One of the most respected figures in the world of film animation, John Coates died while updating his most famous production, The Snowman, which is shown on television every Christmas.
Originally a children’s book, published by Raymond Briggs in 1978, The Snowman has also been made into a stage show, which Sadler’s Wells presents every Christmas at the Peacock Theatre in the West End. The theme tune of both the film and the show, I’m Walking in the Air, gave Aled Jones his biggest hit, climbing to No 5 in the charts in 1985.
Briggs’ book is the story of a boy who discovers his snowman has come to life. Through snowy landscapes, they travel together to meet other snowmen and even Santa Claus himself.
After reading the book, Coates formed a partnership with Briggs, and in 1981 persuaded the newly founded Channel 4 to make it one of its first films. It was an astounding success.
Before The Snowman, Coates had worked on the Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine (1968). Later on, he produced The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (1992-95), a television series based on the work of Beatrix Potter. There was also The Wind in the Willows (1995), an adaptation of the children’s classic book by Kenneth Grahame, with Alan Bennett providing the voice of Mole, Michael Palin portraying Rat and Michael Gambon as Badger.
The new version of The Snowman, which Channel 4 will show this Christmas, will have new elements – an extra character, a snow dog who flies with the snowman and a new boy over international landmarks, including the London Eye. Coates had been working on it three days a week, but eventually became too ill to travel into London. The co-producer, Camilla Deakin, showed him a shorter version of the update, edited for a television trade fair, and he declared himself to be very happy with it.
John Coates, who was born on November 7, 1927, died at his home in Kent on September 16, aged 84.
Richard Anthony Baker