The title of this blog is borrowed from Julian Petley's 1986 essay of the same name, in which he argued that the British critical establishment's preoccupation with realism resulted in the neglect of non-realist films such as the Hitchcock thriller, the Hammer horror and the Gainsborough melodrama. Petley concluded his essay by expressing his hope for a time when such films "look less like isolated islands revealing themselves, and more like the peaks of a long submerged lost continent".
I'm here to chart another lost continent of British cinema: its animation. We all know about our animated TV series, from Bagpuss and The Wombles to Danger Mouse and Count Duckula. We also know Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run, not to mention Yellow Submarine and Watership Down. But how many of us know that in the era of theatrical shorts, when America created Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop, we came up with Bonzo, Sam Small and Tishy the X-Legged Horse? How about all of the adverts and TV graphics, some of which rank amongst the best commercial animation to be produced by this country, that have fallen into obscurity? And what about all of the independent animation that was never in the mainstream consciousness in the first place?
This blog is not meant to be a comprehensive, self-contained, one-stop guide to British animation; it's meant more to help fill the gaps. I'll be focusing mainly on bodies of work that lack coverage elsewhere online, while also directing readers to key points of interest - sites, books, anything - that'll help give anyone who's interested a better look at the history of animation in the UK. With that in mind, I'll round off this introduction by listing the sites that are good places to start:
If you want information on British animated TV series, feature films and TV specials - the more mainstream end of the spectrum, in other words - then Toonhound should be your first stop. The site also covers British comics and live action puppet shows such as Sooty and Thunderbirds.
That great benefactor of British independent animation, Channel 4, is regrettably tight-lipped when it comes to online coverage of its animation history; there is no single page on the channel's website dedicated to its notable contributions to animation. Nevertheless, there are several smaller sites that are well worth looking at, not least because they contain animated shorts available to watch online. One of them is the Animate Projects site, run by the Channel 4/Arts Council England-funded organisation of the same name: a vast amount of short films dating back to 1991 can be viewed there. The 4mations YouTube channel contains a selection of animated shorts both old and new, while the 4mations blog provides a good look at new work from rising talents.
Another good resource is the BFI's Screenonline website. Focusing on British films in general, the site has a range of articles pertaining to animation, covering everything from The Snowman to female directors. It has a number of video files, including complete short films, but these are only viewable from libraries and educational institutions in the UK.
Enjoy your reading, and I hope that this blog will also be of use to you.