2022 has marked Channel 4’s 40th Birthday. It also marks 40 years since Channel 4 first broadcast the film adaptation of the late Raymond Briggs’ timeless picture book – The Snowman. In a celebration of the iconic animation, Two Rivers has made a special: The Snowman: The show that changed Christmas.
this 1×60 documentary explores how the twenty-six-minute film has become so embedded in the nation’s heart at Christmas.
The film includes interviews with composer Howard Blake, we hear about the inspiration behind the film’s specially composed score; Hilary Audus (pictured) and Joanna Harrison who formed part of the female led animation team, they explain the creative pressures involved when making the film; the original C4 Commissioning editor in 1982: Paul Madden; and present-day commentators such as Children’s Laureate Joseph Coehlo, Puffin author and musician Tom Fletcher (of McFly), and Puffin illustrator and animator Dapo Adeola, who all talk about the films impact.
The special also corrects popular misconceptions about the show such as Aled Jones being the angelic little choirboy singing the iconic theme tune. It was actually a boy called Peter Auty who was never credited due to a last-minute rush to release the film. Aled Jones didn’t first sing those immortal four words until three years later, when the song was re-released thanks to a Snowman themed advertisement campaign by Toys R Us (and Auty’s voice had broken). It was then released as a single and reached number 5 in the charts in the UK and saw young Aled perform on Top of the Pops.
The documentary also looks at an error which was spotted at the screening of the final film, former chief executive of Channel 4 Jeremy Issacs cheekily complained that there was a glaring mistake in the animation – the animated TV in the film only had three buttons, how would The Snowman be able to watch Channel 4? The tv set was quickly changed to have four buttons.
The original animation also made deviations from the original picture book, Raymond never gave the boy a name but one of the animators decided to call him James – her boyfriend at the time (and now her husband). James doesn’t wear underpants (much to many viewers dismay) the animator was given a very specific duration for his scene and there just wasn’t time for pants AND trousers.
Little did the creators know that this short festive tale of friendship would become one of the most iconic emblems of Christmas in over 29 countries, spawning hit singles, a cameo from David Bowie and a host of snowy spin offs.
Howard Blake, composer said: “I had this tune in my head. I’d written it in 1970 on a beach in Cornwall, I took out manuscript paper. I wrote walking along Beach. I wrote the tune Walking in the Air, not the words, just the tune. And I thought, that’s marvellous.”
Hilary Audus, animator said: “Raymond was coming in [to see our work], we knew he had a dry sense of humour, could be quite caustic. He came in and he looked and he said, ‘these are terrific, I wish I could have done them’. It was wonderful. He was so sweet, so modest.”
Joanna Harrison, animator said: “I’ve got a little granddaughter now, and she’s obsessed with the snowman, obsessed with it. So, yes, we will be watching it all together as a family this year. And I feel prouder and prouder every time I watch it, because it still makes me cry. You know, it has that kind of emotional impact every time I watch it.”
Paul Madden, former Channel 4 commissioning editor said: “The film is about love but also about loss. Christmas is a happy time but it’s also a time to think of all those people who are absent and used to be there. I think that’s the appeal of The Snowman”
Tom Fletcher, musician and author said: “One of my earliest memories is actually my dad reading The Snowman to me. I didn’t realize then he was obviously just making up his own version, interpreting the pictures and he was making the book kind of come to life as well with the way he was moving the book. And it had such a huge influence on me, I think my relationship with stories in general, and even the way that I write books now. I’ve ended up writing interactive books that you need to kind of move around. It had a massive impact on me.”
The Snowman: The Film That Changed Christmas airs Saturday 17 December at 5pm on Channel 4
Narrated by Mandip Gill
Commissioning Editor: Anna Miralis
Executive Producer: Mirella Breda
Producer and Director: Robert Neill
Production Company: Two Rivers
Share this story