Media: When the finance people say 'That's all, folks]': A top animation company that was knocked flat by the ITV franchise changes is on the move again, says Martin Rosenbaum

Brian Cosgrove sits in his Manchester animation studios, where once 160 were employed and now there are 20, and says about the past two years: 'All of it was pretty damn bad.' But today he talks about the future with enthusiasm. In 1976, together with Mark Hall, an old friend from art school, he established what became Britain's most successful children's animation company. Seventeen years later, with both now in their late fifties, they find themselves trying to escape disaster and rebuild their achievements.

Mr Cosgrove and Mr Hall were among the innocent victims of the ITV franchise round. Their company, Cosgrove Hall Productions, had enjoyed 15 years of growth and acclaim through producing popular, high-quality drawn and model animation. Cartoon series such as Dangermouse] and Count Duckula proved money-spinning hits with children throughout the world, while adaptations of, for example, The Wind in the Willows and Roald Dahl's The BFG won prestigious international awards.

But as a Thames Television subsidiary, it struck calamity in October 1991 when Thames' franchise loss was announced. The parent company no longer had the guaranteed advertising revenue to support Cosgrove Hall between commission and payment. Work dried up during the franchise changeover period, and contraction and redundancies were inevitable. The two animators searched anxiously for new, better-resourced partners. In November, they finally announced a deal with Anglia which they hope will restore their fortunes.

'We know we can entertain people, get ratings, and make films creatively of a high standard and win awards,' says Mr Cosgrove. 'But to do it requires financial people to put money in. We have now got a business deal which works well for us and our future is much brighter.'

The deal creates a new company, Cosgrove Hall Films, 75 per cent owned by Anglia Television Entertainment, a joint venture between Anglia TV and Time Warner Entertainment. The other 25 per cent is split equally between Mr Cosgrove and Mr Hall. Anglia and Time Warner also own an international distribution company, ITEL, which will provide Cosgrove Hall with vital access to overseas markets. The staff and equipment of the Thames subsidiary have been transferred to the new firm. Thames, however, retains the lucrative rights to previous productions, which have already earned tens of millions of pounds in sales to more than 80 countries.

The future may be brighter but it is still uncertain. Under the old system, the link with Thames effectively guaranteed Cosgrove Hall transmission on the ITV network. Now the company is as dependent as other independent producers on the whims of commissioners.

'We're in a different marketplace now, and we'll only be as successful as the work we get in,' says Mr Cosgrove. The company has just finished a 26-part second series of Noddy for BBC 1 and is working on a Christmas special for this year. This follows the success of the 13-part model animation series shown in 1992 and currently being repeated - a 'politically correct' version in which golliwogs are replaced by goblins.

ITV has recommissioned the cartoon Avenger Penguins for next autumn. Cosgrove Hall is also involved with Yorkshire Television on The Day After Tomorrow, a project combining live action and drawn animation.

After that, they will be competing with everyone else for the limited commissions available. However, their reputation will help. Dawn Airey, ITV network commissioning editor for children's programmes, says: 'Cosgrove Hall has an excellent track record of producing hits, and I'm in the business of commissioning hits.' Four Cosgrove Hall ideas are on a shortlist of 30 proposals she is now considering for 1995.

However, profitability will almost certainly depend on additional sales overseas. Mr Cosgrove says: 'Under the old ITV you could virtually clear your production costs on the UK sale. I don't think that's going to be the case now. Overseas sales are going to he important in making sure you are not working at a loss. That is one reason we feel happier with a professional overseas sales structure behind us.'

As a creative artist forced to confront commercial realities, Mr Cosgrove is deeply relieved that the deal with Anglia has been concluded. 'Mark and I are film-makers. Business dealings require another breed. The in-fighting, the rough and tumble that has to go on as each party looks for the best for its own side, is not our game at all.

'We didn't think of giving up altogether, but there were many occasions when we felt we would have to go back to two men in a little office somewhere and make films as we got budgets. It was pretty frightening.'

He says that he and Mr Hall give themselves around five years before they retire. They will concentrate on running the business and developing new projects rather than actual animation. The new Anglia link should help by giving the larger company more sway within the ITV network. But Mr Cosgrove now appreciates the fragility of everything in a business determined by large forces outside their control: 'I guess it could all happen again.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas