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Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)
Thames Television/Cosgrove Hall for ITV, 27/4/1984-23/3/1988
52 x 20 min episodes in 5 series, plus 2 specials, colour
ProducersMark Hall
 Brian Cosgrove
ScriptsRosemary Anne Sisson
 Brian Trueman
From the novel byKenneth Grahame

Voices: David Jason (Toad), Peter Sallis (Ratty), Michael Hordern (Badger), Richard Pearson (Mole), Ian Carmichael (narrator)

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The embarrassing antics of foolish playboy Toad of Toad Hall are a constant source of exasperation to his friends Ratty, Badger and Mole.

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A television version of Kenneth Grahame's famous 1908 novel appeared as early as 1946, a live 90-minute play adaptation by A. A. Milne (BBC, tx. 29/12/1946). Much later, Anglia Television produced an illustrated storybook-style series (ITV, 1971), but Cosgrove-Hall's long-running stop-frame animated series (ITV, 1983-88) is the best-known version.

Cosgrove-Hall had enjoyed award-winning success with Cinderella (ITV, 1979) and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (ITV, 1980), lavish feature length TV projects made for Thames Television, so when Thames MD Bryan Cowgill asked Mark Hall what he wanted to do next he instantly replied "Wind in the Willows".

The film took 18 months to make. The lead puppets had bodies cast in latex over a jointed metal skeleton and heads made from glass fibre with detailed latex skins - inside the heads were miniature mechanisms enabling a range of facial expressions and realistic mouth movement, operated using keys in the characters' backs.

The painstaking work paid off and the Christmassy feature adaptation begat a series of brand new stories. With many of the props and puppets in stock from the film, set up costs were reduced but the animation was still of real quality and it took eight weeks - a minute of film output per day at the very best - to produce each episode.

Most episodes centred around Toad's latest 'enthusiasm', expensive crazes he would briefly take up. Toad is a British comic archetype - the wholly ignorant upper-class toff. Brian Cosgrove felt David Jason's voiceover for the otherwise unlikeable 'Hooray Henry' character lent it an appealing childlike enthusiasm. Mr Toad's selfish antics were the core of the episodes but the villainy of the weasels of the Wild Wood was never far away.

Two cartoon TV features were produced in the 1990s by TVC, HIT and Carlton. The Wind in the Willows (ITV, tx. 25/12/1995) and The Willows in Winter (ITV, tx 26/12/1996) featured the voices of Rik Mayall, Alan Bennett, Michael Palin and Michael Gambon. 1996 also saw the release of a cinema film adaptation of the tale (d. Terry Jones).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Science and progress (2:54)
2. No wires (2:10)
Complete episode: 'Mr Toad's Telephone' (19:58)
Carmichael, Ian (1920-2010)
Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)
Jason, Sir David (1940-)
Cosgrove-Hall Productions
Children's Puppets and Animation