as Aardman Animations) had made for the BBC general programmes unit in Bristol. Down and Out and Confessions of a Foyer Girl were plasticine animations to real, documentary-style sound recordings, one in a Salvation Army hostel, the other in a cinema foyer. They were part of a series of five Animated Conversations, by different directors and including cel as well as model animated films, commissioned by BBC Producer Colin Thomas.

This idea of animating to soundtracks recorded in real live situations had its genesis in a trip Thomas had taken with his next-door neighbour Bill Mather, of the BBC graphics department, to the 1968 Cambridge Animation Festival. There they were impressed by John and Faith Hubley's Windy Day, which has a sound-track of their children playing. Mather and Thomas made a couple of animations together (one a Magic Roundabout spoof, a political allegory about a chess game). They decided to develop the documentary sound idea, given that BBC Bristol had a strong documentary tradition. Mather directed a pilot in 1975, Audition, with a soundtrack of his eight-year-old son auditioning for a church choir in Bristol. The film was shown by the BBC on Christmas Day, and again in the holiday season the following year. Thomas was able to secure budgets for a further five films, of which Mather made one, the hilarious Hangover, recorded in a pub. The budgets were tiny, but Animated Conversations and the earlier BBC films were, I believe, the first ever independent animation aimed at adult audiences commissioned by a British broadcaster. They were also the direct ancestors of Creature Comforts.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.