In the early 50s my parents were invited to entertain the Queen, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and their friends. We had clowns, a puppet circus, a white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, a garden ballet, singers, dancers etc. My mother decided that grandpa should go along to pull the curtains as he had fought in the Great War!
It simply wasn’t fair, I had always pulled the curtains, but grandpa met the Queen and had a great time! My mother told the story of Prince Charles and Princess Anne going behind the scenes on our www.puppethouse.co.uk site which also outlines more of our marionette making and performing history.
Currently all the marionettes are being packed because we are moving. We have sold our house in Saltdean which is on the edge of Brighton and are in the process of moving to Eastbourne.
I remember Eastbourne fondly. I left school at fifteen for a summer season at the Hippodrome where I performed with dad’s puppets as a double act with Heather Granger.
I stayed with an ancient auntie and got stuck in her lift all night after a show. The milkman rescued me in the morning. But Auntie then threw me out saying theatre people ‘are no better than they should be’. I had a sheltered upbringing and really had no idea what she meant. The rest of the cast laughed when I told them and helped me find new digs.
We all lived in our grandparents’ house and my sister Judy and I were partly brought up by them. Our parents were always busy creating marionettes and new shows. We missed some school when we went with them for summer seasons to various seaside resorts from late May to late September..
Eastbourne was wonderful and a rite of passage for me. I learned to sing and danced in the chorus for the big summer numbers. Half way through the summer Graham Stark, the star comedian, persuaded me to have my hair dyed blonde. However, when my mother saw it she insisted I change it back to brown and it turned an awful shade of green!
Sadly Grandpa died that summer. I adored him and the family all came down to see me after the funeral. In show business people don’t take time off for funerals. I remember I was dressed in cerise satin with white frou frou over skirts sitting with the family, but was due to go on stage in fifteeen minutes for the opening number.
After Eastbourne a reasonably successful solo career in Variety followed. I remember that dad, always the business man, even charged me for the hire of the marionettes!
Placing the marionettes
For several years I have tried to place the marionettes. The V and A in London were interested in 6 out of a 100, so I let the offer lapse.
The Imperial War Museum were interested in taking the marionettes made and performed by us in the feature film ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ on Brighton’s West Pier in 1968. They were going to be sent to their sister museum in the north and there was no gurantee they would be displayed. I declined that offer too as I wanted the family to be able to see them from time to time. The West Pier people were never interested.
Luckily I was asked to display this set in Rottingdean as part of their ‘Cinema By The Sea Exhibition’ for six months. So some of them saw the light of day.
While I can put the whole collection in and out of storage I can still film them and tell their stories.
Our Cookie and Quickie puppets did a TV cookery series for deaf children and might yet flip a pancake on youtube. I still remember our touring show to stately homes, when the original owners were in residence and my sister Judy and my mother did a weekly satire programme for Granada long before the Muppets hit the screen! Then there was Cliff Richard’s Sunday Spectacular (or it could have been Saturday) at the London Palladium and that revolving stage! My sister and I were still doing Cabaret to supplement our grants when we were at Coloma in West Wickham doing teacher training.
I guess this blog has become more like a memoir during the Covid years.
Films on Youtube. Scenes from Alice in Wonderland, The Puppet Circus, Mademoiselle de Paris, Skeletons. I am not a techical whizz kid and for some reason have two youtube sites so have to advise if you want to see my puppet films you will need to type in Ann Perrin and a selection will appear.
‘The Puppeteer’s Daughter’ is a collection of poetry that followed ‘Don’t Throw Away the Daisies’ which I published four years ago. Both have poems on a range of subjects including puppets. Recommended by John McCullough who says ‘Ann Perrin writes brilliant poems that fizz with originality, satisfying the reader’s heart as well as their head.’ Tim Dooley from The Poetry School says ‘Ann Perrin is an original. Her memories of a world that is almost completely lost are coloured with a vivid eye for detail.’ Both books are available at City Books in Brighton and on Amazon.
Poem in memory of Grandpa
Grandpa sits in silence twisting threads on a white
wooden frame with rows of neat nails on each side.
Weaving patterns with silky thread recovering
from the Great War and comrades lost on the Somme
forbidden by Grandma from talking
of gas, madness or months of recuperation
memories fall into the safety of the sitting room
shiny bodkins glint in the sun like bayonets
his fingers unroll a length of gold as tales of the dead
suddenly return and his eyes fill with tears
he whispers to me about a hospital ship blown to pieces
and jabs a line of blue twine into the emerging mat
a screech from his green parrot breaks his sombre mood
he smiles and ties a golden knot in triumph
polly pads along his arm sings ‘roll out the barrel’
I gather up Grandpa’s wayward threads.