by Allan Fish
(UK 1970 6m) not on DVD
Defeating boredom and its vicissitudes
p/d Bob Godfrey w Stan Hayward m John Hawksworth
voices by Bob Godfrey, Monika Ringwald
Whenever I think of Bob Godfrey’s little gem I am reminded of my favourite Terry Gilliam animation from Python. The one with the middle-aged, nagged man sat in front of the gogglebox, out of which bashers, scrubbers and suckers emerge to try and pull his eyes out of his sockets. After surviving this attempted involuntary eyectomy, we hear a shout from the kitchen; “Henry, turn that television off, you know it’s bad for your eyes.”
The name Henry might have something to do with it, but in truth Godfrey was, along with Borowczyk and Lenica, surely one of the antecedents of Gilliam’s anarchic animation style. Just watch Godfrey’s The Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit, a near classic in itself, which not only uses similar techniques nearly a decade earlier, but even had faint echoes of Python’s famous ‘Blackmail’ sketch.
If Godfrey is remembered at all today, however, it’s generally for his work in children’s TV. In the 1980s and 90s there was Henry’s Cat (the same Henry?), while the 70s gave us Roobarb and Custard, with its iconic twanging theme music and deliberately sketchy drawings. Away from this, though, he was the man behind a series of satirical, subversive pieces aimed at the repressed sexuality of post-war Britain. Dear Margery Boobs, for example, dealt with an agony aunt and a writer signing himself as Worried Streatham. Instant Sex gave us a man buying a tin marked as such in a shop and returning home to try it out. In Dream Doll another middle-aged man buys a blow-up doll with ample attributes from a spiv-like shady character with a Zachary Scott pencil moustache. All are worth a look, while both The Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit and Alf, Bill & Fred (a man, a duck and a dog enjoy bouncing), which don’t deal implicitly with sex, have their sublime moments. There’s just something about Henry 9 ‘til 5 that sticks in my mind.
The Henry of the title is a London office worker. He comes out of his drab suburban house, joins the rat race on the Tube – all the other men are carbon copies of him, colourless suit, bowler hat, brolly and briefcase – and makes it to his desk bang on time as Big Ben chimes nine. Even his office is scrupulously Spartan; just the desk at which he monotonously stamps invoices, but he doesn’t mind. “I don’t like my job very much”, he tells us, “but I have discovered a way of defeating boredom and all its vicissitudes. I think about sex.” (Cue ‘The Stripper’ playing over pictures of glamour models in states of undress.) “I try to think about sex all day”, he goes on. He illustrates this with daydreams of chasing the office hottie around naked amongst fields of daisies or, “if in a more jocular mood”, by throwing custard pies at her welcoming breasts.
More daydreams follow, of similarly voluptuous naked women exercising on very bouncy trampolines. That only keeps him occupied for a little while, so his mind turns to other pleasures; “I find it satisfying to contemplate wandering gaily around amidst a profusion of bodies in a state of wanton abandon. Quite nice, this.” Stopping to think on and dismiss thoughts of voyeurism and indecent exposure because they can be chilly in cold weather, he turns instead to thoughts of voluntary chastisement, dreaming himself with a host of other identical office types as galley slaves whipped by a woman in fishnet stockings. He keeps that one aside for afternoon tea breaks.
Before he can think any more, Big Ben’s familiar chimes indicate it’s five o’clock. “How time flies when you’re fully occupied”, he mutters, before picking up his things and making his way back to suburbia. No sooner has he got through the door and he’s addressed by his wife, who sounds like she’s been wearing a chastity belt for a year and cries out “take me, take me!” Unfortunately, it’s all Henry can do to just crash out in his armchair, responding with “not tonight, beloved. I had such a hard day at the office.” One can see it coming, just like the Python animation with the TV, but it’s still perfect, and a little present for anyone who’s spent a tiresome day clockwatching in an office.