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The Wombles Edit
The Wombles are fictional pointy-nosed, rodent-like, furry creatures that live in burrows, where they aim to help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways. Wombles were created by author Elizabeth Beresford, and originally appeared in a series of children's novels from 1968. Although Wombles supposedly live in every country in the world, Beresford's stories are concerned with the lives of the inhabitants of the burrow on Wimbledon Common in London, England. The characters became nationally famous in the UK in the mid 1970s as a result of a very popular BBC children's television show using stop motion animation. A number of spin-off novelty songs also became major hits in the British music charts. The Wombles (band) was the brainchild of British music writer and composer, Mike Batt. The Womble motto is "Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish." This green message was a reflection of the growing ecology movement of the 1970s.
Elisabeth Beresford was a freelance ghost writer and children's book author. She was born in Paris and travelled the world with her BBC sports commentator husband Max Robertson. One Christmas, Elisabeth Beresford took her young children for a Boxing Day walk on Wimbledon Common, where one referred to it as "Wombledon Common." On getting home, Elisabeth Beresford wrote down the idea and started developing the characters and storylines.
Beresford developed the characters around members of her family, and named them after places the family had associations with. This is the list of young wombles:
- Orinoco - a shirker who loved sleep and food, styled on Beresford's teenage son and named after the River Orinoco in South America.
- Bungo - over-enthusiastic and bossy, named after Bungo Province in Japan.
- Wellington - scientifically inclined, but very insecure and absent-minded. Named after her nephew's school: Wellington School, Somerset.
- Tomsk - an athletic Womble with a rather low IQ, named after Tomsk in Russia.
- Alderney - Madame Cholet's assistant, named after Alderney in the Channel Islands where Beresford lived towards the end of her life. She appeared in the early books, but did not make it into the first TV series. Her character was revived in the second TV series, when many viewers wrongly assumed she was a new character
- Shansi - often paired with Alderney, as Bungo was with Orinoco, named after a Shanxi province in China. She was also not seen until the second TV series.
- Stepney - East Ender with dreadlocks, who got his name from the Stepney area in London's East End where he came from. He was also not seen until the second TV series.
- Obidos - named after Óbidos, Pará in Brazil.
- Moosonee - Tomsk's penpal, named after a place in James Bay in Canada.
This is the list of old wombles:
- Great Uncle Bulgaria - the Wombles' leader, based on Beresford's father-in-law and named after the country.
- Tobermory - an engineer, based on Beresford's brother, a skilled inventor, and named after the capital of the Isle of Mull, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides islands.
- Madame Cholet - a cook, styled on Beresford's mother and named after the town of Cholet in France.
- Cairngorm MacWomble the Terrible - named after the Cairngorms, a mountain range in Scotland. He was introduced in the second book (The Wandering Wombles) as a Highland Womble clan chief. He appeared in the TV series when he visited the Wimbledon burrow.
- Nanny Alexandria - Great Uncle Bulgaria's nanny, named after the ancient city in Egypt.
- Livingstone - an explorer, named after the British explorer Dr Livingstone.
- Hoboken - an American tourist, named after a place in Belgium.
In the first book, Bungo is the youngest and least experienced of the team, and the story is mostly viewed through his eyes. Later 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 1970s TV series. Alderney was re-introduced in the later TV shows produced in the 1990s (the Channel Island of Alderney was actually Elisabeth Beresford's home at the time), along with Stepney (who appeared in none of the earlier versions).
The Storyline Edit
Though it is stated that Wombles live all around the world, the collection upon which Beresford's collection of stories, as well as the television series and the music, are based, is the group living in Wimbledon Common in London, England. Below a certain age, all Wombles are nameless. Upon coming of age, a Womble chooses his name by looking through Great Uncle Bulgaria's large atlas until they find a name that suits them. Some, like Bungo, "merely shut their eyes tight and point and hope for the best". They then leave Miss Adelaide's "Womblegarten" and join in 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).
Wombles are vegetarians (herbivores more precisely) and are very fond of mushrooms. They eat a variety of plants, fungi, and tree products that Human Beings cannot, or will not, eat. So daisy buns, acorn juice, fir-cone soufflé, elm bark casserole and grassbread sandwiches are part of the Womble menu - augmented by any food left behind on the Common by Human Beings.
Wombles are very careful to keep their existence secret from Human Beings - at least in the books and TV series. In the movie Wombling Free this is reversed as the Wombles seek to get Human Beings to listen to their "make good use of bad rubbish" pleas. Otherwise secrecy is the rule, though there have been a few exceptions, such as Mr. Smith, a lonely senior citizen who is invited inside the Wombles burrow on Christmas Eve. They generally have a low opinion of other animals, though kind to them. They especially have a poor opinion of Human Beings, with the exception of royalty, especially the Queen. They dislike lies and lying, though on occasion they are known to stretch the truth or omit important details.
There are other species and burrows of Wombles discovered throughout the series of books. The Loch Ness monster is revealed to be a clan of water Wombles and the yeti of the Himalayas are revealed to be giant snow-white Wombles. Wombles have a sixth sense which allows them to sense green spaces and wildlife, first mentioned in The Wandering Wombles, but developed to a keen long range telepathic sense by Dalai Gartok Womble in The Wombles Go Round The World. Wombles also apparently have retractable claws like cats, although they rarely use them.
In the original editions of the books the Wombles are pictured as bear-like and between 4 and 5 feet (about 1.5 metres) in height. Their size and appearance changed with the TV series, where they are portrayed as about knee high with pointy snouts, much like a raccoon's (although raccoons are not native to Britain). In the book and movie Wombling Free they are described as "short, fat, and furry", roughly between three or four feet (about 1 metre) in height.
Children's novels Edit
There were 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)
All of these were out of print for many years, but through 2010 and 2011 they were re-issued by Bloomsbury with all-new illustrations. The last two books are less well known than the original three, perhaps because they appeared after the successful television series began. In The Wandering Wombles, the setting moved from Wimbledon Common to Hyde Park in central London. However The Wombles to the Rescuesaw them return to Wimbledon Common. Four of the books were illustrated by Margaret Gordon. The Wombles at Work (1973) was illustrated by Barry Leith. The appearance of the Wombles in the books followed the design of the Ivor Wood TV puppets, with the exception of The Wombles(1968) which preceded the TV series and depicted the Wombles as teddy bear-like creatures. Wombles appearing in the books included:
- Great Uncle Bulgaria
- Madame Cholet
- Miss Adelaide
Additional wombles included:
- Cousin Yellowstone
- Cairngorm MacWomble the Terrible
- Cousin Botany
- Speyer and Heilbronn
- Frau Heidelberg
- Habsburg Von Hohenzollern Womble
- Ms Atlanta
- Dalai Gartok
- Cairns and Perth
- Great-Great Aunt M. Murrumbidgee
- Uncle Dunedin
- Cousin Tokyo
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.
A stop motion animated series was made in 1973 and 1975. A new stop motion animated series was made between 1997-1999.