Saturday, 26 November 2011

Danger Mouse Co-Creator Mark Hall Passes On

Mark Hall, who co-founded the animation studio Cosgrove Hall and co-created Danger Mouse, passed on 17 November 2011 at the age of 74. The cause was cancer.

Mark Hall was born on 17 May 1936 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. As a child he would put on his own puppet shows for his friends. It was while he was at the Regional College of Art, Manchester that he met Brian Cosgrove. In 1969 Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove founded Stop Frame Animations. Initially the studio created commercials for the magazine Look-In and The TV Times. It was in 1971 that they produced their first series, The Magic Ball. In 1972 they produced and Mark Hall directed the television animated movie Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo. Stop Frame Animations' last series was Noddy in 1975. Stop Frame Animations folded in 1975, but from its ashes Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove founded Cosgrove Hall as a subsidiary of Thames Television.  In 1976 they produced the series  Jamie and The Magic Torch.

Cosgrove-Hall then produced the seies Chorlton and The Wheelies in 1976. This was followed by the programmes Captain Kremmen and Cockleshell Bay. It was in 1981 that Cosgrove Hall would produce their greatest success. Danger Mouse, a parody of spy fiction and spy movies featuring the title mouse who was a secret agent. Danger Mouse would not only prove to be a smash hit in the United Kingdom, where at its height it had 21.5 million viewers, but around the world as well. Indeed, while it was not the first British cel animated series to air in the United States (Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, Ludwig, and Paddington Bear had preceded it), it was by far the most successful. With British wit, plenty of parody, and a tendency to bizarre plots, Danger Mouse proved appealing not only to youngsters, but to adults as well.

Cosgrove Hall would go onto produce more successful animated series including The Wind in the Willows, Count Duckula (a spin off from Danger Mouse), Oh! Mr. Toad, Fantomcat, Noddy's Toyland Adventures, and Captain Star. Cosgrove Hall also produced television movies, including The Pied Piper of Hamelin and The Reluctant Dragon,  as well as the feature film adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG (1989).

To some degree Mark Hall is a legend in television animation and with good reason. It would be enough if he had simply co-created Danger Mouse, one of the most successful animated series of all time, but he and Brian Cosgrove did much more. Although often shot on minuscule budgets, the Cosgrove Hall programmes were always very well done. Indeed, the series The Wind in the Willows is one of the few adaptations to successfully capture the feel of Kenneth Grahame's novel. With Brian Cosgrove, Mark Hall left behind a legacy in animation that will be long remembered.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Anne McCaffrey R.I.P.

Science fiction and fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey passed on 21 November 2011 at the age of 85. The cause was a stroke.

Anne McCaffrey was born on 1 April 1926 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from Radcliffe College with a degree in Slavonic languages and literature. In 1952 her first short story was published. It was in 1959 that her story "The Ship That Sang" was published. It would be succeeded by five more short stories that she would eventually weave into the novel The Ship Who Sang. It was in 1967 that the first novella in the series that would gain Miss McCaffrey lasting fame would be published. This novella and the second would become the novel Dragonflight (1968), the first of the "Dragonriders of Pern" series. In all 22 novels would be published in the series.

Although best known for The Ship Who Sang and "The Dragonriders of Pern," Anne McCaffrey would publish several other books, including Decision at Doona (1969), To Ride Pegasus (1973),  The Crystal Singer (1982),  Freedom's Landing (1995), and The Unicorn Girl (1997).

While I cannot say Anne McCaffrey was one of my all time favourite writers, I can say that I always enjoyed her books a good deal. She had a very brisk, easy to read style and tended to avoid the wordiness of many science fiction writers. She also had a gift for creating believable characters, in particular strong women, as well as a knack for creating believable worlds. She was a very talented writer and it is quite understandable why she developed a following over the years. In fact, I rather suspect she could be the most successful female science fiction writer of all time.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Actor John Neville Passes On

John Neville, who in his career played both Sherlock Holmes and Baron Munchausen, passed on 19 November 2011 ate age of 86. The cause was Alzheimar's disease.

