Date of Birth: 18 March 1947, Surbition, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Susan Haydn Thomas
Nicknames: Susan Sheridan
Susan Sheridan, who has died aged 68, was an actress and voice artist who provided the voices of Trillian in the original radio production of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978), and a range of children’s television characters, most notably Noddy in the BBC’s Noddy’s Toyland Adventures (1992-94 and 1999-2001).
The mischievous doll in the red and yellow taxi first appeared in Enid Blyton’s book Noddy Goes To Toyland in 1949 and on television in the 1950s. Known as Oui-Oui in France, Doddi in Iceland and Purzelknirps in Germany, he was an immediate hit with children, though he tended to be sniffed at by the literati for shallow characterisation, and even found himself accused of racism and sexism.
By the 1990s, when Susan Sheridan was picked to voice the character, Noddy had been forced to clean up his act. The original stories had featured “golliwogs” who lived in Golly Town, including Mr Golly, the proprietor of Toyland’s garage. These characters had been dropped from the BBC’s television adaptation of the books in the 1980s and replaced by other soft toys. Also gone was Miss Rap, the schoolmistress who dished out spankings with a slipper.
Noddy’s Toyland Adventures featured a new character not present in the original books, Dinah Doll, a china doll described as a “black, assertive, ethnic minority female”, for whom, among several other minor characters, Susan Sheridan also provided the voice.
The animation studio Cosgrove Hall made the series and it did a superb job bringing the Noddy stories to life. Much of the success of the series was due to Susan Sheridan, whose voice had been selected out of some 200 audition tapes. Explaining how she came up with Noddy’s sing-song cadences, she explained that she had studied the illustrations in the original Noddy books: “He’s got eyebrows that look surprised or cross, so that’s how I found the voice. He talks up and down like that most of the time.”
She was born Susan Haydn Thomas in Surbiton, Surrey, and educated at the Brigidine Convent, Windsor, and at Ashford Grammar School.
After training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she cut her teeth in regional rep before making her West End debut in 1975 at the Phoenix Theatre as Christopher Robin in a production of the musical Winnie-the-Pooh.
Her voice skills led to auditions with BBC radio, on which she made her name as the astrophysicist Trillian in the radio adaptation of Douglas Adams’s cult sci-fi comedy. Other characters she voiced included Angus and Elspeth, the children who befriend a family of Loch Ness Monsters in the BBC cartoon series The Family-Ness (1984), Jimbo the talking aeroplane in Jimbo and the Jet-Set (BBC1, 1986), and Princess Sylvia in the BBC animated English language teaching series Muzzy in Gondoland (1987) and Muzzy Comes Back (1989).
She dubbed voices in several films, including Princess Eilonwy in the Disney cartoon The Black Cauldron (1985), the young Puyi in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and one of the chickens in Chicken Run (2002). She also “voiced” video games, read audio books and in later years worked as a voice coach. She remained active on the stage with roles in touring productions and a one-woman show The Merry Wife of Wilton (2004).
In 2011 she made a rare appearance in front of the cameras as Mother Thomas Aquinas, a nun found strangled in a chicken coop, in Midsomer Murders.
Date of Birth: October 26 1942, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK
Birth Name: Robert William Hoskins
Nicknames: Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins, the actor, who has died aged 71, was hailed as the original tough guy of British film, but once described himself as “short, fat and bald, the only actor who had to diet and wear lifts to play Mussolini”.
His cuboid frame, villainous features and Cockney accent fitted him for a series of roles which he described as “animals, thugs and heavies”. These included the gangland boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (1980) and the violent minder George in Mona Lisa (1986), a portrayal that earned him an Oscar nomination. Hoskins won critical success in both films, mainly for his ability to exude menace while suggesting the vulnerability beneath the violent surface of his characters.
Ultimately it was Hoskins’s versatility and eye for a good part that made him a star. He played Arthur Parker in Dennis Potter’s innovative and hugely successful Pennies from Heaven (1978); Nathan Detroit in the National Theatre’s first musical Guys and Dolls (1981); and cameo parts such as the police chief in The Honorary Consul (1983) and Robert de Niro’s plumbing partner in Brazil (1985).
