Friday, 2 April 2010

Animated Conversations

In the latter half of the seventies the BBC commissioned Animated Conversations, a series of animated shorts by various directors that used real-life conversations as dialogue. Today, the series is best remembered for inspiring a string of similar projects made by Aardman Animations for Channel 4, the best-known being Creature Comforts.

I've seen four of the shorts in the series: the pilot, Bill Mather's Audition, which was repeated on BBC4 in 2005 to tie in with the Animation Nation series and can be viewed on Bill Mather's website; Hangovers, another short by Mather; and the two films by Aardman founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton, Confessions of a Foyer Girl and Down and Out, which are both available on the Aardman Classics DVD. Looking for information on the rest of the series I could find only a few disparate sources; Irene Kotlarz's 1999 article The History of Channel 4 and The Future of British Animation gives an account of the series' genesis and also says that there was a total of five films in the series plus the pilot:
This idea of animating to soundtracks recorded in real live situations had its genesis in a trip [Colin] Thomas had taken with his next-door neighbour Bill Mather, of the BBC graphics department, to the 1968 Cambridge Animation Festival. There they were impressed by John and Faith Hubley's Windy Day, which has a sound-track of their children playing. Mather and Thomas made a couple of animations together (one a Magic Roundabout spoof, a political allegory about a chess game). They decided to develop the documentary sound idea, given that BBC Bristol had a strong documentary tradition. Mather directed a pilot in 1975, Audition, with a soundtrack of his eight-year-old son auditioning for a church choir in Bristol. The film was shown by the BBC on Christmas Day, and again in the holiday season the following year. Thomas was able to secure budgets for a further five films, of which Mather made one, the hilarious Hangover [sic], recorded in a pub. The budgets were tiny, but Animated Conversations and the earlier BBC films were, I believe, the first ever independent animation aimed at adult audiences commissioned by a British broadcaster. They were also the direct ancestors of Creature Comforts.
The most comprehensive guide to the series online that I've found is on a German site, Künstlerfilm-Datenbank:
Series of four films produced by different animators: ALBION features a conversation between two hippies in a home for the elderly; ARCHI-TYPE shows an architect and a property developer talking in an architect's office; DOWN AND OUT combines three-dimensional model animation and a soundtrack recorded in a Salvation Army hostel; FILLING TIME highlights the conversation between a dentist and a patient.
This list leaves out Audition, Confessions of a Foyer Girl and Hangovers - added together the total number of films is seven, not six. Did any more slip through the cracks?

The site lists the series' directors as Derek Hayes, Henry Lutman, David Sproxton, Peter Lord and Andy Walker, but doesn't connect any of the names to the individual films. Poking around a bit, Britfilms tells us that Derek Hayes directed Albion, while IMDB (buried under "additional details") says that Andy Walker directed Filling Time. I contacted Henry Lutman and he confirmed that Archi-Type was his contribution to the series.

A while back I posted about Long Drawn-Out Trip, another adult animation commissioned by the BBC in the seventies. Were there any more? Channel 4's contributions to adult animation from the eighties onwards are well-documented; the fact that the BBC was taking tentative steps in a similar direction beforehand seems to have been largely overlooked.


Confessions of a Foyer Girl

Down and Out


1 comment:

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