NEWSMAKER/JO GODMAN: Godman founder is less fearsome than forthright - Her straight-talking style has reaped rewards for Jo Godman, Jane Austin says

I’d heard all the rumours about Jo Godman, founder of Godman, Campaign’s Production Company of the Year, being a scary operator. So it was with some trepidation that I walked to her Wardour Street offices. Bumping into a producer I knew on the way didn’t help. On telling her I was interviewing Godman, she whistled through her teeth and said: ’Scaaarrrry. Did you know that when she was at RSA she used to send women employees home if they had a ladder in their tights?’

I’d heard all the rumours about Jo Godman, founder of Godman,

Campaign’s Production Company of the Year, being a scary operator. So it

was with some trepidation that I walked to her Wardour Street offices.

Bumping into a producer I knew on the way didn’t help. On telling her I

was interviewing Godman, she whistled through her teeth and said:

’Scaaarrrry. Did you know that when she was at RSA she used to send

women employees home if they had a ladder in their tights?’



So I was somewhat surprised when a slight, beautifully groomed woman

entered Godman’s reception area, said: ’Hello. I’m Jo,’ and giggled

nervously.



We walked through one of the most impressive production company offices,

in terms of size and organised workforce, into a private room. ’We’re so

happy about being Production Company of the Year,’ she begins. ’Philippa

(Thomas, Godman’s co-founder) phoned me early yesterday morning and told

me. And I cried. Then I phoned my mother and we cried.’ Hurrah, she’s

human.



Suddenly I didn’t feel so conscious of my chipped glitter nail varnish

(a remnant of New Year’s Eve) and relaxed. As the conversation

progressed, it became clear where the scary reputation came from. She’s

not frightening, just straightforward. She puts up barriers that command

respect and imply that she doesn’t suffer fools. But she laughs a lot. I

didn’t dare ask her age, normally a basic question. It’s a hesitation

Tim Mellors, creative director of Mellors Reay, understands: ’I can see

why you didn’t ask her, because with questions like that you’re never

sure if she’s going to be lovely and honest or tell you to fuck off. Jo

is an even person who is totally unflappable, shrewd and intuitive.’



And what of her fearsome reputation? Is it true that she used to make

her production staff write down their tasks for the next day, leaving a

list on their desks in case they died during the night? There is a brief

silence and her blue eyes scan the ceiling in frustration. ’The

possibility of their deaths wasn’t the reason I made them do it,’ she

explains. ’I have always trained my PAs to write down everything they do

in a list so we know instantly what to do the next morning. I’ve got

this reputation that I rule with a rod of iron and that I’m tough.

Actually, I’m incredibly honest and I speak the truth but I do try to be

constructive. A lot of the time people don’t want to hear the truth. I

like people being honest with me and I welcome constructive

criticism.’



She was also quite keen to wear full Native American costume and stand

outside the huge teepee in Vaughan Arnell’s office - at his behest - for

her Campaign photograph but didn’t think this would go down well at

Campaign.



Scary has flown out of the window.



After completing a business course, the young Godman began her career as

a Girl Friday in a Soho production company. She fell in love with the

production business and swiftly rose through the pecking order to become

a producer at Tom Bussmann Films. ’I worked very hard and was always

travelling,’ she recalls. ’In one way it’s a completely different

business now. It’s far more technical and the demands and expectations

are higher, but it still requires a professional service.’ However, by

her own admission it wasn’t all work and no fun, and she describes this

period as her ’dolly-bird days’. Mellors recalls: ’She was very much a

party girl. She is still good at keeping up with people. She goes to the

Ivy and she’s a member of WACL. She’s good at working a room at an

industry do without being creepy.’



She set up her first production company, Patterson Godman, in 1981 with

the director, Willi Patterson. ’I was managing director and a producer

at Patterson Godman and found it difficult. You have to give 100 per

cent, 24 hours a day when you produce. When you’re managing director you

have to be totally available. I wouldn’t do it now. I’m demanding of

myself and others: I don’t think it’s possible to do both,’ she says

candidly.



The company came to an end in 1983 and Godman received a call from Tony

Scott asking her if she was interested in joining RSA. ’It was a

terrific opportunity,’ she says. ’Tony and Ridley had spent years in

Hollywood and they felt the company needed a shot in the arm.’



For 12 years Godman was the formidable force that moulded and managed

RSA. She brought in high-calibre directors such as David Bailey, Hugh

Johnson, Chris Hartwill and John Marles. RSA rapidly became a standard

bearer for creativity and professional production values. ’I’m just as

addicted to the industry as I was 20 years ago and I’ve always

surrounded myself with the best production people. I’ve always been

consistent with clients and want my company to give the best service. I

never take no for an answer or think anything is impossible. ’Can’t’ is

banned in this office.’



’Her choice of directors is very interesting,’ Mellors says. ’She is

good at spotting those people who are on the verge but who are not the

obvious choice. She gets the best out of people and mothers them -

although not in smothering way. What she is good at is absorbing their

neuroses and giving them confidence.’



She won’t talk about the end of her tenure at RSA but doesn’t disagree

with gossip implying her job came to an abrupt end after she, allegedly,

fired Jake Scott, Ridley’s son (after, it is said, he decided he didn’t

want to direct a job to which he was committed). ’It wasn’t a case of

RSA growing too big, but that the empire did. Ridley and I had different

ambitions for the company and it was inevitable we would split. I’m

devoted to commercials and RSA has become a multi-media company,’ she

says.



’Her departure from RSA was one of the most stupid things that they (the

Scotts) have ever done,’ Dave Buonaguidi, joint creative director at St

Luke’s, says. ’But it was the best thing to happen to her. Godman has,

within a year, become the most interesting production company

around.’



’I got tremendous support when I left RSA,’ she says. ’Jon Greenhalgh,

Vaughan Arnell and Adam Saward (Arnell’s producer) left with me, as well

as Philippa, who is one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with.

It’s her involvement that has enabled the company to grow as quickly as

it has. We wanted a wide range of talent; I love the diversity of the

company.



There are no huge egos and we all want to do the best we can. All the

directors come in every day and share information. I’ve got my dream

team and will shortly be adding to it with two new directors.’



Martha Greene, managing director of Stark Films, recalls that Godman,

her ex-boss, was ’the best teacher’. ’She taught me so much and gave me

loads of support when I came to Stark. She does everything with a great

deal of passion but in an understated, very English way,’ she says.



Godman recently produced a charity film for Tom Carty and Walter

Campbell at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO for the Empty Homes Agency. ’She

helped us enormously,’ they recall. ’She gave 100 per cent and stayed

all night on the shoot, drove the bus and went with the runner to get

cups of tea.



We were knackered but she was as bright as a button and supplied loads

of amazing food at her offices.’



’She reminds me of a beautiful, graceful swan gliding across a glass

lake but underneath peddling away furiously,’ Billy Mawhinney, a

creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, says. ’But the secret of a great

producer is never letting anyone know how hard they are working or if

they are worried.’



James Studholme, managing director of Blink, admits he doesn’t know

Godman well but observes: ’It’s as if leaving RSA has allowed her to do

something she has been dying to do for years. She’s showing a much

gentler side now but she’s still a shrewd operator. She should have a

party to celebrate.’



If she does have a party - and I hope she does - it would be

brilliant.



The Chablis would be chilled to perfection and the canapes wouldn’t dare

fall apart before they’d made it to your mouth.