British TV Animation – What Happened? (Part Two)

Why not check out yesterday’s Part One if you haven’t already?

The current age of British animation

After the depressingly corporate demise of the golden age, the UK animation industry veered away heavily from series for adults. Animation studios today tend to focus more on adverts and children’s series when it comes to TV, but I was happy to find that even in a commercial setting, British animators continue to produce beautiful work.

The Oscar-winning studio Passion Pictures is responsible for numerous TV adverts, showcasing a variety of art-styles and techniques. Their Christmas adverts are worth a recommendation, but then I don’t imagine many people being as keen as I was to watch animated McDonalds Christmas ads in their spare time. Channel 4 reserves a place for original animation in their idents. These were recently given an overhaul in a 2018 rebranding, lead by 4Creative. E4’s idents in particular are renowned for their unusual and striking animation.

In terms of animated series, by the 2010s, this was effectively a dead genre in the UK. Any attempts to revive it have been soulless reanimations of successful American properties. 2012’s Full English is a shallow Family Guy imitation with an ugly art style and a juvenile sense of humour. It was cancelled before the last episode of the first series was even aired over OFCOM concerns. 2014’s Warren United was a similar attempt at an animated sitcom, this time trying to appeal to the British football crowd. The Guardian criticised its poor writing and “crude” animation, and was similarly cancelled after one series.

Family Guy

The only other example of an adult-centric British animated series I could find was The Bruvs. Originally starting as a YouTube series, it was picked by up by Dave in 2018. Not much has been written on The Bruvs, and to be quite honest, I’m not surprised. It seems to be cut from the same cloth of vulgarity as Full English, and the trailer left a lot to be desired. It’s one thing to rip something off, but ripping something off badly is another thing altogether. Why would anyone want to watch the ugly bootleg of Family Guy over the original?

The future

Britain suddenly producing a range of animated series in the vein of the Channel 4 Kitson-era is definitely unlikely, but not a completely hopeless idea. Traditional television is currently under threat as streaming services begin to provide some serious competition. The future is unclear and a British animated series finding an audience on one of these platforms doesn’t seem too farfetched, especially when considering how well series like Rick and Morty have performed in the UK.

We may have had our first taste of this, as iconic satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, has been picked up by BritBox for two brand-new series after a twenty-four-year hiatus. BritBox, the new UK-based streaming service, looks to be positioning itself as a curator for creative and innovative new programming. Kevin Lygo, creative chief of BritBox originals, stated:

We are thrilled that BritBox can provide the opportunity for British creativity to truly run wild, and we are looking forward to enticing new subscribers with the new series and service.”

Spitting Image

In an entry to the Creative Industries journal in 2011, Clare Kitson said the BBC was her “best hope for the future of animation on British television”, arguing that its publicly funded, public service model of broadcasting was animations’ best bet in the UK. BritBox as a service most closely resembles this model, and with more networks than just the BBC involved, now is perhaps a better time than ever to have another go at an original adult animated series.

We have the resources, as seen in talented studios like Passion Pictures; we have the demand, as seen in Rick and Morty’s UK success; now, finally, we have the perfect platform to release such a series on, as seen in BritBox. Excuses are running out. Now we just need someone with a unique voice, and an amazing pitch.

Further reading

If you want to learn more about the history of UK animation, I’d highly recommend the reading some of Clare Kitson’s work. Her book, “British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor”, can be found on Amazon.

If you want more information on the series I discussed in this article, please take a look at Blue Artisan on YouTube. He has an excellent three-part documentary series looking at a wide variety of shows, the majority of which I haven’t touched on. I’d like to personally thank him for helping me find the information I needed to write this article – check out his channel trailer below.

Words by Joe Cromarty

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