The Wombles

From Academic Kids

This article refers to the children's TV programme, not the radical anarchist WOMBLES group.

The Wombles are fictional characters created by British author Elisabeth Beresford, originally appearing in a series of children's novels from 1968.

Wombles are pointy-nosed furry creatures that live in burrows, where they help the environment by recycling rubbish in useful and ingenious ways. This "green" message was ahead of its time in the 1970s. Although Wombles live in every country in the world, the stories focus on the life of the Wimbledon Common burrow in London, England. Beresford reportedly invented the name "Womble" when one of her children referred to Wimbledon Common as "Wombledon Common". Wombles is also a term used by fans of Wimbledon F.C. (and now AFC Wimbledon) to describe themselves affectionately. Fans have many terrace songs in which 'Wombles' are referred to.

Contents

Characters

All of the Wombles have names taken from an old Atlas; the main characters were:

In the first book, Bungo was the youngest and least experienced of the team, and the story is mostly viewed through his eyes. Afterwards Wellington (who was not introduced until the second book) took over the role of "new boy". Alderney and Adelaide appeared in the earlier books, but were not included in the original TV series of the 1970's. Alderney was re-introduced in the later TV shows of the 1990's, along with Stepney (who appeared in none of the earlier versions). The Womble songs (detailed later) introduced a further character, Cousin Yellowstone.

Children's Novels

There were a total of five novels:

  • The Wombles (1968)
  • The Wandering Wombles (1970)
  • The Wombles at Work (1973)
  • The Wombles to the Rescue (1974)
  • The Wombles Go Round the World (1976)

(The latter two books are less well known than the original three, perhaps because they appeared after the successful TV series.) In The Wandering Wombles, the setting moved from Wimbledon Common to Hyde Park in central London. However The Wombles to the Rescue saw them return to Wimbledon Common. The books also contain several concepts which were dropped in the later TV version (see below). For example, we learn that below a certain age, all Wombles are nameless. Upon his coming of age, a Womble chooses his name from Great Uncle Bulgaria's atlas, after which he leaves Miss Adelaide's "Womblegarten" and enters the communal work of the burrow (which is mostly clearing up and recycling human refuse). The life expectancy of a womble is over 200 years, with some reaching 300, which would make them the longest-lived of all animal species.

Beresford also wrote a collection of short stories entitled The Invisible Womble and Other Stories (1973), in which the original Wimbledon Common setting was restored. Although based on episodes from the TV series, these stories occasionally refer to events in the novels.

In addition to these books, a great many annuals, picture-books and children's early readers have been published over the years, some of which were also written by Elisabeth Beresford.

TV and Film

The Wombles was adapted as a British children's television programme, The Wombles, a series of five-minute stop-motion episodes produced by FilmFair for the BBC and voiced by Bernard Cribbins. The first series aired in 1973 and the second in 1975, sixty episodes in all. In 1977, a feature-length live-action movie Wombling Free appeared, starring David Tomlinson and Bonnie Langford.

The Wombles were re-invented from 1998 as a cartoon after FilmFair was acquired by the Canadian company Cinar Films in 1996, a number of new geographically-named Wombles were introduced.

The original television series remained popular with children in the eighties. However, the original "green" message backfired: newspapers reported at the time that children were deliberately throwing litter onto the real Wimbledon Common in the hope of seeing a Womble emerge to pick it up.

Music

Songwriter and producer Mike Batt wrote the series' theme tune, and later went on to perform and produce a number of successful novelty singles as The Wombles. He and his band appeared on music shows dressed in full Womble costumes, which were sweltering in the heat of the studios. On one edition of Top of the Pops, the costumes were filled by members of Steeleye Span.

Their hits were:

  • The Wombling Song (1974/98)
  • Remember You're A Womble (1974/98)
  • Banana Rock (1974 - reggae spoof)
  • Minuetto Allegretto (1974)
  • Wombling Merry Christmas (1974)
  • Wombling White Tie and Tails (1975)
  • Super Womble (1975)
  • Let's Womble To The Party Tonight (1975)
  • I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day (2000 - Wombles with Roy Wood).

Batt's success with the Wombles (they were the band with most weeks in the singles charts in the UK in 1974) tended to overshadow his genuine songwriting talents.

The Borribles

Of tangental connection to The Wombles are The Borrible Trilogy books: The Borribles, The Borribles Go For Broke and The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis. Written by Michael de Larrabeiti, the books feature a group of perpetual children known as the Borribles who live an underground existence on the streets of London. In the first book the Borribles battle a group of giant, intelligent rats known as the Rumbles, who many readers have suggested are intended to represent the Wombles.

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