Bob Godfrey - Writer

Animator. Nationality: British. Born: West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia, 1921; emigrated with his parents to the United Kingdom, 1927. Career: 1949—background artist, Larkins animation studio; then member of Grasshopper Group; 1954—cofounder, Biographic Cartoon Films for producing short animated films and advertisements; 1964—formed Bob Godfrey Films; television work includes series The Do-It-Yourself Film Animation Show (as writer and narrator), 1974, Roobarb , 1974, Noah and Nelly in . . . SkylArk , 1976, and Henry's Cat , 1983–86. Awards: Academy Award for Great , 1975; MBE, 1986; Senior Fellw, Royal College of Art, 1989.

Films as Director (Animation):


The Big Parade (co); Formation (co)


Watch the Birdie (co)


Polygamous Polonius


The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit (co)


A Productivity Primer


The Rise and Fall of Emily Sprod (+ ro); Alf, Bill, and Fred


Rope Trick ; What Ever Happened to Uncle Fred? ; The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck ( Dance of the Vampires ) (Polanski) (animation sequence)


Two Off the Cuff (co, + voice)


Colloids (Jessop) (animation sequences)


Henry 9 'til 5 (+ voice); The Electron's Tale (co); Love and Marriage ( Sex, Love and Marriage ) (Gould) (animation sequences)


Kama Sutra Rides Again (+ voice); The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (Stark) (animation sequences)


It's a 2' 6" above the Ground World ( The Love Ban ) (Thomas) (animation sequences)


Is This a Record? (Turpin) (animation sequences)




The Key


Dear Margery Boobs (+ voice)


Marx for Beginners (co)


Dream Doll (co); Instant Sex


Bio Woman


Polygamous Polonius Revisited ; Beaks to the Grindstone ; A Journalist's Tale


Revolution—La Belle France


Wicked Willie


Happy Birthday Switzerland


What a Hog!


Small Talk


1066 and All That ; Know Your Europeans


Kevin Saves the World (+ production designer); Know Your Europeans: The United Kingdom

Films as Director (Live-Action):


The Battle of New Orleans (+ ro)


That Noise ; What Kind of Fool Am I?


Plain Man's Guide to Advertising (+ voice)


Morse Code Melody


One Man Band ; L'Art pour l'art (+ ro)



Films as Actor:


Bride and Groom (Daborn and Potterton)


Just Like a Woman (Fuest)


The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (McGrath)


Today Mexico, Tomorrow . . . the World (Shillingford)


I'm Not Feeling Myself Tonight (McGrath)


Sensations (Shillingford and Grant)


The Falls (Greenaway)


Henry's Cat (Godfrey)

Other Films:


You Must Be Joking (Winner) (titles designs)


Ouch! (Bryant) (titles designs)


Twenty-Nine (Cummins) (graphics)


And Now for Something Completely Different (Macnaughton) (animation ph)


Dream Doll (Godfrey) (pr)


Small Talk (pr)


By GODFREY: articles—

Cinema Papers (Melbourne), August-September 1980.

Screen International (London), 25 September-2 October 1982.

Video Business , 12 September 1984.

On GODFREY: articles—

Roudévitch, Michel, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 98, 1965.

Movie Maker (Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire), April 1967.

Image et Son (Paris), November 1967.

Lockey, Nicola, in Broadcast , 2 April 1979.

Banc-Titre (Paris), September 1982.

National Film Theatre booklet (London), March 1985.

Holton, Gillian, "Simply Great," in Stage Screen and Radio (London), April 1995.

* * *

One way and another, Bob Godfrey's films have attracted a good deal of attention, not all of it invariably favourable. Great won him an Oscar; but feminists have condemned much of his work for misogyny—a charge to which he himself is now inclined to plead guilty—and several Godfrey cartoons have had "X" certificates slapped on them by alarmed censorship boards. Kama Sutra Rides Again was the first cartoon to receive an "R" (adults only) rating in Australia, which did it no harm at all at the box office. It also gained a special award from Yugoslav film-buffs as "The Film Most Likely to be Understood All Over the World," much to Godfrey's delight. "I am completely communication-oriented. . . . If the art gets in the way—stamp it out, I say. I'm a plagiarist, I will desecrate, I will mutilate, I'll do anything in order to get the message across."

