Cosgrove Hall Films Archive: The Journey Begins
In the first of our monthly blog series, Richard Evans (Creative Industries Trafford Programme Coordinator) remembers the archive’s journey from MediaCity to Waterside Arts and reflects on Waterside’s relationship with Cosgrove Hall Films and animation.
The journey that brought the Cosgrove Hall Films Archive to Waterside began way back in 2008. This is when our artists' development strand CIT (Creative Industries Trafford) invited Chris Bowden, a producer at Mackinnon & Saunders, over to deliver a talk for animators.
Chris' insights into the work of Mackinnon & Saunders and the mix of creative skills that go into animation productions began a long discussion at the venue about how fascinating it would be to exhibit some of Mackinnon & Saunders' work at Waterside. We wanted to showcase how animators, puppeteers, character designers, writers and craft-makers work together to create some of our best loved animated characters.
In 2015, with amazing support from the Mackinnon & Saunders team, we were able to produce the exhibition and, because of a very positive public response, we then followed this in 2016 with an exhibition of work from Aardman Animation, again generating great interest from our visitors. At this point, we were approached by Wes Wood (Animation Toolkit) and Steve Henderson (Manchester Animation Festival), who let us know that there was a collection of figures, props, cels, sets and background materials from Cosgrove Hall Films left in a lock-up at MediaCity UK - and that the lock-up was in a building scheduled for demolition. We knew we had to help.
Working with Waterside's curator at the time, Rachael Dargavel-Leafe, we made a number of visits to the unit where, stuffed into dusty boxes, we discovered an absolute treasure trove that together documented the history of Manchester's legendary animation studio. With each box that we opened, we found cels, characters and props from the nation's most-loved TV shows - The Wind in the Willows, Dangermouse, Count Duckula and much more. The work we'd done on previous animation exhibitions showed the cultural importance of these assets - the skill and craft that had gone into creating these beloved characters - and all of it was threatened by a building with a leaky roof and an impending date with a wrecking ball.
Working together with Wes & Steve to understand exactly what was in the collection, we realised that we'd need to raise some funds to properly support rescuing the archive and housing it at Waterside.
With fantastic help from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Archives Plus, Steve, Wes, Ian Mackinnon, Peter Saunders and Brian Cosgrove himself, we developed a successful funding bid and in summer 2017, were finally able to bring all of the artefacts from the lock-up to its new home at Waterside.
Like all moving days, physically bringing the archive to the venue was memorable. A small team of volunteers got together to carefully load the boxes (and boxes) into a van and a couple of cars. Who knew that a full-size mascot of Danger Mouse's head would fit into the back a Mini? As we neared the end of the day, someone piped up - 'we just need to pick up Igor'. Igor? Thinking we had plenty of room for one more small figure, we headed into a car park at Media City UK to collect Igor from the production facility where he'd been housed. You can imagine our surprise when we were introduced to the full-sized cast of Igor The Eagle from Count Duckula. Happily, there was just enough room in the van to bring Igor to his new home.
In winter 2017, we made it a hat-trick of animation exhibitions at Waterside when we opened the Cosgrove Hall Films Archive for what became the venue's most popular gallery display so far. It was a delight to welcome Brian Cosgrove, his wife Angela and members of the Cosgrove Hall Films team to the venue for launch night - and to give a new home to an animation collection that has meant so much to people all over the world.