Like his friend Michael Caine, Hoskins was one of the few British actors to become equally successful in Hollywood. Films such as The Cotton Club (1984), Sweet Liberty (1986) and the box office smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) consolidated his position as a British actor who could make the transition to the United States. A contributing factor in his American success may have been that Hoskins was one of a small minority of British actors able to produce a convincing American accent.
Robert William Hoskins was born on October 26 1942 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, but grew up in Finsbury Park, north London. His father was a clerk for the Pickfords removal firm, his mother a school cook. At Stroud Green secondary modern school, his dyslexia meant that he was often written off as stupid.
During his adolescence, the beatings he endured in street fights toughened him up, and a knife wound across the bridge of his nose left him with a hollow between the eyes. A life in the gangs beckoned he was once taken to meet the Kray twins who ran London’s underworld in the 1950s but he dreamed of becoming an actor.
Hoskins had never been formally trained, and was always proud that he had never attended a single acting lesson. Instead, on leaving school in 1959, he took on a series of temporary jobs, including as a merchant seaman in the Norwegian navy, a banana-picker on a kibbutz, camel-herder in Syria and porter at Covent Garden market.
In 1969, after an abortive attempt at going into accounting with his father, Hoskins claimed that he “fell sideways into acting by mistake”. While waiting in a pub with a friend who wanted to audition for the Unity Theatre, Hoskins was mistaken for the next candidate. “I was too pissed to argue,” he recalled, “so I got on stage and acted my socks off.” He was offered the lead in The Feather Pluckers, and at the play’s first night was signed up by an agent.
Hoskins spent the next 12 months in repertory, building up a reputation as an actor who was content to do anything, including fire-eating and running headlong at brick walls. “In those days we just passed round the hat,” he recalled. “I had a wife and kid to support on that, and so I wasn’t going to say no to anything that was for the good of the show.”
In 1975 he was offered his first television role, as an illiterate truck driver, in the BBC’s adult literacy programme On the Move. The programme established him as a “screen natural”, and attracted a wide following and an almost cult status. After his television appearance, offers of work on stage and screen doubled. One critic described Hoskins as having “cornered the market in the cheeky Cockney chappie”.
In 1980 The Long Good Friday established Hoskins as a global star. The film was enormously successful in the US, but Hoskins was angered by the fact that his speeches were dubbed into “stage Cockney”.
“They thought the Yanks wouldn’t be able to understand me”, he complained. “In the film I end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke.”
In 1981 Hoskins starred in the National Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls. It was the Theatre’s first attempt at a musical and was a major critical and box office success. As in Pennies from Heaven, Hoskins’s charismatic performance carried him over any deficiencies in his singing and dancing. “The choreographer convinced me I looked like Fred Astaire,” he remembered, “but I really looked like a little hippopotamus shaking its hooves.” Critics described Hoskins’s “animal appeal” and “considerable panache”. They began to compare him with Edward G Robinson and George Raft, and to call him “the Cockney Cagney”.
In 1983 Hoskins was miscast in The Honorary Consul, with Michael Caine, and gave an embarrassing performance as a South American police chief. Despite this setback, however, he received an early morning call from Francis Ford Coppola asking him if he would appear in Coppola’s next film. Hoskins thought it was a joke and shouted down the line: “It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’ve just woken up my kid, you bastard” before hanging up.
Coppola called back later and signed Hoskins as the nightclub owner in The Cotton Club (1984).
In Heart Condition (1990) Hoskins played a bigoted white policeman kept alive by a heart transplant from a black donor. He went on to make Mermaids (also 1990), a comedy in which he starred opposite Cher . In Hook (1991), a live-action version of Peter Pan with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams, Hoskins played the fusspot Mr Smee.
Although largely self-educated, Hoskins co-wrote and directed the feature film The Raggedy Rawney (1988), a gipsy story set in central Europe, which was reckoned an ambitious failure and had only a limited distribution. On television he won critical approval for his portrayal of the Italian dictator in Mussolini: the Decline and Fall of Il Duce (1985); while his appearance in The Street in 2009 earned him the accolade of Best Actor at the International Emmy Awards of 2010.
In 2012, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bob Hoskins announced that he was retiring from acting.
