Obituary: Grange Calveley, the Roobarb and Custard creator from St Albans

Grange Calveley, creator of cartoon characters Roobarb and Custard, has died.

Grange Calveley, creator of cartoon characters Roobarb and Custard, has died. - Credit: Grange Calveley

The St Albans man behind popular animated children's TV series Roobarb has died, aged 78.

Grange Calveley, the writer and creator of the iconic TV cartoon characters Roobarb and Custard, passed away in Australia last month after suffering a stroke.

Grange Calveley, creator of Roobarb and Custard.

Grange Calveley, creator of Roobarb and Custard, with his Welsh Border Collie, the inspiration for character Roobarb. - Credit: Grange Calveley

Those of a certain age will instantly recognise Johnny Hawksworth’s memorable ‘da-de-de-da’ theme tune for the groundbreaking 1970s BBC series featuring an adventurous green dog and a pink cat called Custard.

Described by the BBC as "Britain’s answer to Tom and Jerry", Roobarb was first commissioned by the BBC in 1973, and drew over seven million viewers in its first three weeks on air.

It was created by Grange at his family home in St Albans.

The series centred around the house, garden, and Roobarb, the family’s Welsh border collie, as well as the cat next door, who eventually became Custard.

Roobarb and Custard was created by St Albans man Grange Calveley.

Roobarb and Custard was created by St Albans man Grange Calveley. - Credit: Grange Calveley

Grange’s drawings lent themselves wonderfully to the bouncy, wobbly animation by Bob Godfrey and Peter Green, and Richard Briers’ narration. It was the first production of its kind in the UK.

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The pilot, When Roobarb Made a Spike, was screened as one of the outstanding short films of the year at the National Film Theatre in 1973.

That same year, it was judged one of the best films at the International Exhibition of Animated Films in Rome.

On his website, Grange wrote: "'When Roobarb made a spike' was my 1973 pilot film that led the way to the now famous animated Roobarb BBC television series.

"The wobbly green dog first bounced onto Britain’s TV screens in 1974, and within two weeks of its debut on BBC TV, the show had attracted a regular seven million viewers – adults as well as children."

Although an instant hit with viewers when aired, the BBC took some persuading.

When director Bob Godfrey died in 2013, Grange wrote: "Bob Godfrey was the guy who said, after my two years of hammering at the BBC’s doors with Roobarb stories and drawings, ‘Grange, why don’t we show them some animation?’"

That 30-second piece of animation became the Roobarb opening title sequence.  Thirty five-minute episodes were subsequently made.

Grange went on to create Noah and Nelly in... SkylArk, Captain Cookaburra’s Road to Discovery, and other children’s TV series and books, including Channel 5's 2005 revival series, Roobarb and Custard Too. 

He suffered a stroke last month and passed away two weeks later in hospital on Sunday, August 22.

The family is deeply saddened by his death as, apart from being a talented artist and creative mind, he was a fantastic father, brother, and grandfather. 

Born in Cheshire in 1943, Grange moved to London after art college.

During seven years with an advertising agency, Grange wrote and art-directed a number of national advertising campaigns for products as diverse as trucks and coffee. 

He spent two years in Stockholm, where he wrote promotional campaigns for SAAB fighter aircraft and advertising campaigns for Swedish dairy products.

Grange moved to St Albans in the 1970s, where he lived in Salisbury Avenue with his wife, Hanny, and sons, Spencer and Piers.

In his later years, after a move to Australia, he regularly came back to the city to see friends and maintain business contacts in both London and St Albans.

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