How Danger Mouse became king of the TV ratings

11.10.2013 15:27

Voiced by Only Fools And Horses star
David Jason, Danger Mouse was the
flagship of Cosgrove Hall Films, based in
a quirky studio in the Manchester suburb
of Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
Vibrant, surreal and deliciously silly, an
astonishing 21 million viewers tuned in
to watch it in 1983, a record for a
children's programme which has yet to
be beaten.
"I used to race home from school to
watch it and tape it," remembers
comedian Natalie Haynes. "Then I'd
watch the tape over and over again.
"For other people, there was Top of The
Pops, for me there was Danger Mouse. If
I had kids, I'd be scared to try and
introduce them to Danger Mouse,
because what if they didn't like it? I
could put up with them being noisy and
making a mess, but if they didn't like
Danger Mouse, I'd hate them."
Danger Mouse - who was joined by
bumbling sidekick Penfold, voiced by
comic actor Terry Scott, as he took on
the evil Baron Silas Greenback - has been
shown in more than 80 countries.
A curiously British cartoon, it parodied
James Bond and was influenced by
Monty Python's anarchic humour.
The titular hero literally lived down the
street from Sherlock Holmes - his lair
was underneath a post box next to 221b
Baker Street.
The show's co-creators Brian Cosgrove
and Mark Hall say the show was
modelled on Patrick McGoohan's 1960s
TV show Danger Man.
In 2006, Hall told the BBC why he
thought Danger Mouse was so
successful: "The adults watched because
of that kind of anarchy. The kids
watched it because they just loved the
stories and the absolutely stupid gags."
Haynes agrees: "Danger Mouse is based
on that purely British humour, like
Monty Python, that so lacks any of that
London-based cosmopolitan pomposity.
"The people that made it just set out to
make kids laugh. It's just the joyous,
innocence of the jokes that I love.
"Things like the Scottish character called
Mac the Fork, who's a snake with a
forked tongue and who has a brother
called Mac the Spoon, and then there's
another character called 'Dudley Poison',
why wouldn't you enjoy them?"
Danger Mouse was a staple part of ITV's
after-school schedule until 1992
As for the permanently-terrified Penfold,
Cosgrove says: "Mark said to me, 'You
know what you've done, don't you?
You've drawn your brother'. And bless
him he was right. It was pretty close.
"My brother always wore a suit and he
was bald and he wore heavy-rimmed
glasses. He worked at the Sunday Express
in Manchester and they all started calling
him Penfold," chuckles the animator.
Hollywood influence
Danger Mouse was the first international
hit for Cosgrove Hall, whose animated
series also included Count Duckula;
Jamie and the Magic Torch; The Wind in
the Willows and Cockleshell Bay.
The animation studio was a breeding
ground for some of Britain's best
animators, says Professor Paul Wells,
director of the animation academy at
Loughborough University,
"One of the most important things about
Cosgrove Hall is that they really
established Manchester as an important
centre for British animation production
and of course they spawned other
companies like Mackinnon & Saunders
(The Corpse Bride) and really helped
with the careers of internationally
renowned animators like Barry Purves."
Purves, who later worked at Aardman
Animations, and then on Peter Jackson's
King Kong movie, says: "From animators
I know at Pixar and Disney... many of
them have a great fondness, particularly
for Danger Mouse, and they very much
enjoy its Monty Python, Goodie-esque
type silly, surreal British sense of humour
"I know they have it in the back of their
minds when they are thinking of their
own gags."
He also recalls an incident when the
Israeli embassy complained about
another Cosgrove Hall series, Chorlton
and the Wheelies.
Brian Trueman, who wrote the script,
explains: "We were accused of anti-
Semitism because (the witch) Fenella
Fellorick had a German talking spell
"On the front of the spell book it should
have the magic symbol of witchcraft, the
pentagram. But the guy who was making
the model found that doing two triangles
overlaid on one another was a lot easier
to make so he slapped the Star of David
on the front of it."
He giggles as he remembers: "That
brought claims that it was an anti-
Semitic show. I think they were
reassured that it was absolutely nothing
of the kind."
Cosgrove (left), Hall and Jason collected
numerous Baftas for their animation series
Cosgrove Hall's back catalogue also
includes Roald Dahl's The BFG; Engie
Benjy; and Kenny Everett's animated
space adventure Captain Kremmen; as
well as several animated episodes of
Doctor Who.
But Danger Mouse remains its most
enduring character.
Sir David Jason created his voice,
imbuing the masked rodent with a high-
handed manner that turned the most
innocent of phrases - "Good grief!" - into
an instant catchphrase.
He also played the show's narrator, a
character in his own right who became
increasingly exasperated with having to
say "meanwhile" as he linked the show's
Sir David, now 73, says: "I was first
attracted to Danger Mouse by the
standard of character animation - I feel
very fortunate to have been a part of the
creative process of these two fantastic
"For their adaptation of The Wind in the
Willows, I was originally cast as Rat but I
really felt that I wanted to offer them a
different take on Toad.
"As manipulative as he was, I always felt
that Toad must have a softer side in
order to attract such nice friends and so
I tried to make him more of a loveable
rogue. Brian and Mark listened to my
interpretation and thankfully agreed that
I should play Toad instead.
"We always had such a successful
working relationship coupled with such
fun which we hope came through in the
various animations we made together."
Sir David is not the only famous alumnus
of the studio - Bernard Sumner of Joy
Division and New Order worked there
from 1976 to 1979; while The Stone
Roses guitarist, John Squire, made
models for The Wind In The Willows.
The company ran into trouble in 1991
when its parent company Thames
Television lost its London ITV franchise
and was forced to sell it off.
Anglia TV bought Cosgrove Hall but it
retained only a handful of staff, and
began to shift its emphasis.
Chris Bowman, a former executive
producer, says they began to create
animation for other TV productions, like
Postman Pat; Fifi and the Flowertots; and
Roary the Racing Car, and saw "a second
golden age".
Wind In The Willows was one of Cosgrove
Hall's biggest successes
They were also entrusted by the BBC to
make updated versions of Noddy, Andy
Pandy and Bill and Ben.
Professor Wells says: "They weren't
frightened of taking what you might call
iconic children's entertainment vehicles
like Bill and Ben and remaking them."
The company also created the BBC's first
cartoon webcast and made the animated
ushers who greeted visitors to the
Millennium Dome exhibition in London.
In 2008, ITV decided to pull the plug on
Cosgrove Hall and sell off its studios.
Professor Wells says the company was a
bit slow to react to the multi-channel
world and the growth in imports of US
cartoons like Ren and Stimpy.
Those "were a little more excessive, a
little more adult, looking at a teenage
crossover market, and Cosgrove Hall
didn't react efficiently enough."
When the old Cosgrove Hall studios in
Chorlton closed in 2010 dozens of
former workers, including Purves,
turned up to say goodbye.
Hall died of cancer, in 2011, aged 74.
By then the studios had been
demolished, to make way for retirement
But it appears the story is not quite over.
Last month, it was announced that
Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment
was moving into a business park in
Didsbury, Manchester, and taking on 40
animators and graphic designers, with
plans for a further 70 jobs.