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Roobarb (1974-75)

Main image of Roobarb (1974-75)
BBC, tx. 21/10/1974-16/5/1975, 30 x 5 min episodes, colour
Director/ProducerBob Godfrey
Production CompanyBob Godfrey Films
Creator/WriterGrange Calveley
AnimatorPeter Green
MusicJohnny Hawksworth

Cast: Richard Briers (narrator)

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An excitable and inventive green dog concocts various hare-brained schemes, much to the amusement of his neighbour's pink cat, Custard.

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Grange Calveley was working in an advertising agency when he began sketching a cartoon dog, based on the antics of Grange's own dog, a Welsh Border collie who 'watered the rhubarb' when he first arrived at their home. Seeing potential, Calveley set off to find a publisher and also suggested the BBC use his Roobarb stories on Jackanory (BBC, 1965-96), but producer Daphne Jones felt the scripts were under-written for Jackanory's 15-minute slot.

Calveley continued to approach the BBC, who suggested a pilot film. Bob Godfrey and animator Peter Green came on board in mid-1973, creating a 30-second black and white sequence in two weeks. On the strength of this, the BBC's Monica Sims commissioned thirty episodes. Calveley wrote these within a hectic 11 months, also providing thirty key drawings an episode from which the animators could work.

The unique visual style was a virtue born of necessity - the bouncy, wobbly feel came about as Godfrey and co did not have enough budget for traditional cel and paint techniques, and instead used white paper and the (then new) magic markers Calveley had introduced from his advertising office. Thus the outlines never stayed still, ink bled to create fuzzy edges and colours were streaky and irregular. Matched to Johnny Hawksworth's bouncy music and Richard Briers' excitable narration, the whole thing oddly worked.

Godfrey saw Roobarb as a slightly pompous, over-ambitious character in the Tony Hancock mould, with neighbour's cat Custard his Sid James, always ready to take him down a peg. Scripts concerned all manner of hare-brained schemes, with the British comedic traits of absurdity and whimsy very much in evidence.

Godfrey's animation style would be seen again in two more BBC teatime series, Noah and Nelly in Skylark (BBC, 1976) and Henry's Cat (BBC, 1983-87). Grange Calveley meanwhile has recently written new talking book adventures, which see Roobarb adjust to the computer age in Roobarb and Custard Too.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Briers, Richard (1934-2013)
Godfrey, Bob (1921-2013)
Children's Puppets and Animation
Children's TV in the 1970s