Bob Godfrey, 1921-2013

Academics have paid tribute to “the godfather of British animation” for playing a pivotal role in putting the subject on university syllabuses

April 18, 2013

Born in Australia on May 1921, Bob Godfrey was brought to Britain while still a baby and educated in Ilford, Essex and at Leyton Art School. This led to work as a graphic designer and then service during the Second World War with the Royal Marines, so he was already in his late twenties before he embarked on the 50-year career that would lead to the first Academy Award for a British animated film, three Baftas and eventually an MBE.

Briefly employed by Larkins Studio before branching out on his own, Mr Godfrey started his career producing animated films in his basement alongside commercials for the new independent station ITV. Notable early works include Watch the Birdie (1954), based on a painting by Paul Klee, Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961), the Bafta-winning Henry 9 to 5 (1971) and Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971), nominated for an Academy Award. The last two of these courted criticism and controversy for their frankness in dealing with sexual material.

In 1972, Mr Godfrey established the BA in animation at the West Surrey College of Art and Design (now the University for the Creative Arts Farnham). Alongside his work as a practising animator, he retained his links with UCA for three decades; the university now holds his collection of artwork, cels, storyboards and films in its Animation Research Centre.

Mr Godfrey also had a long connection with the Royal College of Art, where he set up the separate animation course in 1985 and became a senior fellow four years later. He was also involved in creating a similar course at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts.

His later years saw Mr Godfrey winning an Oscar for Great (1975), a satirical biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and achieving great popular success with his children’s cartoon series Roobarb (1974) and Henry’s Cat (1982-93).

Lesley Adams, current course leader of the BA in animation at UCA Farnham, remembers Mr Godfrey as “irreverent, anarchic and a truly original, brilliant man” who “inspired and encouraged generations of animators and film-makers through his work and tuition”.

“As a tutor,” adds Ms Adams, “he was always generous with his time, his knowledge and very often with his own artwork - there are many animators out there with a faded Henry’s Cat mug or a ‘felt-tipped walk cycle’ that they dearly cherish.”

Mr Godfrey died on 21 February and is survived by his wife Beryl, two daughters and six grandchildren.

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