Friday, 8 January 2016

Odd Squads and Lucky Sods: The Plays of John Godber

Those involved with theatre and drama may well be familiar with the name John Godber. Originally from a mining family in Upton, West Yorkshire, Godber was later to become an adopted son of Hull.

After training as a teacher at Bretton Hall College, West Bretton, he was employed at Minsthorpe High School where he was promoted to head of drama. He moved to Hull to take up a lecturing position at the University of Hull where he was made a Professor of drama.

In 1984 Godber began an association with Hull Truck Theatre as Artistic Director in 1984. At this time the theatre was struggling financially and was situated in its old location on Spring Street. During his time there, the theatre’s financial position improved, its reputation grew nationally, and a new home on Ferensway was negotiated as part of the St Stephens shopping centre development.

Programme for a John Godber play staged at the Spring Street Theatre [U DJG/9]

Over the years many of Godber’s plays have been staged at Hull Truck. One of his most popular productions is Bouncers, performed on numerous occasions and stages. The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1977 by drama students from Bretton Hall College. However, it was at Hull Truck during the 1980s that the play really came to prominence. It went on to be incredibly successful, being made into a TV production and becoming a staple on school syllabuses.

Godber has received many awards for his writing. Between 1981 and 1983 he won numerous awards at the National Student Drama Festival. He won five Edinburgh Fringe Festival awards including the 1984 Laurence Olivier Comedy of the Year award for Up 'n' Under. Bouncers was nominated for UK Comedy of the Year in 1985, won several Los Angeles Critics Circles awards and five awards in Chicago in 1987. On the Piste was nominated for Comedy of the Year in 1993, whilst April in Paris was nominated for Comedy of the Year in 1994. My Kingdom for a Horse was nominated for an alternative BAFTA and a television version of Shakers was nominated the UK's Best Children's TV Drama. Perhaps most notably though, he won two BAFTAs in 2005 for his screenplay ‘Odd Squad’. This was written, directed and filmed on location in Hull, and was broadcast as part of BBC’s children’s television programming.

Programme for Happy Families performed at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, in 1993 [U DJG/9]

In the 1993 ‘Plays and Players Yearbook’ Godber was calculated to be the third most performed playwright in the UK behind William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. Recognising that his papers contained records of significance to the city and to the University’s unique literary archives, Godber deposited his papers with Hull University Archives in 2006.

The papers include notebooks containing drafts and directions regarding the staging of Godber’s productions and adaptations, scripts, correspondence, publicity material, programmes, photographs and videos. There is also material relating to work produced in collaboration with his wife, the playwright and actress Jane Thornton (also known as Jane Clifford).

Directors notebooks kept by John Godber [U DJG/1]

Having been catalogued by Kate Butler, one of our archive assistants, these papers are now available for use by researchers. Anyone wanting to access this material can do so in the searchroom at Hull History Centre. You can search the collection using our online catalogue, simply search for U DJG using the RefNo search field. If you prefer to browse the catalogue, a PDF version is available to download.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist, Hull University Archives

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