This month marks the 50th anniversary of The Wombles first television appearance, and has been marked with the re-release of the original animated series you can watch for free on YouTube, with commemorative coins and medal collections, and more, to come.
A new book about The Wombles creator, The Creator of the Wombles: The First Biography of Elisabeth Beresford, written by Kate Robertson, Elisabeth Beresford’s daughter, will be released later this month.
The original The Wombles book was published in 1968, and re-released several times, the creation of Elizabeth Beresford while walking on Wimbledon Common with her children, Kate and Marcus. Some of the stories were read on the BBC children’s show, Jackanory in 1969 and 1971, which led to the commissioning of a full TV series, which launched on 5th February 1973.
Animated by Ivor Wood and Barry Leith and narrated by the Bernard Cribbins with the theme tune composed by Mike Batt, now available to watch on YouTube, the show was voted by the British public as one the top 10 most popular BBC TV children’s programmes of all time. The characters also appeared in the pre-school children’s comic, Jack and Jill.
Right from the beginning, the Wombles’ adventures involved recycling and reusing discarded things that they found on the Common, and are considered ahead of their time. The Wombles of today are very focused on that environmental message, their official web site detailing support for numerous charities, including Keep Britain Tidy, the Canal and River Trust, and National Tree Week.
The 50th anniversary is being marked by the release of a digitally remastered version of the original The Wombles animated series, commemorative coin and medal collections, a year-long partnership with Age UK, promoting its high-street charity shops as local upcycling centres.
A host of events across the country will see the characters reconnect with new audiences and amplify their relevance to new generations.
The Wombles will also be announcing a series of film, TV and theatrical production deals during the next few months, with the aim of streaming new content before the end of the year.
Since The Wombles were brought out of hibernation at the beginning of 2020, the IP owners Acre Creative Holdings have focused on reintroducing the characters and their positive environmental message to a new generation. They have featured in a wide range of environmental campaigns including the annual Great British Spring Clean, #EcoSchoolsAtHome, WRAP’s recycling initiatives, tree planting, beach cleaning and upcycling and were the UK government’s mascots at COP26.
LicensingBiz reports this approach has proven to be highly effective – a YouGov survey revealed that 88% of the British public are aware of the Wombles and 64% agreed that because of the environmental crisis across the world, they are more relevant today than ever.
“The Wombles want to become the standard bearers for sustainability within the licensing industry and want to work with brands and manufacturers who are bringing innovative environmental products and services to the market,” state the IP owners. “They also want to support the sustainability efforts of larger companies, helping them tell their environmental story much more effectively.”
The return of The Wombles hasn’t been without some controversy. As noted on the brilliant Wombles fan site, Tidy Bag, the rights to the Wombles were shared equally between Elisabeth Beresford’s children, after her death in 2010, and musician Mike Batt until 2013. (It was Mike who made The Wombles a huge musical success, releasing four original albums from 1973 to 1975, followed by a number of ‘greatest hits’ compilations).
Mike’s company Dramatico then took a controlling stake, after years of gathering all the rights together, with big plans for a new TV series and more. Mike pledged to “protect and look after the quality and integrity of the characters as we always have done”.
Mike had to abandon the project and filed for personal bankruptcy in 2017, British businessman Craig Treharne bought his stake in Wombles Copyright Holdings Ltd and began a makeover for a new generation in 2020 as CGI characters, aiming to spread their positive message of local environmentalism.
Mike Batt said he had been frozen out of The Wombles remake in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2020, but the official site and social media are making use of his music, so perhaps matters have been resolved.
The CGI characters, developed by The Wombles’ creative team, aimed to bring a new dimension and contemporary-feel to the characters, without changing their classic look. The CGI gives each Womble, including all of the classic characters (Orinoco, Great Uncle Bulgaria, Madame Cholet, Alderney, Tobermory, Wellington, Bungo and Tomsk), a full range of facial emotions and the ability to talk.
The revamp drew fire from some newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Telegraph, with controversial TV presenter Piers Morgan also lambasting the new look.
But it seems to have hit the right notes, even among some of its critics. The Daily Mail was a media partner in their 2020 relaunch masterminded by Robert Campbell and Martin Thomas, who even managed to persuade House of Commons security to let Orinico into the centre of British democracy.
Then PM Boris Johnson stood next to Orinoco for the cameras and then, in what Robert describes as a “money can’t buy this kind of publicity” moment, recited the lyrics to “The Wombling Song”.
♻️ 'They are more relevant than ever'— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) February 5, 2023
It's been 50 years since The Wombles first appeared on our screens.@QasaAlom and @EllyOldroyd spoke with Marcus Robertson, son of Wombles creator Elisabeth Beresford, about a possible return to TV for the classic show.
📲 @BBCSounds pic.twitter.com/c2GSzpZWxA
All that noted, The Wombles are a rare brand in British family entertainment, thanks to their ethical environmental credentials, focused on making learning about environmental matters fun. Marcus Robertson, Elisabeth Beresford’s son, recently commented in an interview for Radio 5 Live that they are now more relevant than ever.
Long may they continue…
• Watch The Wombles on YouTube
• The Wombles are online at womblesofficial.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
• Tidy Bag – a terrific Wombles resource with information about the opriginal books, animated series and much more
• The Creator of the Wombles: The First Biography of Elisabeth Beresford, by Kate Robertson
This is the extraordinary story of Elisabeth Beresford, creator of The Wombles, the furry, fun-loving recyclers of rubbish which became a children’s publishing and television sensation in the 1970s.
What drove this imaginative and prolific writer of children’s books to invent The Wombles? From her birth in Paris in 1926 to her death in the Channel Islands in 2010, Beresford’s working life was led to the full, driven by the fear of debt.
Married to the TV and radio sports commentator, Max Robertson, and with two children, Elisabeth’s life was never dull but always uncertain. In addition to writing over 140 children’s books, she wrote romantic fiction for women’s magazines, became a regular contributor to the BBC’s Today programme and Woman’s Hour and Woman’s World, for the Central Office of Information. As a journalist she interviewed a fascinating range of people from politicians and film stars to children in the remote Australian Outback.
With the publication of The Wombles, and subsequently the enchanting BBC films, Elisabeth found fame and for a very brief moment, fortune.
This is the first biography of ‘Mrs Womble’ as Elisabeth was known by millions of fans. Written by her daughter with insider knowledge and access to private family archives – diaries, letters, photographs and family memories – this book relates the remarkable and often hilarious life of one of the 20th century’s most successful children’s authors.
This new book, published by White Owl, is written by Kate Robertson, Elisabeth Beresford’s daughter, on whom the character of Bungo Womble was based. She has had 12 children’s books published (Dilbert the Jumbo Jet series), has worked in non-fiction publishing and is a freelance writer and editor. She was a script advisor on the 1990s Womble films and a consultant on the reissue of the Womble novels by Bloomsbury.
• Buy The Creator of the Wombles: The First Biography of Elisabeth Beresford (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)
Categories: Animation, Books, downthetubes News, Events, Other Worlds, Television