REMEMBER YOU’RE A WOMBLE

REMEMBER YOU’RE A WOMBLE
A look back at the UK’s favourite furry, burrowing, litter-gathering pop stars

Long before Jim Henson’s Fraggles ever existed in the subterranean cave system known as Fraggle Rock, another manner of furry burrowing creatures caught the imagination of kids worldwide: The Wombles. And while the Fraggle Rock theme song reached #33 on the British music charts, The Wombles in their heyday (the early 70s) rose above artists like T-Rex and The Bay City Rollers to become the UK’s most long-standing top-ten act.

Created by author Elisabeth Beresford as a series of children’s books beginning in 1968 (and spanning more than 20 books translated into 40 languages), The Wombles lived in the ground beneath London’s Wimbledon Common, small rodent-like creatures (although described as larger and more teddy bear-like in the books) who would gather up trash left by unconsciencious humans and recycle it into something useful. The Wombles’ motto was “make good use of bad rubbish”, spawning a multitude of children’s neighbourhood cleanup groups and environmental organizations whose names – Wombling Community Interest Company, Womble Environmental Group, The Womble – are inextricably linked to the Wombles’ legacy.

Characters like Orinoco, Wellington, Tobermory, Alderney and Uncle Bulgaria (wombles are nameless until a certain age, when they pick their own names from looking at maps) soon became pop culture idols to children everywhere, even though they are vegetarians and dislike all humans except for The Queen. Merchandise galore – toys, dishes, patches and buttons, bedding, beauty products – flooded the market, especially once Filmfair’s stop-motion animated television show of The Wombles debuted on the BBC in 1973. The show, which ran until 1975, is an adorably dated, plodding kids show in which not much really happens. In one episode, Wellington finds a tin can and spends a long time looking at it.

But where the Wombles really took off was in the pop charts. The show’s theme music – incredibly catchy chamber-pop with harmonies galore – was written by Mike Batt of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, and he purportedly had his mother make him a womble costume, which he would wear while composing the songs. When Womblemania took off, he convinced staple session guitarist (and future Sex Pistols producer) Chris Spedding to join him on tour, dressed as Wellington Womble (my personal favourite of the womble clan). The resulting albums all went gold, and many of the songs were re-used in the bizarre and somewhat creepy 1977 feature film Wombling Free.

But this string of hits came to be viewed as an impediment by composer Mike Batt, who – in a 2008 Sunday Telegraph interview – lamented that “it is hard to be taken seriously with the Wombles hanging around my neck like a furry anvil.”

So where are the wombles these days? Well, if the current state of Wimbledon Common is any indication – a sea of litter, mud and dead grass – it’s safe to say that people don’t believe in Wombles anymore. In 1992 Wimbledon Common again became the subject of public obsession when it was the site of a brutal rape/murder case in which 24-year old Rachel Jane Nickell was stabbed 49 times, and it has been the site of two more sexual assaults since, with women being warned to avoid going on the common altogether. With this as the area’s new legacy, it’s certainly no place fit for a womble.

A new Wombles TV show aired in 1998-1999, but the charming tedium of the original couldn’t be duplicated, and indeed wouldn’t have held the interest of today’s ADD-generation of youngsters anyway. The Wombles are absolutely a product of their time, and a unique window into British societal and pop cultural concerns in the early 70s, both overground, and underground.

- Kier-La Janisse

About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Owner/Artistic Director of Spectacular Optical Publications and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (Spectacular Optical, 2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (Spectacular Optical, 2015) and Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017), and is co-editing Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television for release in late 2017. She is currently writing A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: Children’s Programming and the Counterculture, 1965-1985, monographs about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Patricia Birch’s Grease 2, and is in development on a TV series based on her book House of Psychotic Women with Rook Films.

Comments

  1. Sheila. Cornford Reply

    I have 6 Wombles made by Poshaws but I cannot find Wellington– he is lovely and I would very much like to buy him.

    PLEASE HELP PLEASE Sheila. Cornford

    5 yearss ago
  2. Sheila. Cornford Reply

    Where is Wellington made by. posh paws. Please

    5 yearss ago

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