puppet week at the artlog

As the last two posts have been dedicated to all things puppety, I declare this to be:

Puppet Week at the Artlog!

Above:  ‘Gypsy Girl’ with lacquered lips and hoop earrings. The ‘Sailor’ and ‘Soldier’ behind are rival suitors for her hand!

Our house is a refuge to old marionettes made in the UK as children’s playthings from the 1940s until the 1980s. They were produced by a famous factory, Pelham in Marlborough, and their manufacture required a workforce of diverse skills. Designers, sculptors, mould-makers, carpenters, seamstresses, wigmakers, painters and stringers had to be trained in order to produce these marvellous toys, and I doubt that we’ll ever see their like again.

Above: ‘Mr Turnip’ was a marionette character created especially for BBC children’s television, and this version of him is among the earliest examples of a tv puppet turned into a commercially manufactured toy. His companion is a puppet known simply as the ‘Old Lady’, and the poor thing comes with a mop and bucket eternally at the ready!

Requiring meticulous hand-construction at all stages of their making, I’m sure the profits from such time-consuming craftsmanship could could never be made to match the expectations of today’s mass toy-producing magnates, so we must content ourselves by marvelling at the ingenuity and dedication of the Marlborough craftspeople.

Above: a ‘Cowboy’, ‘Cowgirl’, ‘Dutch Girl’ and ‘Tyrollean Boy’. These ‘Nations of the World’ marionettes were immensely popular with children.

Above: the fearsome ‘Witch’ with her whiskers and peg-teeth is among my favourites. While her paint-work is a little worn, that doesn’t in the least detract from her enchantingly emerald green eyes.

Above: this charming ‘Duck’ dates from the 1950s, and with his characterful waddling gait is my absolute favourite.

Above: Alice in Wonderland’, pristine in blue gingham dress and starched pinafore.

Above: a trick-marionette of astonishing ingenuity, this ‘Skeleton’can be made to ‘dis-articulate’ by the simple means of tipping his control bar forward. However he is a nightmare to disentangle unless you’re a real expert. (I am!)

Above: children’s writer Enid Blyton’s ‘Big Ears’ cosies up with another trick-puppet, ‘MacBoozle’. It requires a certain aptitude from the operator, but in deft hands the Scotsman can be made to drink from his bottle of the hard stuff and then pluck his handkerchief from his breast pocket in order to mop his brow!

Above: ‘Pinky and Perky’ were twin pig puppets from the 1960’s, best known for their tv appearances in which they lip-synched to pop songs re-recorded with speeded-up voices. (I guess we’d watch almost anything back then!) This one is ‘Pinky’. (‘Perky’ has blue shorts. I have him, but he’s out of camera-shot.) The lovely bendy-legged blackbird was made by my friend Swsi as a birthday present for me, and celebrates my ‘Kevin and the Blackbird’ paintings.

I should point out that although all these puppets are much-loved old-timers, they nevertheless come out to play with careful and well-behaved visiting children! (And adults.)

More Artog puppet japes can be found HERE and HERE.

13 thoughts on “puppet week at the artlog

  1. Pingback: The werewolf of Dogdyke | hedgecrows

  2. I so envied people who had Pelham puppets when I was a kid, though I disliked dolls. I finally came by a Dutch Girl one at a jumble sale when I was older, I think I was less interested by then but bought her anyway. Unfortunately I hung her on a sunny wall and her clothes faded badly. I don’t know what happened to her in the end. I think the skeleton is my favourite here, I suppose perhaps he was meant to disjoint against a dark background and float uncannily!

    I never much liked Pinky and Perky because of their speeded up voices, but I guess they were all about the pop scene at the time, and that was a joke about playing records at the wrong speed. I do remember enjoying when the Beatles puppets came on, I think they were kind of like beetles, and one of them had an extra long face which was supposed to be George!

    I must send my sister over here, as she’s getting very interested in puppets and the like, and spent many of her evenings here wrapped up in your Lund Humphries book, quite enchanted, especially by the maquette chapter.

    The Klee puppets are amazing too.

    • Hello Lucy. Pelham made an extraordinary range of marionettes over the years. As a child I had friends who had puppets too, and we got together, pooling our resources to put on shows. Like you I was never keen on Pinky and Perky, but when the chance came along to acquire a perfect pair quite cheaply, I couldn’t resist adding them to my puppet cabinet. There’s a certain 60s charm to them. I have a Pelham’Pop Singer’ as well, one with a guitar. I too thought they were intended to represent The Beatles, though it turns out they were based on The Dave Clark Five. This puppet group was reinvented several times by the company over the years, appearing in various changes of clothes including garish ‘hippy’ gear. However the one I have is dressed in a smart, collarless ‘Beatle suit’!

      The best puppet I had was one I made myself. I’d seen the X-rated Hammer film The Gorgon, having been sneaked into the cinema by my older sister. Afterwards I customised a shabby, unloved puppet into the monster from the film, carving a new head and hands and fashioning a dark wig complete with snakes rearing from it. Like the screen monster, she was dressed in a poisonous green chiffon gown. I was mighty pleased with the result, but I have no idea what became of her. I think I’d intended to make the entire cast of characters and mount a puppet version of the production, though I never got beyond building just one crumbling castle set!

        • Marly, I too would like to see that Gorgon (again) but alas she has long gone.

          Big Ears and Noddy, Blyton’s most famous creations. (I have Noddy too!)

          Lucy’s post is fantastic. It must be puppet/automata week everywhere in blog world, as I’ll be linking to another puppet-related blog tomorrow. In the spirit of all things clockwork and puppety, I think that you should put images some of Mike’s clockwork collection on your site! We automata/puppet lovers are clearly in the ascendancy!

  3. These are marvelous, so happy to see that you are a puppet-phile, I have many happy childhood memories of marionettes and hand puppet making.
    Your declaration that it is Puppet Week has prompted my putting together a post on the International Puppetry Museum, found here in LA. Your post on Klee’s amazing puppets planted the seed, your declaration, pushed me over the edge.
    I hope you might visit my site.
    Until next time,

    • Yes Zoe, it dis-articulates. The limbs detach at the hip and shoulder joints and then float around the puppet, leaving the torso and head behind. All this is achieved by the simple tipping of the control-bar. The head requires the pulling of a separate string to levitate it, though this can be done at the same time as the detaching of the limbs by a deft operator. When dis-articulated the legs and arms can be operated so that they appear to dance independently of the torso. The magic is all in the stringing and the clever use of eyelets. I can completely restring almost any damaged puppet brought to me for repair in about twenty minutes. A Pelham ‘Skeleton’ however will take a couple of hours and a lot of fiddling about and readjusting. You have to re-string the marionette in the right order or nothing can be made to work.

        • It would be simpler to e-mail instructions to you. Click on the link to my website (look in the blogroll on the right for ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins’) and once on site you’ll find a contact button. E-mail me from there and this evening I’ll forward the comprehensive instructions from the David Leech book ‘Pelham Puppets’ published by The Crowood Press. It’s one of the harder ones to restring but with patience it can be done.

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