Date of Birth: 27 May 1921, West Maitland, New south Wales, Australia
Birth Name: Roland Fredrick Godfrey
Nicknames: Bob Godfrey
Bob Godfrey, was the godfather of British animation, celebrated for short films including the initially banned Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972) and the Oscar-winning Great (1975) as well as his children's TV series Roobarb (1974), narrated by Richard Briers, and the Bafta-winning Henry's Cat (1982-93), narrated by Bob. His seemingly simple drawings drew their strength from posture and gesture and his constant innovations in style were the result of shoestring budgets. He was in every way a true amateur film-maker who produced, directed, animated, acted in and did the voiceovers for his films. His influence on leading animators cannot be overestimated: Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) worked in his basement; Terry Gilliam made his Monty Python animations overnight in Bob's studio, as he could not afford his own place; and Nick Park credits The Do-It-Yourself Animation Show, presented by Bob in the 1970s, as a major influence.
Other successful producers and directors kept their awards and certificates in prominent places; Bob's were in his loo. He was always very approachable and was never happier than when surrounded by students; he even took his classes to the pub. His studio had a lifesize hanging effigy of Margaret Thatcher. On receiving a letter from the then prime minister, and fearing the worst, he was surprised to find he had got the MBE, appointed in 1986.
Bob was born in West Maitland, in New South Wales, Australia, and emigrated to the UK with his parents a few years later. He went to school in Ilford, north-east London, and attended art school in Leyton. Work as a graphic artist for the manufacturer Lever Brothers in the 1930s was followed by a spell with the GB Animation outfit financed by J Arthur Rank. As a Royal Marine during the second world war, he took part in the D-day landings.
He began to concentrate on animation in the early 1950s and drew upon influences ranging from Donald McGill's seaside postcards to the Goons. He particularly liked satirising political figures and British attitudes to sex. Small men and dominant women played their part, and his loose style of drawing belied his artistic skill. It was his speciality to combine live action with various animation styles. He directed and acted in several live-action films; enjoyed bit parts in the Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965); and won a Bafta award for Henry 9 til 5 (1970).
The anecdotes of Bob's life abound. There was the time that Yoko Ono paid him £5 to photograph his derriere for her exhibition. His irreverence often landed him in trouble. A film laboratory refused to develop a scene that had the Queen singing Good Evening Friends as a finale. His cutout technique of animation featured photographs from magazines that were used without permission, leading to threats by photographers. He also pushed the limits of the medium: Kama Sutra Rides Again was banned but it later earned an Oscar nomination, as did Dream Doll (1979) and Small Talk (1994).
His unfulfilled ambition was to make a feature film it nearly came true with a project called Jumbo but he was at least partly satisfied with Great, a half-hour cartoon on the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, voiced by Briers. Despite the Oscar it brought Bob, he rarely made money on his films. The fact that he survived in the industry was in part due to it being more fun to work with him on ideas he was enthusiastic about than it was to work in a studio making dull commercials. It was taken for granted that if you worked with Bob you would almost certainly be used as a cartoon character in one of his movies, and there was a more than even chance that you wouldn't get paid on time.
The financial situation changed a little for the better when Roobarb, made for the BBC, took off. In the series, Roobarb, a green dog, sets out to achieve certain goals which are meaningful to him, but considered useless by his arch-enemy, Custard, a pink cat. The onlooking birds take great delight in seeing Roobarb fail, yet he lives to fight another day. When the BBC wanted a new series of Roobarb, Bob asked if I would write a series to suit the same audience. I put forward the idea of Henry's Cat, and it was accepted, but this time he decided to finance it himself. The series enabled Bob's studio to keep going during a difficult time for the animation industry.
Bob's love of ridiculing pretentious attitudes was the underlying theme of both Roobarb and Henry's Cat. Henry's Cat is never seen in profile, and he doesn't have a name, as the first story was based on Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. The boy, Henry, got lost in the second story and was never part of the TV series or the published books. Henry's Cat also sets out to achieve impossible goals, but has a group of friends who aid and abet him in his objectives. Unlike Roobarb, most of the Henry's Cat stories have happy endings. The cat's face is made up of an M (for the ears), two eyes (giving an I), an O (for the nose) and a W (for the mouth) to form the word MIOW.
I once had a phone call from Bob with good news and bad news. The good news was that the studio's computer had been stolen. The bad news was that they had caught the thief and got it back. As the industry moved from traditional animation to the new, computer-driven technology, styles changed. It was the end of an era and the studios full of bric-a-brac and pinned-up sketches, with their truly bohemian atmosphere, were replaced by screens and machines.