Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Wind in the Willows - Cosgrove Hall

Over the years, Kenneth Grahame's classic story of The Wind in the Willows has been adapted many, many, many times - in Theatre, on Radio, in Animation and live-action. Even a few "sequels", including some by William Horwood, were written in the same familiar style, with one even brought to the small screen.

Really, once Disney pretty much set the ball rolling with their 1949 adaptation, that was it: a timeless classic telling the stories of Mole, Ratty, Badger and pompous Mr. Toad have been told and re-told by just about everybody, British and American alike. Terry Jones, Rankin/Bass, the BBC...and now Ray Griggs is next in line to recreate the stories - not only with a darker view of the book but with hopes that Ricky Gervais would be up voicing Mole...

Oh. Joy. How. can. I. con-tain. my. ex-cite-ment. < / sarcasm>

Honestly, of all the adaptations I've seen so far in this life, sequels and prequels included, while they may each have their own appealing charm, none of them - and I mean none of them - can compare with Cosgrove Hall's vision...which is, by and far, the strongest of the lot.
Next to a memorable cast consisting of David Jason, Richard Pearson, Peter Sallis, Ian Carmichael, and Sir Michael Hordern among others, it also boasted of some of the studio's most beautiful stop-motion animation in its history.

Cosgrove Hall (of Danger Mouse and Count Duckula fame) first adapted the book as a film in 1983, which was met with outstanding ovation for its tranquil theme, beautiful soundtrack and their own personal touches to the original text. As soon as they had bagged a BAFTA award and an international Emmy award, the studio then created the TV Series.

And unlike some Movie-to-TV creations these days, this was just as faithful to Grahame's style and characters as William Horwood's own work, right down to the introductions to each episode describing the changing of the seasons.

Picking up where the film left off, the first series (with Rosemary Anne Sisson co-writing) also made use of the three sole chapters that were omitted from the film - The Further Adventures of Toad, Wayfarers All and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. And with Brian Trueman handing the writing from Series 2 onwards, it ran for Five Seasons, ranking up 52 episodes between 1983 - 1990, and was granted another TV Special, A Tale of Two Toads.

The writing especially is firmly on par with the animation and voice acting. The continuity Brian Trueman and Rosemary built up throughout is outstanding, with new characters like Auberon, Mole's Cousin, making their mark in the series, and constant references from previous episodes that also come into play for future ones to follow - often as the Chekhov's Gun for a particular storyline or three.

In fact, the storyline of Series 4 throughout, which sees the Riverbankers and Wild Wooders in threat of a foreboding railway company, is exactly the sort of thing that grabs the viewer's attention and urges them to "stay tuned for the next episode". It makes such shows far more interesting to watch, with the sort of careful script writing that makes you believe that these characters, though set in the 1900's, were actually real. The believability in their personalities and the adventures they've had has, for this series at least, much more appeal and curiosity than stand-alone episodes that have little to no connection with the original books they were "based" from...or in some cases, their own continuity created by some TV Executive.

The series also showed a great many sides with Brian in the writer's chair: Plentiful comedy from Toad's stupidity and general wordplay, sentimentality without being too soppy, and at times drama, before the Soccer Moms loomed their interfering heads. Drama really made this series stand out at the time it was made, clearly evident that Cosgrove Hall weren't afraid to push the envelope now and again - which has seen the Chief Weasel caught in a hunter's trap, the Wild Wood and Toad Hall set fire respectively and poor Mole suffering from mushroom poisoning.

However, comedy has always been a major part of the show's charm, in relation to the original book, which has seen Toad play out a number of lead episodes as he goes from one craze to another. In fact, the entire Fifth and last Season, "Oh, Mr. Toad!" became a spin-off focusing on Toad's antics, even though it still maintained the strong continuity from the previous seasons. Despite this, the original opening titles were replaced with the classic theme tune in later broadcasts (and DVD releases) to avoid possible confusion.

In short, if anyone asks what's my favourite version of The Wind in the Willows, there can only be one clear winner as I look now to the complete DVD box set sitting proudly on my shelf above me. And I never tire of rewatching the same episodes over and over, knowing full well that we may never see the likes of such a series least outside of another Hollywood money-maker pipeline.

Oh, and to finish up - Rik Mayall, Charles Nelson Reilly, Matt all did your best, but David Jason's performance of Toad still gets the biggest laughs from me ;-)

Series 1 Playlist - for viewer's interest!


  1. I remember the movie but don't believe I've seen the TV series at all myself, have to try it out.

    1. Highly, highly recommend it. The Series is every bit as faithful and fantastic as the film itself!

    2. I was just watching the episodes on YouTube and I think it has came back a little for me. I recall seeing the TV show, possibly airing on The Disney Channel back in the mid 80's. I wish though the box set was available domestically over here, apparently a company that did pick up the series previously only put out the first two seasons plus the two specials on DVD. At this point simply getting it out on a streaming site would be nice enough for us if we want to see it legitimately.

  2. Very nice post. I agree with you completely, this series can't be topped as far as Wind in the Willows adaptations go. Everything about it worked perfectly. There was so much charm in the models, animation and sets.

    Unfortunately here in North America we only got the two movies and the first two series on DVD, which is a shame as I particularly remember liking the ongoing Series 4 storyline as a kid.

  3. Cosgrove Hall were the standard bearers for excellent children's animation and often produced works of great wit and beauty. For me, their masterpiece is The Wind In The Willows but I also have immense respect for The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship, their award-winning adaption of a Russian folk tale. Sad that the company ended up so reduced after its acquisition by ITV and very sad indeed that Mark Hall has passed away. Never the less, they have left an amazing body of work to be enjoyed by generations.

  4. Cosgrove Hall Wind in the Willows may be the best television program ever devised for children. The voices matched the characters perfectly. Before Wallace, there was Ratty.
    And the writers jealously guarded the characters, never swerving into words or actions that Kenneth Grahame would find objectionable.

  5. I LOVE the T.V. series!!! So much so that I started a Facebook page...