Baa raa black sheep

frank gallagher

A pretty action-packed day by any standards. Just on my way home from the British Animation Awards at the National Film Theatre where we launched Channel 4’s new broadband animation channel – 4mations – in collaboration with Aardman and Lupus Films. What I liked most about the awards was that each award was a unique framed image made by an animation professional (including David Shrigley [Blur - Good Song, Hallam Foe titles], Darren Walsh [Angry Kid, Beck - Four Steps, Sony Bravia Play-Doh/rabbits] and Andy Martin [E4 Music, Kerrang! TV IDs] – you can see them all on the 2008 Prizes link on http://www.britishanimationawards.com) – unique images on the subject of sheep – BAA, baa, sheep, geddit? The whole thing was a celebration of the incredible talent across the UK in this tight-knit, ultimately for-love-not-money industry (not that it doesn’t make money but that’s not what drives its creatives). Happily, Shaun the Sheep picked up a couple of …sheep.

The wolves in sheeps clothing on this particular evening included Richard Morrison for the Sweeney Todd movie titles (produced by that blast from my past, Dominic Buttimore of Th1ng, convener of the annual Elvis birthday tribute at which an 8mm version of Blue Hawaii gets its yearly airing); Osbert Parker for Yours Truly, a thrillingly inventive film noirish animation made under the Animate scheme funded by Channel 4 and the Arts Council), one of three Channel 4 successes on the night; and Simon Tofield for the hilariously well observed feline dynamics captured in Cat Man Do – my favourite of the night.

Behind me in the queue going in was the venerable John Coates, creator of The Snowman and producer of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film. One of the nominees was an IrnBru ad parodying The Snowman [Phenomenal Xmas by Robin Shaw/Sherbet], in which the high-pitched kid gets dropped out of the sky by the soaring snowman who nicks his tin. Rightly enough, John was flattered by the homage. The author of the source book, Raymond Briggs, was altogether less sanguine last autumn about this derivative. The Snowman was one of the very first commissions by Channel 4, a quarter of a century ago, which leads us neatly into the other action of the day…

The other end of the day saw the launch of Next on 4 – the blueprint for the next phase of Channel 4 as it moves into its second quarter century. There were a couple of moments of magic that lifted the whole event from a corporate function to an inspiring vision for public service broadcasting.

The first was a video clip. Times are tough. Competition is fierce. The media industries are up in the air. The public service broadcasting model is falling behind the times. The regulator’s breathing down your neck. You’ve been known to upset the powers that be. The advertising revenue is disappearing into the maw of US corporates. The halcyon days of Charlotte Street, The Comic Strip and Max Headroom are a dim&distant memory. The enemy’s at the gate. The wolves are at the door. What do you do? Get Nick Broomfield to make a spoof documentary about the purposes of Channel 4 culminating in a slurred elucidation by none other than Frank Gallagher, just in the Nick of time before the Grolsched-out mainstay of Shameless passes out. “The point of Channel 4, Nicholush, is to maintain the salience of its remit in the new digital age.” Are you people taking this seriously? We are – because only Channel 4 would turn it to comedy (with substance). The medium is very much the message.

The second was a Churchillian moment from the Chairman, Luke Johnson. After struggling a bit during the opening address with the awkwardness that is those autocue systems with the smoked grey glass plates on bendy stalks , to round off the Q&A (hosted in the style we love him for by Jon Snow) Luke responded to the final question by reminding us all that Next on 4, this event, the debate around Channel 4 as Ofcom reviews our public service broadcasting, is all about the value of Channel 4 to UK society and the values and public purposes which drive it. Think Henry V. Think an authentic moment when the passion for an idea breaks through a breach in corporate decorum. Think raw not baa.

churchillfrank gallagher

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