|Activity||Bob Godfrey was born in Horse Shoe Bend, West Maitland, Australia in 1921 (27th May as stated in a letter in the archive), but moved to England shortly after with his British parents. He grew up in the East End of London and was educated in Ilford, Leyton Art School. |
Godfrey's career began in the 1930s when he started working for Lever Brothers as a graphic artist on Animaland, a Disney-styled series. However, he was first introduced to animation as a background artist while working for W.M Larkins Studio in 1950. Shortly after starting at W.M Larkins, Godfrey and others set up the Grasshoppers group, a semi-professional distribution company, which gave Godfrey the chance to direct, write and animate his first animated cartoon, The Big Parade (1952). Also, whilst working at the Larkin Studio but in his spare time, he made Watch the Birdie (1954) with Keith Learner.
It was in this year that Godfrey and Keith Learner, along with Jeff Hale (plus Nancy Hanna and Vera Linnecar later on) formed Biographic Films - a production company that thrived on producing television, advertising and public relations works from 1954 to 1965. Because Biographic thrived, this gave Bob the opportunity to make his own personal films, starting with Polygamous Polonius (1959), a tale of a one-sided courtship. Other notable productions during this period were Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961) and commercials for 'Don't Forget The TV Times' and 'Esso Blue'. Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit is a humorous 'how to' film documenting the process, heartache and sheer madness of producing a cartoon.
The last two films Godfrey he made at Biographic Films were The Rise and Fall of Emily Sprod (1964) - a surreal tale of a woman who pursues her creator-and Alf, Bill & Fred (1964), about the meaning of happiness between three friends: a man, dog and duckling. By this point in time, Bob Godfrey's films could be clearly identified by their unique and unconventional mix of techniques, which were used to produce fast-paced, sometimes satirical, energetic films.
Godfrey went solo in 1965, forming Bob Godfrey's Movie Emporium. This title was later shortened to Bob Godfrey Films.
Godfrey has always used various techniques in the making of his films. When he started making short films, he used the traditional cel drawn animation method. However, it was rare for an entire Godfrey film to be made this way, possibly because of the expense that it incurred. Many of Godfrey's films mix this traditional technique with cut out drawings, magazine and newspaper images, and even live action film clips. His most commonly used technique was felt markers on white animation paper. The characters would be drawn with a thick black outline and coloured with various brightly coloured markers, which gave each image a flat textured look. This technique was used in Godfrey's series work, and many of his animatics.
Bob Godfrey worked extensively with scriptwriter Stan Hayward (who, coincidentally, was also born in Australia and moved to Britain). The films they worked on included Polygamous Polonius, Alf, Bill & Fred, Henry 9 'til 5, Karma Sutra Rides Again, Dream Doll, Instant Sex, and Bio-Woman. Hayward also collaborated with Halas and Batchelor. In the 1960's and 1970's Bob Godfrey Films became a focal point for new talent, including a young Terry Gilliam, who was turned away on the grounds that he was too good!
Much of Godfrey's work has been on what it means to be 'British', but he has also been responsible for a number of children's cartoon characters, which have been as popular in the US as they have in Britain. Possibly Godfrey's most well known and enduring work was the Roobarb and Custard series (1975), which was drawn and coloured using felt tip pens, and narrated by Richard Briers. Roobarb was the wobbly green dog who always got himself into a number of surreal situations. Noah and Nelly in Skylark (1977) was cel animated, made to appear wobbly around the edges and contained more detail and background than Roobarb. The Skylark was a vessel in which the two main characters Noah and Nelly lived with a menagerie of two-headed animals: each head took great delight in disagreeing with the other. Almost a decade after Roobarb and Custard, Godfrey produced yet another successful and long running series (five seasons altogether) called Henry's Cat (1980s-early 1990s). It combined cel and felt pen techniques and has a less wobbly aesthetic than Roobarb. Each episode was written by Stan Hayward and narrated by Godfrey, and ended with a different philosophical thought.
In 1990, Godfrey teamed up with cartoonist Gray Jollife to bring 'Wicked Willie' into animated life. The Wicked Willie series is, quite simply, about a man and his 'best friend'...his willy. Next Godfrey introduced us to The Bunbury Tails/Tales, a sporting group of bunny heroes who enjoy nothing more than a game of sport - that is, when they are not fighting the evil villains the Dogfather, Anna Conda and the Krayhound Brothers. This series contained music by a number of high profile contemporary musicians, including The Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Elton John. In 1996 Godfrey embarked on the cartoon series Kevin. It is based on a children's book by Danny Postgate about a boy who innocently stumbles into dangerous situations. Bob's latest series (to date) was a number of twenty-second short films for MTV, called The Many Deaths of Norman Spittal. Based on the drawings of Jeremy Banx, the episodes show the various fatal events that happen to the unlucky Norman Spittal.
Apart from the short films and series' that characterised Bob Godfrey Films, they also produced many commercials, which helped keep the studio financially stable. It was 1955 when commercial television was born, and as far as competition went, there was very little. In the year that followed the birth of commercial television, the number of studios dramatically rose from six to around three hundred. Biographic Films made hundreds of television commercials, with Godfrey himself appearing in many for Courage Beer. Some of the many commercials that Godfrey worked on include Bassett's Jelly Babies, Britvic, Clearasil, Kit Kat, Nestles 'Animal Bar', Penguin Books, Trio, and Walls 'Feast'.
Aside from the many awards Bob Godfrey has won for his films, he was also awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) in June 1986, the ASIFA Prize (1990), the Zagreb Festival's Life Achievement Award (1992) and an Honorary Doctorate (1998).
Bob Godfrey was the first British Oscar winning animator, with Great, a humorous look at the life and times of British Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The British Film Institute's [BFI] biography of Bob Godfrey is available here http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2013-02-22/henrys-cat-and-roobarb-and-custard-creator-bob-godfrey-dies-aged-91