The Wombles of Wimbledon
Underground, Overground, Wombling free. The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.
It was 1968, the day after Christmas, celebrated as Boxing Day in the UK and elsewhere, when Author Elisabeth Beresford took her two children, Kate and Marcus, for a walk on Wimbledon Common just south of London. While on the walk, one of the children mispronounced “Wimbledon” as “Wombledon” When they got home Elisabeth began to write children’s stories about the Wombles of Wimbledon.
These stories were years ahead of their time. Their message of caring for the ecology of the planet and recycling rather than participating in the “throw-away” culture of the fifties and sixties would seem more suited to the concerns of the 21st century than the middle of the 20th but the Wombles were a hit nonetheless.
The Wombles were little furry, bear like creatures that pick up litter and recycle it. “Making good use of bad rubbish” is their motto. Wombles live all over the world but these stories center only on the ones who live on Wimbledon Common. The patriarch of the family is Great-Uncle Bulgaria, who apparently is modeled on her father-in-law. All Wombles are named after places. In the books a Womble is nameless until he reaches a certain age, then he looks through Uncle Bulgaria’s massive Atlas until he or she finds a suitable name. Unless you are Bungo, he just closed his eyes and pointed. (In case you are wondering, Bungo is a province of Japan.)
The stories in the first books were told mainly through the eyes of Orinoco. A womble who never seemed to do much work and loved food and sleeping. Apparently he was modeled after Elisabeth Beresford’s teenage son.
Elisabeth wrote 20 Womble books where they went wombling all over the world meeting Wombles from everywhere and cleaning up behind us yucky humans. Then in 1973 the Wombles appeared on British Television. Orinoco quickly became the star with his love of sandwiches, cookies and a frequent nap. We all got to know the other members of the family such as; Tomsk, very athletic but none too bright, Wellington, the scientist, Tobermory, the brilliant engineer and inventor and Madame Cholet, the cook.
Though the books have the Womble family travelling, the Television series stayed on Wimbledon Common.
In 1974 composer Mike Blatt and some friends donned full size Womble costumes and started doing gigs singing Womble songs. They had eight hit singles in 1974 and 1975. In 1975 they spent sixty two weeks in the UK top forty, making them the most successful group of the year.
Remember you're a Womble
In 1998 Elisabeth Beresford was awarded an MBE for her contribution to children’s literature, she still writes.
When we see the waste of resources and the misuse of energy taking place today, with all the concerns about global warming and the negative effects of landfills over the long run, perhaps it is time for the Wombles to return. To remind us that there is no trash and that even the most useless seeming rubbish can be transformed and made useful.
It’s time we all went Wombling again.