John Neville was born on 2 May 1925 in Willesden, London. He was the son of a lorry driver. Mr. Neville attended Chiswick School for Boys. It was when his church choir went to see A Midsummer's Night Dream starring  Sir Ralph Richardson and Vivien Leigh that his love for theatre began. He left school at age 16 to work as stores clerk at a garage, but his career would be set when a performance as Hamlet for a church production won him a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. During World War II  John Neville served as a signalman in the British Royal Navy.

John Neville made his debut on the West End in 1947 in a small part in Richard III at the New Thaetre. In 1948 he took part in the Open Air Season at Regent's Park. He played Lysander in A Midsummer's Night Dream and Chatillon in King John. In 1949 he worked with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre where he played John Worthing in The Importance of Being Ernest. He later worked at the Old Vic, where he played Surface in The School for Scandal, Ferdinand in Love's Labour Lost, and Valentine in The Two Gentelmen of Varona.

In 1950 Mr. Neville made his debut on television in the teleplay Mrs. Dot. Throughout the Fifties he appeared on such shows as ITV Playhouse, ITV Play of the Week, Producer's Showcase, The Dupont Show of the Month, and BBC Sunday Night Theatre. In 1960 he made his film debut in Oscar Wilde. In 1953 he was once more at the Old Vic, where among other roles he appeared as Lewis the Dauphin in King John,Orsino in Twelfth Night, Macduff in Macbeth, and Berowne in Love's Labour Lost. In 1955 he received rave notices for his performance of the title role in Richard III. At the Old Vic he played roles ranging from Mark Antony in Julius Ceasar to Hamlet in the play of the same name. It was in 1959 he left the Old Vic. He directed The Importance of Being Ernest at the Bristol Old Vic and appeared as Nestor in Irma La Douce.

In the Sixties John Neville appeared in such films as I Like Money (1961), Billy Budd (1962), Unearthly Stranger (1964), and The Adventures of Gerard (1970). One of his most notable film roles came in 1965 when Mr. Neville played Sherlock Holmes in the movie A Study in Terror. On television he was a regular on both The Company of Five and The First Churchills. He appeared on the programmes Theatre 625 and Half Hour Story. On stage he directed Henry V at the Old Vic. He played the Stranger in The Lady from the Sea and other roles ranging form Macbeth to Faustus.

In the Seventies he appeared in such shows as Shadows of Fear, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Love Story, The Protectors, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Benjamin Franklin. On stage he appeared as Captain Macheath in The Beggar's Opera. He took an offer to direct The Rivals at the National Arts centre in Ottawa, Ontario. He would spend the rest of his life in Canada. Over the years, on stage he directed Much Ado About Nothing, Uncle Vanya, Mother Courage, Othello, The Three Sisters, and other plays. He appeared on stage in Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, Pericles, The Merchant of Venice, and Henry VIII.

In the Eighties John Neville played the title role in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) . He was a regular on the television programme Grand and appeared on the series Titans.  In the Nineties he played the role of the Well-Manicured Man on The X-Files, a role he reprised in the 1998 movie. Mr. Neville was also a regular on Emily of New Moon and Amazon. He appeared on such television programmes as Avonlea, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Stark. He appeared in such films as The Road to Wellville (1994), Little Women (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), Urban Legend (1998), The Duke (1999), and Sunshine (1999).  In the Naughts he appeared in such films as Time of the Wolf (2002), Hollywood North (2003), The Statement (2003), and Separate Lies (2005). He appeared in such television programmes as Odyssey 5, Bury the Lead, and Friends and Heroes His last role on screen was in the film Bradfordian Rain.

John Neville first came to my notice as Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Terror. In fact, he would prove to be my favourite Holmes besides Basil Rathbone. In the years since I would be impressed by the sheer diversity of roles which Mr. Neville played, everything from the colourful Baron Munchausen to Lt. Radcliffe in Billy Budd. John Neville was versatile to the point that I believe that he could play any role in the world. Indeed, it is for this reason that is career spanned over sixty years. He acted very nearly until his death. Not only could very few actors boast such a long career, but few could boast one that was as diverse and as well done as that of John Neville.