cartoons and puppetry


cartoons and puppetry
   One of the great growth areas in television has been cartoons and puppetry. American television has clearly been influential, with Sesame Street and The Simpsons, especially as children and teenagers watch more television than adults and programme makers have been able to ‘follow the age curve’ by supplying new shows to growing audiences. Research from the Independent Television Commission in 1996 showed children watching ninety minutes more television per week than three years previously. Many of the ideas have originated in Britain: Jim Henson’s Muppet Show was based in London, Super Ted started on S4C, and Spitting Image and Nick Park’s Wallace and Grommit are entirely home grown.
   Puppetry developed from crude beginnings on television with Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, the Woodentops, Muffin the Mule and Harry Corbett’s Sooty Show. But none of these achieved the audience reached in the 1970s by Ivan Owen’s Basil Brush. Twelve million viewers made him a national figure. The Queen, Princess Anne and James Callaghan, the prime minister, were said to be fans. He appeared regularly with Derek Fowlds (Sir Humphrey’s sidekick in the situation comedy Yes, Minister) and with Sir Michael Hordern, breaking a convention that puppets and humans don’t mix, and is set to reappear on satellite television. One of the most successful puppet series of recent years has been Spitting Image. It is credited with destroying the political fortunes of the Liberal Party with its puppets of the two Davids, Owen and Steel, and its scathing representation of the monarchy has undoubtedly influenced as well as reflected popular opinion. Teletubbies would appear to be in the crude mode of Bill and Ben, but shrewd marketing has ensured its export and financial success.
   Since 1992, three cartoon channels primarily aimed at children have been launched: The Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. These can move markets: in 1996, British supermarket chains claimed that spinach sales in Britain doubled for two years in a row, due to a rerun of Popeye cartoons on the BBC. The Cartoon Network now commands 30 percent of all television watched by children aged between two and nine. The most striking cartoon series have come to television via animation. Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animations have given way to those of Nick Park, who won Oscars for his works The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave with the characters Wallace and Grommit. These cartoons are influenced by the (over)complex inventions of Heath Robinson.
   See also: television, children’s
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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