Tuesday, September 18, 2012

John Coates R.I.P.

John Coates, one of the founders of British animation house TVC London and the producer of the classic animated feature Yellow Submarine and the Yuletide special The Snowman, died 16 September 2012. The cause was cancer.

John Coates had been an officer in the British Army and served during World War II. Following World War II Mr. Coates was a film distributor in Asia. After returning to England he served as Assistant Controller of Programmes at Associated-Rediffusion (the first ITV company launched). It was in 1957 that legendary animator George Dunning founded TV Cartoons Ltd. (later renamed TVC London) following the closure of UPA's London office, which Mr. Dunning had managed. At that time John Coates was bored in his job and George Dunning was in need of someone to look after the business side of TVC. A meeting between the two was set up by a mutual friend and the two men entered into a partnership that would last until Mr. Dunning's death in 1979.

TVC had been founded to provide animation for commercial advertisements on ITV, the United Kingdom's first commercial broadcasting organisation launched in 1955.  TVC London would prove to very successful in the production of commercials. From its foundation in 1957 until the company closed its doors in 1997, TVC produced around 1500 commercials. Although commercials would be TVC London's bread and butter, the company would expand beyond them. George Dunning would find time to create his own, more personal animated shorts, including "The Flying Man," "The Apple (1959winner of the 1963 BAFTA award for Best Animated Film)," "The Flying Man," and "The Ever Changing Motor Car."

TVC London was also contracted to produced The Beatles animated series (which ran on ABC from 1965 to 1969) and Cool McCool (which ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969) for King Features Syndicate (John Coates would serve as a producer on the latter show). The Beatles cartoon would prove wildly successful and it would be from the series that TVC London and George Dunning's most lasting achievement would emerge. With the success of The Beatles cartoon Al Brodax of King Features Syndicate approached the band's manager Brian Epstein about doing a Beatles feature length animated film. It was TVC London who was tasked with actually producing Yellow Submarine, with John Coates acting as "Production Supervisor (what would now be called "Producer") and George Dunning serving as the film's director. Yellow Submarine would prove to be a revolutionary film. It was the first animated feature film to ever use rock music in its soundtrack and the first British produced animated feature film in literally years. It was also a sharp departure from the more traditional, realistic animation style of the Disney features, using a variety of styles throughout the film and sometimes even a variety of styles in a single sequence. Although Yellow Submarine is often descried as both psychedelia and pop art, it also used op art, Xeroxed photographs, rotoscoping, and many other animation and artistic styles and techniques. Not only did Yellow Submarine break animated feature films away from the realist style of Disney, but it also proved that an independently produced animated film could be a success.

The Beatles, Cool McCool, and Yellow Submarine would not be TVC London's only projects in the Sixties. TVC London would make also make an attempt at its own animated television series in 1965 with the pilot Charley. While it won the Children’s Gold Award at the Venice Film Festival, Charley would never become a TV series. Pitched to the BBC and the various ITV companies, TVC London found itself unable to sell Charley as the companies either wanted creative and financial control of the project or simply did not have the money to back it.  Following Yellow Submarine George Dunning would direct the shorts "Hands, Knees and Bumps a Daisy (1969)" and "Damon the Mower (1972)." George Dunning was planning a feature length animated film based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest when he died in 1979. The project was never finished.

Following George Dunning's death, John Coates took control of TVC London. While TVC London would continue to produce animated commercials, it expanded even more into the world of entertainment. John Coates would produced the "Soft Landing" sequence of the animated feature film Heavy Metal (1981). More importantly, he had optioned the 1978 children's book The Snowman. With the creation of new public broadcaster Channel 4 in 1982, a broadcaster that would rely heavily on independent British production companies, Mr. Coates moved forward with production of The Snowman. The Snowman would become a yearly Christmas special on British television and in the United States would be nominated for 1982 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

Under the leadership of John Coates TVC would produce such animated specials as  The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe; Grandpa; Father Christmas; Famous Fred; The Bear; The Animal Train; and Ivor the Invincible. With TVC London, John Coates would also produce the feature length films When the Wind Blows (1986), The Wind in the Willows (1995), and The Willows in Winter (1996), as well as the animated TV series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (based on Beatrix Potter's books).  Mr. Coates would go onto produce the animated TV special The Tale of Jack Frost. At the time of his death he was working on The Snowman and the Snowdog, a sequel to The Snowman scheduled to air on Channel 4 over the holidays of 2012.

Among producers of British animation John Coates was a legend.  He produced the ground breaking animated film Yellow Submarine, as well as the animated series Cool McCool.  Following George Dunning's death he would produce several classic works of animation, from The Snowman to The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. As a producer he was gifted with an eye for what would make great animation, adapting the works of Raymond Briggs, Beatrix Potter, and Kenneth Grahame. Very few British animated producers could boast of the career that John Coates had, and it is doubtful that many in the future will be able to either.

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