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Wombles, The (1973-75, 1998-99)

Courtesy of The Cookie Jar Entertainment Inc

Main image of Wombles, The (1973-75, 1998-99)
FilmFair London for BBC, 5/2/73 - 2/3/73
60 x 5 minute episodes in 3 series
Revived 1998: 26 x 10 minute episodes in 2 series plus 2 specials
WriterElisabeth Beresford
Designed and Directed byIvor Wood
AnimationBarry Leith
Music and LyricsMike Batt
Told byBernard Cribbins

Furry creatures live in a burrow hidden within Wimbledon Common, unseen by human eyes. These Wombles make good use of all manner of items left behind by thoughtless humans.

Show full synopsis

The Wombles of Wimbledon Common were first introduced in the books of Elisabeth Beresford, initially as dark brown, bear-like creatures, in 1968. For the 1973 television series, animator Ivor Wood devised a more distinctive two foot high rodent with brown velvet snout and grey fur.

The Wombles were brought to life by stop-motion animation and the vocal talents of narrator Bernard Cribbins. Cribbins provided voices for all of the original characters, many with Cockney accents. There was wise old Uncle Bulgaria, head of the burrow and always on the look out for a discarded copy of The Times, the lazy and rather greedy Orinoco in hat and scarf, French chef Madame Cholet and the strong but slow Tomsk.

Most stories centred on the ingenuity of Wombles Wellington or Tobermory in making all manner of wacky inventions from the discarded bits and pieces humans leave behind, exploiting the contraptions' capacity for slapstick. At this time, contrary to popular belief, the Wombles were never clearly anti-litter or pro-green issues; it is easy to see them as opportunist scavengers who recycle because it suits them.

It was the 1977 feature film Wombling Free (d. Lionel Jeffries) that pushed the notion of the Wombles as champions of ecology. Bonnie Langford starred as a little girl who could see the Wombles while adults could not - the film was peculiar for utilising six foot high Wombles alongside human actors. These costumes had seen previous use as stage costumes to promote the phenomenal career of a Wombles pop group. Mike Batt's group enjoyed five Top 20 hits in 1974, setting a precedent for more recent children's TV chart stars like Bob the Builder and the Tweenies.

Growing awareness of ecological issues in the 1990s prompted a Wombles comeback. Their green credentials were most proudly displayed in a 1991 half-hour special, 'The Wandering Wombles', which saw them protect Brazilian rainforests and Kenyan elephants. Two further series of ten-minute episodes, backed by Canadian money, followed the more fun vein of the 1970s. Beresford denied pandering to political correctness with new Wombles, including treehouse-dwelling eco-radical Alderney, Asian Womble Shansi, dreadlocked Stepney and Brazilian Obidos.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete episode: 'One Pair of Feet' (4:36)
Production stills
Cribbins, Bernard (1928-)
Wood, Ivor (1932-2004)
Children's Puppets and Animation