He first achieved wide recognition with The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit , a spirited and irreverent send-up of animated-film conventions which Ralph Stephenson described as "one of the funniest cartoons ever made." The film signalled what Michel Roudévitch called, in tangy French, Godfrey's "penchants pour l'hétéroclite, le saugrenu, le coq-à-l'âne" (taste for the offbeat, preposterous and parodic), as well as locating him squarely in a British comic-surrealist tradition descending from Lewis Carroll via the Goons, and leading on to Monty Python. (Godfrey's influence is clearly evident in the work of Terry Gilliam, the Pythons' animator.)

Another fecund source of imagery was Donald McGill, maestro of the ribald seaside postcard. McGill's vast, predatory women and nervously randy little men peopled the long series of bawdy comedies, from Polygamous Polonius through Henry 9 'til 5 and Kama Sutra Rides Again to Instant Sex and Dream Doll , for which Godfrey is now best known. In these "sexual punch-ups" (his own term) he mocked his audiences, prodded impudently at the boundaries of censorship, and exposed the fears and anxieties haunting the male libido. Repeatedly, his anti-heroes take refuge in reassuringly manageable surrogates (masturbation fantasies, inflatable life-size dolls, cans of "Instant Sex"), rather than confront the terrifying prospect of a real, live woman. If some feminists have berated Godfrey for misogyny, others have felt more inclined to thank him for providing them with so much first-rate ammunition.

As the series progressed, the mood underlying the broad knock-about of Godfrey's sex comedies appeared to darken, the depiction of emotional inadequacy to grow more bleak. The frenetically varied couplings of Kama Sutra Rides Again suggest, as Tom Ryan observed, "nightmare rather than satisfaction." Most sombre of all is Dream Doll , codirected with Zlatko Grgic of the Zagreb studios. Despite problems during the making—Godfrey summed up coproduction as "like directing a jellyfish"—he was proud of the final result, "which took on a kind of Croatian doom—a sort of comedy noir . . . . Some of my films are very patchy, but this one really flows." The ending, in which the Chaplinesque little man is transported heavenwards by a whole flotilla of inflatable women, deliberately parodies Lamorisse's Le Ballon rouge ; when Dream Doll was premiered at Annecy, the French were not amused.

Godfrey's most ambitious work to date is the Oscar-winning Great , a 30-minute musical treatment of the life of the Victorian inventor-engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Visually and verbally exuberant, it packs in all the notable events of Brunel's stupendous career, along with a wealth of songs, jokes, and miscellaneous objects—including Union Jacks, exploding hats, and multiple appearances by Queen Victoria, who makes her entrance rising majestically out of a lavatory bowl. This gives fair notice of the overall level of humour, but it would take a jaundiced viewer to object, given the film's abundant energy, high spirits, and evident affection for its subject. Even so, according to Godfrey, the Brunel Society did object: "They said it was full of historical inaccuracies and lewd innuendoes. And why not, I say." In recent years Godfrey has made determined efforts to escape narrow typecasting as the maker of "male anxiety films." ("I think Maggie [Thatcher] used up all my misogyny," he commented in a 1993 television programme. "I haven't got any left, I used up so much on her.") But not even the award of an OBE—which arrived, much to Godfrey's glee, while a hanged effigy of Mrs Thatcher was on public display outside his studio—has conferred respectability. There have been collaborations with the left-anarchist cartoonist Steve Bell, whose scabrous political wit meshed well with the vigour of Godfrey's style of animation, and a loose ongoing series of portraits of European nations, unrepentantly rich in irreverence and crude stereotypes. Godfrey's main current activity is in the field of children's television, exercising his anarchic (and only slightly less lewd) humour in such series as Roobarb, Henry's Cat and The Bunbury Tails. He remains fascinated and excited by the unlimited potential of his medium—"You can do the impossible. We leave the possible to the TV news"—and as iconoclastic as ever. "One of the things I want to do is Hamlet. With robots. Get rid of the poetry and keep all the violence and the paranoia."

—Philip Kemp

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