Quest to save Cosgrove Hall children's TV treasures


The Wind in the Willows puppets

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The Wind in the Willows puppets with Badger, rear, missing a snout

Puppets used for some of the best-loved children’s TV characters of the 1970s and ’80s are to get urgent repairs to stop them falling apart.

The puppets come from the archive of animation studio Cosgrove Hall, which made shows like The Wind in the Willows and Chorlton and the Wheelies.

A project has begun to preserve and display the Cosgrove Hall archive.

Sixty percent of the latex puppets, including characters from The Wind in the Willows, are “at serious risk”.

And 20% are past saving, according to Westley Wood, a former Cosgrove Hall employee who has rescued the treasure trove.

Image copyright
Mario Popham

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Danger Mouse is Cosgrove Hall’s best-known creation

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Chorlton and the Wheelies were named after the Manchester suburb where Cosgrove Hall was based

Cosgrove Hall also made such classic shows as Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Terry Pratchett’s Truckers and Noddy’s Toyland Adventures. But its characters were put into storage when the studio shut in 2009.

They have now been donated to the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester, by ITV, which owned Cosgrove Hall when it closed.

Some of the better-preserved items of memorabilia are going on display in an exhibition at the Waterside.

According to Wood, the hand-drawn acetate cells used to animate the likes of Danger Mouse and Count Duckula have lasted well.

But the 3D puppets that were employed in stop-motion animations have deteriorated with age, with parts of the latex falling off some to expose the steel skeletons beneath.

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Truckers was based on the 1989 Terry Pratchett book

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Cosgrove Hall made a new version of Bill and Ben in 2001

“The film cells are well preserved,” said Wood. “They can be saved quite easily. But unfortunately a lot of the puppets were made of foam latex, and over time it dries out.

“As they’ve all dried out and become quite stiff, these puppets have started losing half of their face or part of their arm. They’re like cyborg puppets.

“There’s a big process at the moment of identifying important pieces in the collection, and ones which we think need immediate restoration.

“At least 60% of it is at serious risk and at least 20% of that is past being saved,” he went on. “It’s in a pretty bad way.”

The archive has been awarded a £42,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with contributions from Sale Waterside and Arts Council England taking the fund over £50,000.

But that won’t stretch to restoring the hundreds of items in the archive.

“To restore everything would probably cost millions, unfortunately, so we need to identify key pieces that we think have significant cultural heritage,” said Wood, while insisting the deterioration was “nobody’s fault”.

“Personally I’d love to restore it all, but that’s just not possible at this stage.”

The Cosgrove Hall exhibition at Sale Waterside runs from 21 October to 17 February.

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