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Richard Towne SUTCLIFFE

Creator of 'Davey & Goliath' Television Program

Born: 18 April 1918, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 11 May 2008, Dallas, Texas USA

Richard Towne Sutcliffe, whose idea to use animated characters to teach religious principles resulted in the cartoon show “Davey and Goliath,” died on May 11 in Dallas, where he lived. He was 90. He died shortly after suffering a stroke, said his daughter, Judy Towne Sutcliffe.

“Davey and Goliath” was a stop-action animated show about a boy and his dog finding their way in a world of temptation, filmed by Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby, and his wife, Ruth Clokey Goodell, who were pioneers in the technique known as Claymation.

But the show was not their idea. In the late 1950s Mr. Sutcliffe, a former newspaper reporter, was living in Massapequa, N.Y., and working in New York City for the United Lutheran Church in America as a producer of newscasts and other ecumenical radio programming when he was asked for his counsel on a new project.

“The Lutheran Church was interested in using this newfangled thing called television to reach folks,” his daughter said. The show that the church had in mind was a minister delivering brief sermonettes, “and my father said, basically, ‘The theology is fine but it’s not good for television.’ ”

Instead, using his younger child, Michael, as inspiration, Ms. Sutcliffe said, “Dad asked himself, ‘What would I say to Mike about God? And how would I say it to him?’ And he came up with the idea of these little parables.”

Mr. Sutcliffe hired the Clokeys, wrote the first script and was the show’s first executive producer. The Clokeys eventually made 65 15-minute episodes of “Davey and Goliath” and a handful of long specials, the last one first broadcast in the mid-1970s.


The show, which the church initially provided free to television stations around the country, usually to be shown on Sunday mornings, was known for its high production values and crisp, unpredictable scripts (most of them by Nancy Moore), as well as for its serious lessons in Godliness. Its comparatively few episodes made enough of an impression that it is still parodied on current shows like “The Simpsons” and “MADtv.” (The Clokeys’ son, Joe, produced another special for Christmas 2004.)

Richard Towne Sutcliffe was born on April 18, 1918, in Columbia, Pa., and grew up in Taneytown, Md. His father, the Rev. Alfred Towne Sutcliffe, was a Lutheran minister.

He attended Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and Catawba College in North Carolina, though he never graduated. He began his professional career in Roanoke, Va., as a reporter and photographer.

Mr. Sutcliffe moved to Dallas in 1969 and worked for the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Southern Methodist University.

In addition to his daughter, who is known as J. T. and lives in Dallas, and his son, who lives in Morristown, N.J., he is survived by his wife of 65 years, Julia, who is known as Judy, and three granddaughters.

One of the distinctions of “Davey and Goliath” was that a frequently appearing character, Davey’s best friend, Jonathan, was black, among the first instances of an interracial friendship in a television series, whether animated or flesh and blood. “I think it was a very honest attempt to get as many people as possible to see themselves in the show,” Ms. Sutcliffe said. “Dad would say if we’re going to talk about God loving all of us, we ought to get to see more than the Davey face.”

An obituary by NY Times reporter, Bruce Weber, 25 May 2008

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