Obituary: Bob Godfrey, MBE, Oscar-winning animator

Bob Godfrey
Bob Godfrey
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Born: 27 May, 1921, in Australia. Died: 21 February, 2013, aged 91

Bob Godfrey was Britain’s first Oscar-winning animator whose work ranged from the children’s TV cartoon Roobarb to mock-erotic films such as Kama Sutra Rides Again.

Godfrey, who is often referred to as “the Godfather of British Animation”, was born in Australia but educated in England and started his career as a graphic artist in London in the 1930s before gaining work in the film industry.

He was the first British animator to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his 1975 musical comedy Great, about civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Godfrey was nominated three other times for Oscars, including for his 1971 short film Kama Sutra Rides Again, one of his mock-erotic exploitation films that focused on the hypocrisy of British attitudes towards sex.

Film-maker Stanley Kubrick so admired the film that he screened it alongside UK showings of A Clockwork Orange. “Much of Godfrey’s work has been predicated on satirising the foibles and minutiae of what it means to be ‘British’,” said his biography on the British Film Institute website.

For nearly 50 years, Godfrey worked with some of animation’s biggest names, including Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, poking fun at orthodoxy and establishment thinking. He retired in 1999.

His work ran along two tracks: adult material and quirky children’s cartoons that he also wanted to appeal to adults.

He was known for his children’s cartoons Roobarb, about a warring cat and dog, and Henry’s Cat”.

His death followed five days after that of veteran actor Richard Briers, aged 79, who narrated Roobarb and was also the character of Brunel in Godfrey’s film Great.

Aardman Animations studio founder Peter Lord tweeted: “Dear old Bob Godfrey is no more. A great influence and inspiration to me and my generation of animators. Also a lovely bloke.”

In a newspaper interview in 2001, Godfrey said he had one professional regret: “I’d love to have done a full-length feature, but I can’t seem to stretch myself to that length.

“When you look at my films, they appear to be a series of 30-second commercials cut together. I’m a short- distance man, whether I like it or not.”