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It's very extensive (and my inspiration)


The Wombles - An Overview

The Wombles were created in 1968 by Elizabeth Beresford and published as a book by Puffin Books. "The Wombles" introduced us to the bear like rodents living in burrows like moles or rabbits. They live in every corner of the world, but the most famous community lives in London - more precicely, Wimbledon, on the common. Great Uncle Bulgaria is the oldest, wisest womble. It is from his giant atlas that the young wombles choose their names - apart from Bungo who closed his eyes and stuck a pin into the map! The wombles introduced us to recycling before it was trendy by "Making good use of... things that the everyday folk leave behind" - picking up human rubbish and making all sorts of useful things from it. At the end of the day, the working wombles - usually Wellington, the shy but clever one, Bungo, the clumsy one, Tomsk the energetic one and Orinoco, the lazy one - would return the rubbish to the burrow in their wombling sacks. Tobermory would then construct something in his workshop, which, being a womble, he likes to keep tidy. Then they'd all have tea - dandilion soup and ash bark pie was a favourite - made by their french cook Madame Cholet who was also a bit of a mother to the young wombles.

The wombles have been translated into many laguages including Danish, Spanish and Japanese - in some cases, the womble's names were changed. Strange since they were all place names. Then in 1974, FilmFair brought this children's favourite to life with a series of five minute animations, animated and directed by Ivor Wood. The tiny tales were narrated by the inimitable Bernard Cribbens who rambled his way through each episode providing the voices with an almost matter of fact quality. It sounds, on occasions, that a script was written and recorded for a show which was then animated and the final voice was improvised at the end of the production process based on the original script, but lead by the actions seen on the screen.

By the time the wombles hit our screens, they had changed somewhat in appearance. From Beresfords original description and Margaret Gordon's illustrations of very bear like creatures with shaggy fur, the FilmFair wombles had longer and more pointed snouts with large floppy ears. Their fur is now grey instead of brown and they have been given clothes - Wellington has a blue hat and glasses, Tomsk has a vest and Orinoco has a red scarf and hat. Tobermory has a leather apron while Madame Cholet wears a french maids pinny. The grandest of all the Wimbledon wombles is, of course, Great Uncle Bulgaria in his kilt (made from official patented Wombles International Tarten - only available on official merchandice). All articals of womble clothing bear their logo - a 'W' in a circle.

Being limited to only five minutes, the stories are not very indepth - things just happened, usually while Orinoco was trying to catch forty winks - then it was tea time. Simple. There was no complex family unit to be concerned with. Great Uncle Bulgaria was in charge, he told the working wombles what to do and they did it. Tobermory was the engineer and Mme Cholet cooked and cleaned the burrow - much like a stereotyped mother or housewife - but there was no parenting involved, no real relationships such as mother to son, almost like an orfonage.

Production of womble animations stopped in the late seventies, FilmFair was bought by Central Television in the eighties and the wombles became a childrens classic seemingly destined to ocasional repeats and the odd compilation album of Mike Batt's musical genius. This was not the case, however, as Cinar bought the rights to the entire FilmFair catalogue in 1996 and production was soon resumed. Under the control of this Canadian company, the wombles have inevitably lost some of their Britishness. The new episodes are ten minutes long as oposed to the original five minutes. This enables them to slot into modern childrens schedules more comfortaby and allows the stories to be more like stories and less like vaiguely cohearant snapshots of a day.

The new stories are more indepth with more than one thing happening. Greater stories mean less requirement for narration, we don't need to be told what's happening. Consequently, Bernard Cribbins' bumbling voice over has been replaced by individual character voices. Unfortunately, these voices are not provided by Londoners and as a result of this sound slightly Australian, American, or even Canadian - Tobermory sounds remeniscent of Dick Van Dike's chimney sweep in "Mary Poppins". This was rather distracting to me, but I fear that younger viewers will be unaware of this misstreatment of our national heritage.

As for appearance, the new series is not far off the original style. The womble's clothing has been updated to T-shirts and baggy jumpers and Tomsk's vest is now an athlete's vest. Apart from this, the basic set design is the same. Vehicals have been introduced - such as a car and the 'Womblecopter' - along with new characters - Alderney, posibly from Australia, Shansi from Cina, Stepney from the Thames burrow, and Obibos from Rio. These are not new creations of cinar, but actually featured in Elizabeth Beresford's books and she also edits the new stories.

On a technical note, the animation is not always up to the high standard of the originals, and the stories are not as charming. Nevertheless, kids love them as we loved Ivor Woods earlier work and a second series went into production as soon as the first finished airing.

The new is certainly different from the old, but in the same way that lothes and music differ over time. If a new show was created with twenty year old design and production ideas, it would not fit in to today's fast lane of multinational high gloss. Cinar have secceeded in bringing the wombles into the nignties so they can once again be loved by children world wide.


LAST UPDATED: 01 February 1999

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