Pictures from the event are sprinkled throughout this post.
The big day arrived, people gathered including some the younger relatives of those who had once worked in the Pelham Puppet Factory. Bob Pelham had employed a great many people in Marlborough over the years, especially just after the war when woman had dressed the puppets in their own homes.
David Leech set up a display and theatre in the town hall. The Lady Mayoress and some of the council were in attendance. Bob Pelham’s nieces Astrid and Sue Pelham pulled the magic cord. The president of The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, Ronnie Le Drew, Brian Hibbitt photographer and film maker and fellow puppeteers and friends attended the reception, One or two visitors brought along some very special puppets including Steven Metcalfe with his latest acquisition – a mermaid.
We were entertained with short performances from David Leech, Ronnie Le Drew and a very skilled young ventriloquist, Max Fulham.
I was asked to give a short speech so I did deciding to share three things that no one else knew about Bob except me. sounds like a magic spell!
1. My father and Bob both served in the Second World War and afterwards became friends. My parents were the first people to demonstrate Pelham puppets in Gamages. My mother wrote rhymes and monologues for the puppets and apparently sales rocketed!
In Harrods we performed our own show – Ron and Joan Field’s puppets as well as promoting Pelham Puppets. Our modest career in the world of puppetry suddenly took off and we entertained professionally for years!
But in those early years we had a tiny publishing company so Bob and my father agreed we would write the play books and distribute them which we did. It was also agreed that we would retain the copyright to the books.
We produced a second book, my mother and I writing this one together so she insisted I should also have my name on the cover. It was 1950 and I was ten.
The curtain call monologue was so popular headmasters and mistresses sometimes adapted it to read on their retirement.
2. Bob lent us a giant Bimbo to promote our professional Marionette Musicals in the Arcade Theatre on Blackpool’s North Pier and on the Spa Scarborough, in the early 50s.
3. Ours was the company that made and performed with two soldier marionettes and a horse in Richard Attenborough’s feature film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ on Brighton’s West Pier. We also made the tiny soldier marionettes with fibre glass helmets, uniforms, breast plates, neat rubber boots and tiny hand sewn white gloves which were to appear in the roundabout scene in the film.
This army had taken months to make, but just a few weeks away from filming dad realised we would be hard pressed to make enough of our own heads.
A quick phone call to Bob and he agreed to send us whatever he had laying around the factory. The box of heads arrived. The soldiers, with their heads tipped down and partly covered in helmets, were to be seated on white moulded plaster horses, so no one noticed that Hansels from Hansel and Gretel, and a Beatle were going to be riding with the regiment.
Bimbo read some of ‘Curtain Call’ at the end (written by Joan and Ann in 1950)
And we’ll hope you come again,
We’ve learnt our parts so neatly
Done our best to entertain.
Bimbo had printed copies of his rhyme to celebrate the day and gave them out to people in Marlborough which was the best thing he could think to do on such a special occasion!
Later young people in the pub took poems for an aunts and Nans who had once worked in the factory. Someone else took one to an old lady who had once worked there too and later told she was very pleased!
Bimbo and I even had our picture in the local on line newspaper as part of a full report about the event which was a bonus. Next day it was two buses and three trains to get home again and the end of an era with Pelham Puppets for me too!
As children my sister and I never owned a Pelham Puppet they really were luxury toys. Lucky children saved pocket for months, others hoped they would get one for Christmas.
The Green Dragon a delightful pub and bed and breakfast. A room for two with Bimbo and bunny – bunny is one of our own marionettes, a hardworking white rabbit from ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
There are many ancient buildings, walkways and beautiful churches what a wonderful place!