Roland Frederick Godfrey MBE (27 May 1921 – 21 February 2013) was an English animator whose career spanned more than fifty years. He is probably best known for the children's cartoon series Roobarb (1974-2006), Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk (1976-77) and Henry's Cat (1983-95) and for the Trio chocolate biscuit advertisements shown in the UK during the early 1980s. However, he also produced a BAFTA and Academy award-winning short film Great (1975), a tongue-in-cheek biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Further Academy Awards nominations received were for Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971), Dream Doll (1980), with Zlatko Grgic, and Small Talk (1994).
Life and career
Godfrey was born in West Maitland, Australia, but his British parents returned to England while he was still a baby. He attended school in Ilford, Essex, and Leyton Art School. at first working at Lever Brothers as a graphic artist during the 1930s. During World War II he served as a Royal Marine and was involved in the D-Day landings.
He was taken on by the Larkins Studio in 1950 where he worked with Peter Sachs before leaving to set up Biographic with Keith Learner and Jeff Hale. Other members joined them later, including Nancy Hanna and Vera Linnecar in 1957. He worked at Larkins Studio for a period with Peter Sachs before leaving to set up Biographic with Keith Learner and Jeff Hale. Other members joined them later, including Nancy Hanna and Vera Linnecar in 1957. The company, set up to meet the demand for commercials for the new ITV, was responsible for the first animated commercial to be shown on the network. While still working at Larkins Godfrey made Big Parade (1952) and Watch the Birdie (1954), a film inspired by a painting by Paul Klee, both were filmed in the basement of his flat.
He subsequently made Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961) which satirises animation and commercial advertising. The use of different animated forms, materials and techniques makes it one of his most exciting films to watch. The use of cutout animation for the narrator pre-dates Terry Gilliam's use of the technique, and the film is often mis-credited as being produced by Gilliam. Michael Bentine provided the narration for the film and worked with Godfrey on a number of films and commercials.
Godfrey's animated work during the later 1950s and 1960s continued to appear in TV commercials, but in 1964 he started his own company Bob Godfrey's Movie Emporium to develop his own creative projects including the children's cartoons. He was also responsible for a number of slightly risqué cartoons satirising British sexual habits, such as Henry 9 To 5, which was also awarded a BAFTA in 1971. He also animated the cartoon Alf, Bill and Fred.
As well as animation he produced live action commercials and short films. A number of them starred the artist Bruce Lacey who appeared in Battle of New Orleans, The Hanging Tree. His interest in live action included a number of appearances in self-directed commercials and minor film roles including The Beatles' film Help! (1965) and Casino Royale (1967). In 1965 he animated four episodes of The Beatles, an animated television series featuring the pop band, which had been sub-contracted out to different studios. Godfrey also worked as an uncredited adviser on Yellow Submarine (1968).
Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971) was selected by Stanley Kubrick for screening with the UK release of his film A Clockwork Orange. Godfrey noted "Everyone working in films knew Kubrick only ever phoned you to give you a bollocking, so when I realised he was calling to do me a favour I nearly dropped the phone."
In 1974 he presented Do-It Yourself Film Animation Show on BBC1 which encouraged children to do animation; each episode had established animators talking about their work and different animation techniques. Guests included Richard Williams and Terry Gilliam. The series has subsequently been acknowledged by a new generation of animators, including Nick Park, as a significant influence on them making animated films. With both Roobarb (1974), Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk (1976), Richard Briers was the voice-over artist.
He was the director of the 1975 short film Great, a humorous look at the life and works of the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The film combined animation with some live action sequences. Richard Briers provided the voice of Brunel. In 1976 Great became the first British film to win the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
In the Thames Television documentary The Thief Who Never Gave Up, broadcast in the late 1980s, animator Richard Williams credits Godfrey with giving him his start in the business, "Bob Godfrey helped me...I worked in the basement and would do work in kind, and he would let me use the camera...[it was] a barter system".
1980s and after
Henry's Cat, created by Stan Hayward and animated and narrated by Bob Godfrey, was first screened on 12 September 1983.
Bob Godfrey was awarded an MBE in 1986 and received the newly established Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bradford Animation Festival on 18 November 2007, with the festival including a retrospective of his films. Later films including social, political satires based on the work on Steve Bell which included Beaks to the Grindstone and A Journalist's Tale. He worked with Bell again on the series Margaret Thatcher: Where I am Now? He appeared on a number of programs and documentaries on animation over the years, including the BBC 2 documentary The Craftsmen and the documentary series Animation Nation, shown on BBC Four in 2005. He also taught animation at West Surrey School of Art and Design.
Bob Godfrey had a long association with Royal College of Art. In 1985, under his direction and Dick Taylor, Animation became a separate course with the first students graduating in 1987. Godfrey was made a Senior Fellow in 1989. He told the Guardian in 2001: "I teach the basics of animation, then it's up to the individual. Great illustrators don't always make great animators. I've known people who couldn't draw at all who were great animators. You can always spot the ones with real talent. They don't listen to you."
- Bob Godfrey, Roobarb animator, dies aged 91, BBC News, 22 February 2013
- Paul Wells "Bob Godfrey (1912-2013", BFI screenonline citing the Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors
- Jez Stewart "Bob Godfrey (1921-2013)", BFI Film Forever, 22 February 2013
- Nick Smurthwaite "One man and his wobbly dog", The Guardian, 20 April 2001
- Stan Hayward Obituary: Bob Godfrey, The Guardian, 22 February 2013
- Keith Learner "Bob Godfrey was a brilliant cartoonist, delightfully daft and a joy to work with", The Guardian, 22 February 2013
- Smurthwaite, Nick (20 April 2001). "One man and his wobbly dog". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- "Britain's first Oscar-winning animator Bob Godfrey dies at 91". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-02-28.
- The Thief Who Never Gave Up
- "Bob Godfrey dead, age 91". blog.bcdb.com, 4 May 2011
- Hayward, Stan (22 February 2013). "Bob Godfrey obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- Bob Godfrey at Internet Movie Database
- Bob Godfrey Films Website of The Bob Godfrey Collection
- Bob Godfrey Films at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Animation Research Centre archive of Bob Godfrey's films and artwork
- Remembering Bob Godfrey at FLIP Animation Magazine Retrieved February 2013