Travels inspired by the Wombles

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Forty years on...

In just over an hour's time, it'll be exactly 40 years since the original broadcast of the first episode of the first TV incarnation of The Wombles. Happy anniversary!

This isn't the place to recount that episode in detail, nor to re-summarise the whole success story - aside from anything else, the summary on the Tidybag site does that better than I could - but here are a few thoughts and suggestions about why the Wombles have been so successful, and so enduring:
  • They prove that families come in all shapes and sizes. There are no parents as such, nobody is married to anyone else and the vexed question of where baby Wombles come from is never addressed.  (There is a pecking order, of course, but that will happen wherever people or animals congregate.)  At a time when some of our MPs seem quite determined - to their shame - to argue that some forms of love are more equal than others, it's a gentle reminder that one size of family does not fit all.  Some of the greatest animations and children's TV have made this point in different ways.  Think of how often the Simpsons are described, for example, as 'dysfunctional'.  Funny, then, that they stay together, isn't it?
  • The significance of the TV series success (although the books were very well received in the first place) lies partly in design.  If the TV adaptation had stuck with the teddy bear-esque look of the book illustrations, it's doubtful whether the Wombles would have captured so many hearts.  Although he did many other things in his life, Ivor Wood's Wombles designs were genius.
  • The idea is so strong that it even survived a not terribly good revival in the 1990s.  I understand a new TV series may be in the pipeline, under the aegis of Mike Batt's production company.  Let's state the obvious here and now: get Sir Bernard Cribbins to do the voices. Please.
Above all, I wonder if any set of fictional characters for children engender the same levels of affection as the Wombles.  When doing the UK travel and research for Journeys from Wimbledon Common, I didn't come across a single person who disliked the Wombles, or thought they were cheap or tacky or any of the other criticisms which get thrown at other children's TV programmes of years gone by.

I hope Elisabeth Beresford is looking down on all this with a smile.  Wish you were here, Liza.

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