Obituary: Dianne Jackson
Friday 08 January 1993
THE ANIMATOR and director Dianne Jackson died at home with her family on New Year's Eve. No more fitting tribute to her could have been devised than the transmission in the Christmas holiday period of four of the films with which she was associated. The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, the first of a new six-part animated series of Beatrix Potter adaptations, which she wrote and of which she was the series director, joined such films as The Snowman, without which no Christmas is complete, Granpa and Father Christmas.
She was born Dianne Hillier in 1941, and was educated at Twickenham County Grammar and Twickenham Art School. After she started - unsuccessfully - as an illustrator, she joined TV Cartoons (TVC) in 1967, the company set up by the innovative Canadian animator George Dunning. TVC was then a leading producer of television commercials, although Dunning with his partner John Coates was keen to produce original work. She worked as an assistant animator on TVC's Yellow Submarine. Dunning was to prove a marvellous mentor to her, inspiring in her work a maturity and a style that was to become her own.
In the mid-Seventies she became part of a unit attached to the animation studio Wyatt-Cattaneo alongside the producer Lee Stork, and the animators Alison de Vere and Chris Randall, directing commercials. The frustrations of working solely on commercials inevitably led to the break-up of the unit, and the talents involved went their separate ways, Dianne returning to the TVC fold.
John Coates, recognising the opportunity presented to independent producers by the advent of Channel 4 in 1981, determined to pitch to the new channel a high-quality 26-minute animation production based on a Raymond Briggs book. But who was to direct it? After a false start, he chose Jackson, who had to that point directed nothing more ambitious than short television commercials. It was a gamble that was to result in a film of enduring appeal. That film was The Snowman (1982).
When as Channel 4's commissioning editor of The Snowman I ventured to suggest mid-production that this was surely a classic in the making, with a flash of her eyes she was quick to point out that it was a lot of hard work. Something of her own quiet good humour - and child's sense of wonder - is in the sequence she animated herself of the snowmen's Christmas party, to which the boy is brought by his Snowman. Those who purchase The Snowman as a book are often astonished that the famous trip in the film to meet Father Christmas does not feature in the original. That was a special part of Dianne Jackson's talent to capture the spirit of a work but to elaborate it to stunning effect.
Her creation of a fantasy dream sequence for Hilda in When the Wind Blows (1986 - directed by Jimmy Murakami) was part of a strategy to 'open out' the film and was felt at least initially to have gone too far. Characteristically she fought her corner.
None the less her ability to create imaginative worlds which appealed to 'children of all ages', that is to adults too, was unerring. I recall sitting with her during the premiere screening of Granpa, when a child in front of us turned to a friend and said: 'I'd really like to be in this film.' Dianne laughed delightedly.
Granpa (1989), which she directed, the story of a little girl's relationship with her grandfather, based on John Burningham's book, was of less immediate popular appeal than The Snowman. But it was perhaps more satisfying to her creatively, demanding a more subtle approach.
She was however to return to the work of Raymond Briggs when she storyboarded and acted as supervising director of Father Christmas (1991). Without Dianne Jackson it is true to say that none of the Beatrix Potter adaptations would have been produced. To Frederick Warne, the publishers and guardians of the Potter heritage, she was the guarantee of the integrity of the series.
Hers was a specifically English sensibility which encompassed the rhythms of the seasons, the countryside and its animals and a sense of the past, all of which feature in her best work, including her last storyboard, for Margery Williams's classic book The Velveteen Rabbit.
As the Skin Horse said to the Velveteen Rabbit: 'Real isn't how you are made . . . it's a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time . . .' Dianne's films will be loved for a long, long time.
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