Bob Godfrey 1921 - 2013

Feature Mark Pickavance 26 Feb 2013 - 15:09

Mark Pickavance remembers one of his personal heroes, the creator of Roobarb, Henry's Cat and much, much more, UK animator Bob Godfrey...

It was with great sadness that I read this week of the passing of a stalwart of British animation and utterly unique personality, Bob Godfrey.

There was a time thirty years ago when I knew Bob quite well, as he was one of my animation lecturers, and by far the most entertaining of the bunch. He had a special way at looking at whatever was created and seeing something in it that others entirely missed, usually in a decidedly subversive way. That contrasted heavily with those others who taught me at the time, the majority of who had some social-political axe to grind. Bob was overtly uncomplicated, and not remotely interested in the subtle context or pushing any agenda.

What was marvellous about Bob for animators was that he could find humour in just about anything, and he was always willing to contribute a silly voice or completely daft idea to almost any student film project. Or alternatively, just come down the pub and talk animation over a pint or two. 

My enduring memory of him is when we were sat together in the giant auditorium of the 1981 Zagreb World Animation festival watching animated short films, while we recovered from a truly horrible hangover. We'd just seen a series of Russian films and Bob was still wearing the simultaneous translation headphones, causing him to talk even louder than normal. It was a poorly attended screening in a huge eastern-bloc cinema that seated thousands. They then announced that they'd be showing a selection of films by French (but Russian born) filmmaker Claire Parker, who had died only a few months earlier, in her memory. Claire Parker's work involved a animation torture device called 'pinscreen', which very few people had the patience or skills to use, giving most of her productions a predictably short running time.

The screening ended, after which there was a sober silence that lasted at least thirty seconds, until Bob very loudly injected, 'Phew! All those pins... no wonder she died!'. This was one of many moments when Bob made me laugh, sometimes unintentionally but always spontaneously. 

I'll remember Bob for being the only Australian Cockney I've known, for generating amazing animation on a shoestring and under silly times constraints, and for seeing the insanity of the world and placing it on film. He'll be sorely missed by the huge number of UK animators he helped and inspired over the years, those who admired his work, and the few who, like me, were lucky enough to know him.

His films might have been short, but his personality, imagination and drive where full feature and presented in widescreen cinemascope.

Bob, wherever you might be now, I'd just like to say, you were bloody great!

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