Now they are finally on display at The Grange Art Gallery and Museum in ‘Cinema By The Sea’ after several delays I thought I’d blog a resume of the details of our involvement for anyone who missed them first time round.
These marionettes are over 50 years old. I can’t remember why the two soldiers were originally on the front of the cover of ‘The Observer’ magazine dressed as workmen. But this was how Richard Attenborough first saw them and despite looking at others at our studio in Highgate decided these were the puppets that must be re-dressed as soldiers for his iconic anti-war film.
He was insistent that every detail had to be perfect to honour the memory of the real soldiers. My mother had been a fashion designer and made the costumes for all of our marionettes. She consulted Berman’s, home of military theatrical costumes and tracked down the materials, including the cord for the braid, to make the uniforms. Boots were cast in rubber by my father, helmets in fibreglass. It took months to complete them all.
There were to be lots of tiny soldiers on the the roundabout and when completed they looked amazing! However once on the set my mother was asked to break them up to represent soldiers in an explosion. After all her painstaking work to make them she couldn’t do it, so members of the crew had the task.
We all stayed at the Grand Hotel for several days with other members of the cast. A famous French actor, Jean Paul Cassell, was flown over to bang the drum at the beginning of our cameo performance, which was great fun.
We knew some of the stars who performed in the film as we had entertained them with our marionette shows at their private parties. These included Kenneth More, one of the stars in ‘Genevieve’ (see letter in display), Peter Sellers and Lauren Bacall. The latter had their parties at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
I was repairing some of the tiny marionettes in 2013 and Robin Gibson of BBC South East heard about it and came to film some of the work. We were all featured in one of their films commemorating the Great War.
Our marionettes have performed for summer seasons, entertained at private parties, appeared in shows such as ‘Cliff Richard’s Saturday Spectacular’ on TV, did commercials, ‘The Telegoons’ (based on the Goon Show) and Cabaret, constantly adapting to the changing entertainment scene. I went on to do Variety on the same bills as Max Miller, Morecambe and Wise and Alma Cogan.
One of Max’s costumes and dozens of artifacts are on display in the exhibition at the Grange, kindly donated by The Max Miller Appreciation Society.
As puppeteers we had been involved in a wide range of work. Early in their career my parents had had the honour of performing for Her Majesty the Queen at a children’s party in the 50s. The Puppet Circus was one of the sets which featured.
Stranger than fiction, my mother in her 60s applied for the post of Principal of the Royal School of Needlework and spent her last years there before retirement. My father was involved in Community Arts in Rotherhithe and was partly responsible for getting Brunel’s Pumping Station Museum open to the public.
Some of our marionette collection not currently on display.
I have spent years keeping our collection of marionettes together. There are nearly two hundred some from as far back as the 1950s with associated artifacts, photographs, newspaper cuttings, a beautiful set of painted scenery, film clips etc. all currently in storage. Some appeared one of our stages, some were in cabaret and 3ft high. An outstanding collection of social history all waiting for their place in the sun.