Unfortunately, Bob Godfrey Films nuked the video I’m writing about here, literally halfway through the time I was writing this. So I can’t share it with you to accompany this post. Sorry. I’ve replaced it with a BBC documentary instead.
I was saddened today to hear of the death of Bob Godfrey, a marvellous talent of British animation.
As a result, I watched this again - Great, his 1975 Oscar-winning 26-minute-long comedic musical documentary about the life of the magnificent Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was a child, and only now do I recognize what a remarkable piece of work it is.
As well as being witty and peculiarly bawdy, in a typically British, 1970s way - the lyrics of the song about Brunel’s hat are pure innuendo, a fact that was lost on my much younger self - it contains numerous nods to the work of other cartoonists and animators as well.
The title sequence is pure Gilliam; the strobing “NO” in the Clifton Suspension Bridge song is like Heinz Edelmann’s work on Yellow Submarine; the couple in the car that gets struck by lightning and the “Railway Maniac” are Robert Crumb. In addition to that, close to the end there’s a brief sequence featuring a rotating wireframe computer graphics model of Brunel’s vast steam ship, the SS Great Eastern. This is one of the very earliest uses of computer animation that I’m aware of.
Correction: If anything, it looks like Gilliam was following in Godfrey’s footsteps. Take a look at Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit, from 1961.