ITV upheaval threatens Toytown home of Noddy: Staff at an award-winning animation studio are facing redundancy. Maggie Brown reports

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ONE of Britain's leading animation studios, which has made famous ITV series such as Dangermouse, Count Duckula and the new BBC 1 Noddy series, is in danger of closing.

Manchester-based Cosgrove Hall, owned by Thames Television, has warned its 55 staff that up to 50 of them will be made redundant unless new work comes in before the end of this year. It has become a victim of the ITV franchise auction round, which last year stripped the parent company of its London weekday licence.

John Hambley, Cosgrove's chief executive, said yesterday that the company had been making substantial losses because ITV commissions had dried up. He said: 'I am very sad.' The latest threat to jobs follows the loss of 50 last year.

Cosgrove Hall was set up 16 years ago and swiftly established its credentials as a centre for popular and excellent children's programmes and films. It won a US Emmy two years ago for its film The Fool of the World and The Flying Ship, an adaptation of a Russian fairy tale.

It also made a film of Roald Dahls's BFG (Big Friendly Giant), which was shown at Christmas three years ago. It has won a Prix Jeunesse award, the European honour for children's programmes, for an adaptation of the Pied Piper, and many awards from the British Academy of Film & Television Arts.

Children's programmes are one of the key areas suffering from the ITV upheaval and advertising recession, even though they are a mandatory and therefore protected part of the schedule.

The Independent Television Commission, which regulates commercial television, says there is room for improvement in children's television. Mr Hambley says that the temptation is to buy in American cartoons for between pounds 5,000 and pounds 6,000 an episode, rather than make new ones at a far higher price. Nonetheless, Dangermouse and Count Duckula have sold world-wide and produced multi-million pound profits.

Mr Hambley says that there is hope for an ITV commission now that the central programme director, Marcus Plantin, is in place, but that the price ITV is prepared to pay has been cut by 20 per cent, to pounds 110,000 per half hour. ITV would also demand the first pounds 25,000 back from any overseas sales. 'These are punitive rates,' he said. He is also hopeful that the BBC will commission a second series of Noddy.

Cosgrove Hall has represented a stable, well-equipped studio- based company for British animators. The only other similar centre is in Cardiff, where cartoonists have the patronage of the Welsh Channel 4 station, S4C.

While many of the staff made redundant from Cosgrove Hall last year have found jobs, they are working as freelancers without pension rights. The broadcasting sector is increasingly staffed by casual labour.

(Photographs omitted)