Remember you’re a Womble
If you grew up in Britain in the 1970’s I can almost guarantee you are a fan of the Wombles, and hearing the iconic theme song to their show takes you back to being a child again. It certainly does for me. But as incredibly popular as they were in Britain I am met with befuddled stares as I try to explain to Americans just exactly who they are. They get even more confused when I add that on my last visit back to England, two years ago, I went into a closing Virgin Record Store and purchased a copy of their greatest hits. I added this CD to my other Womble collectibles that include records, CD’s, books, plush toys and the full collection of miniature plush versions that McDonalds U.K. released several years back
So just exactly what is a Womble and how did they have such an impact? Sit down, relax, perhaps sip on a mug of hot tea and allow me to tell you their story. And if you are familiar with them already, let us take a loving trip down memory lane.
The Wombles were created by author Elisabeth Beresford, and were unleashed on the world back in 1968. They are small, furry, pointed nosed creatures that live in burrows and their existence is based upon recycling the rubbish that everyday people leave behind. Many of it is repurposed in creative and fun ways. The Wombles, according to their creator, live unnoticed in virtually every country of the world. But the Wombles that we have all come to be smitten by live in Wimbledon Common, in London, England. As the author tells it one Christmas she took her y children for a brisk walk on Wimbledon Common, where one referred to it as “Wombledon Common”. When getting home, feeling inspired by the common and the growing environmental green movement, she jotted down the idea and began developing the characters and storylines. Beresford developed most of her Womble characters around members of her family and named them after places the family had associations with.
Amazon link to book:
The first book was featured on a favorite childhood show of mine- Jackanory. On the show celebrities simply sat in a chair and read the viewers a story, and they always began with the question. “Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I shall begin.”
The Wombles were featured on the show and were such a hot that the BBC commissioned a television show about them that hit the airwaves in 1973.
Here are the enchanting show’s opening credits;
The show was filmed using stop-motion of sets and models of the Wombles and all the characters were voiced by the marvelous Bernard Cribbins. Two series of 30, five-minute episodes were produced.
The series was a huge hit and continued in re-runs for many, many years.
The most famous Wombles include:
• Great Uncle Bulgaria
• Madame Cholet
• Miss Adelaide
Each Womble has distinct characteristic traits. Let us look at three of the most popular.
Bungo was my childhood favorite. He was a young, very excitable Womble who is highly competitive and usually getting into mischief.
Great Uncle Bulgaria is the head of the Wimbledon Burrow. His full name is Bulgaria Coburg Womble. He is very old indeed, no one really knows exactly for sure, but it’s safe to guess he’s anywhere between 300 years and eternity. His age and status have brought about some eccentricities. Great Uncle Bulgaria’s one weakness is his daily copy of The Womble Times, from which he gets information about the outside world and which he’s often heard to insist “never lies”. He has a particular obsession for the crosswords. Great Uncle Bulgaria often rejects modern technology, not because he doesn’t see its potential, but because he understands the value in tradition. “Computers? Pshaw! A quill and paper is all anyone really needs to write with…” To Great Uncle Bulgaria, the new technology is to be viewed with suspicion.
Tobemory is an inventor who is always coming up with extraordinary and creative new designs from left over junk they have found.
Orinoco is arguably the most lovable of the Wombles because his motives are so very basic. He is a heavy set Womble who is generally attempting to avoid doing any kind of work what-so-ever. However, he has a great air of innocence which prevents his habits from being annoying to the others. Orinoco is clever, which is how he manages to succeed so often in avoiding work and finding a hiding place for a nap (“I’ll just have an extra forty winks”). Also, when he simply must, he can be very imaginative. And it is exceedingly simple to distract Orinoco from his 2 favorite obsessions as he simply loves an adventure, but it isn’t long before his attention returns to you know what. Orinoco’s philosophy is a simple one- you might as well do what you’re good at, and he knows he’s good at eating and sleeping.
As if having a successful series of books and television series wasn’t enough- the Wombles have another amazing fame to claim- as a chart-topping band. Musician/producer Mike Batt, waiving a fee in lieu of copyright to the Wombles Band name wrote and performed the theme song which went on to be a huge hot record. Batt’s mother made him a Womble suit that he allegedly wore for a week before writing any of the songs- to get into character.
In January 1974 Mike Batt appeared on an episode of Cilla Black’s television series as Orinoco. He was led onto the stage by Bernard Cribbins to plug the theme song- “The Wombling Song.” After it charted a whole line of Womble outfits had to be made for an entire band so they could play on the most popular music show of the day- Top of the Pops. The real band inside the Womble costumes were none other than Steeleye Span.
The Wombles Band ended up being the most successful pop act of 1974. I remember in 1975 seeing a franchised version of the band playing at a camping holiday camp in Devon. It was a rather scary experience as on the television show they are portrayed as knee high- and despite having seen them play on the television- having these six foot plus Wombles in front of me was quite the experience. I still have a poster- and at the time I was convinced I had witnessed the real Wombles in concert.
Here are the real band on Top of the Pops:
And here is their first video.
To me, they have great musical quality- with clear influences ranging from the Beatles to the Beach Boys.
Here is an Amazon link to their greatest hits.
In 2011, proving how popular they are in British culture, they played one of the UK’s biggest festivals, Glastonbury, and the crowd loved them!
Remember you’re a Womble at Glastonbury;
So there you have it- a quick guide to all things Womble related. And the future looks very bright indeed in 2015 a new television of the show was aired in the U.K. – this time they are animated.