Has there ever been a British animation that better summed up the anarchic soul of the 1970s than Roobarb and Custard?
From Johnny Hawksworth’s jangly theme music, to Bob Godfrey’s wobbly animation it’s no wonder that, 50 years on, the green mongrel with the overactive imagination is still a fan-favourite.
Fabulous Films’ 50th Anniversary Edition set of Roobarb .. and Custard: The Complete Collection includes all 30 episodes from 1974, which have been fully restored from the original film negatives. Added to that are all 39 episodes of the second series, Roobarb and Custard Too, which debuted in 2005. Both series were narrated by the unforgettably mischievous tones of Richard Briers.
In the pilot, When Roobarb Made a Spike, Roobarb recreates a bird’s beak in order to pull worms from the garden. It was screened as “one of the outstanding short films of the year” at the National Film Theatre in 1973. The same year, it was judged one of the best international animations at the LUCCA9 International Exhibition of Animated Films in Italy. But the show’s deliberately shaky style (known as ‘boiling’) did more than win awards. By its third week, it was drawing seven million viewers — both adults and children. The show eventually sold to more than 40 countries.
Thanks to regular repeats over the years, Roobarb and Custard were voted ‘Britain’s Best Animated Cartoon Characters’ in 2000. When creator Grange Calveley made a tribute website in 2002, he received so many requests for new episodes, that he eventually made Series 2.
Both series were written by Calveley, who based Roobarb on his own Welsh Border Collie, who he named Roobarb, because he had “watered the rhubarb” as soon as he moved in to Calveley’s home in Hertfordshire.
Roobarb, animator Bob Godfrey is best known for creating Henry’s Cat and his 1971 animated short film Kama Sutra Rides Again, which was personally selected by Stanley Kubrick to accompany A Clockwork Orange in the cinema.
But forget the plaudits and gongs, the reason that Roobarb and Custard remain so popular is that it’s everything a kid’s animation should be. Every four-and-a-half minute episode is a gem of pulsating, anarchic madness. This is TV heaven drawn with magic markers.