Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Godfrey, Bob (1921-2013)

Director, Producer, Animator

Main image of Godfrey, Bob (1921-2013)

Bob Godfrey was born in West Maitland, Australia, on 27 May 1921, but was educated in Ilford, and later at Leyton Art School. He started his career as a graphic artist for Lever Brothers in the 1930s, advertising soap and sausages for Lintas, gained work for the Rank-financed GB Animation unit, based at Cookham, and worked in London on ancillary products related to the Disney-styled Animaland series, featuring 'Ginger Nutt'. In 1950 he joined the W. M. Larkins Studio, which sought to draw upon modern art sources and comic strip idioms in the creation of sophisticated promotional and technical films. Godfrey initially resented the 'animation' in front of his backgrounds, but he became a member of the semi-professional Grasshoppers group and in 1952 made his first animated cartoon, The Big Parade. In the mid-1950s, Godfrey joined up with Jeff Hale and Keith Learner, and later Nancy Hanna and Vera Linnecar, to form Biographic Films, making some of the first commercials for ITV.

Polygamous Polonius (1959) and Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961), two of Godfrey's earliest personal films, display the range of influences and preoccupations that characterise his work - music hall routines, avant-garde comedy in the spirit of The Goons, political satire, and concerns with British attitudes to sex and social conduct. Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit sends up the myth of the lone animator who spends hundreds of hours on a brief sequence, only to see it cut from the final film - an indication of his anti-Disney stance and his distance from the aspirational modernism of the Halas and Batchelor studio. Crude but energetic, the film sets the tone for the ways in which Godfrey was seeking to re-invent the cartoon outside the American tradition, and at the same time poke fun at orthodoxy and establishment thinking.

He left Biographic in 1964 to form Bob Godfrey Films and more fully engage with his own vision - best epitomised in his mock-erotic exploitation films (generally co-written with Stan Hayward or Stephen Penn), Henry 9 'til 5 (1970), Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971), Dream Doll (1979), Instant Sex (1980) and Bio-Woman (1981). These films work as a surreal satire on the social identity of the 'small' man and the inhibitions of British masculinity. The juxtaposition of the passionless and restrained British male in the face of seemingly outlandish and extreme sexual practices comically exposes the essential repressiveness and hypocrisy at the heart of British culture.

In his Oscar-winning biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, GREAT (1975), Godfrey concentrates less on feats of engineering and more on satirising Victorian attitudes, invoking a degree of pathos for Brunel's failures as well as his achievements, and hinting at the slow demise of Britain as a world power. In 1994 Godfrey received his fourth Oscar nomination, for Small Talk, and the following year he was asked by John Halas to make the British contribution to the Know Your Europeans series, A tour de force engagement with all things British from Disraeli to Arthur Daley, the film enjoys the diversity of British culture but ultimately finds enigma at its heart. Similarly, Millennium - the Musical (2000) amusingly condenses the whole of British history into a manageable half-hour. Godfrey's satirical profile of Margaret Thatcher, made with political cartoonist Steve Bell, aptly recalls the brutalism of Thatcherism, and points up its chilling continuities with New Labour. Somewhat bizarrely, given his sustained criticism of British government, Godfrey was awarded an MBE in June 1986. Much of Godfrey's work has been predicated on satirising the foibles and minutiae of what it means to be 'British', but he has also been responsible for a number of cartoon characters - in Roobarb (1975), Skylark (1978), Henry's Cat (1983) and most recently Kevin Saves the World (2002) - who have been popular on children's television in the US as well as in Britain.

Bendazzi, Giannalberto, Cartoons: One hundred years of cinema animation (London: John Libbey, 1994)
Halas, John, Master of Animation (London: BBC Books, 1987)
Wells, Paul, Understanding Animation (London and New York: Routledge, 1998)

Paul Wells, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Marx for Beginners (1979)Marx for Beginners (1979)

Witty animation outlining the philosophy of Karl Marx

Thumbnail image of Roobarb (1974-75)Roobarb (1974-75)

The animated adventures of an excitable green dog

Related collections

Related people and organisations