Son of The Wombles creator talks of expanding global legacy on 50th anniversary
The son of the writer who created The Wombles said the characters have only been seen through the “prism of Wimbledon Common”, but could have burrows all over the world as the TV show celebrates its golden anniversary.
The children’s show has championed positive environmental behaviour since it first aired on the BBC in February 1973, as it is about a family of secretive litter-picking creatures who live beneath Wimbledon Common.
The beloved furry characters such as wise old Great Uncle Bulgaria, inventor Tobermory and sleep-loving Orinoco, were the brainchild of Elisabeth Beresford – who published her first Wombles story in 1968.
Veteran actor Bernard Cribbins, who died aged 93 in July last year, narrated the original Wombles TV series which ran until 1975, endorsing the creatures’ motto to “make good use of bad rubbish”.
Marcus Robertson, Beresford’s son, reflected on the five decades since the much-loved environmental pioneers debuted on TV screens.
He told the PA news agency: “I think for her the fact that she just based it all on members of the family and that it’s still going and it’s still relevant, she would love that.
“When I watch it, the way Bernard Cribbins does the voices, mum told him how we all interact so Great Uncle Bulgaria is based on my paternal grandfather, and the way he talks to Orinoco is just like my grandfather talked to me and it’s just a brilliant thing because I can literally turn on the TV or go on YouTube and there’s my family. It’s amazing and she would love that.
“It’s nice because obviously she’s been dead 12 years now, but it never feels like that because I often see bits on YouTube of her talking somewhere. So she’s never really gone away.”
The Wombles enjoyed four top 10 hits during their TV career with the help of musician Mike Batt, including their first hit in 1974 with Wombling Song.
Ivor Wood designed The Wombles for television, which fitted the growing awareness of environmental issues – and he went on to create other children’s programmes including popular show Postman Pat.
However, Mr Robertson said that his mother’s original novels described The Wombles as having burrows “all over the world”, which had not been reflected in the TV series.
Characters included the Loch Ness Monster, who is the matriarch of the Water Wombles, and Yeti, who are Snow Wombles, looking after the mountainous environment.
He told PA: “You can see how the Wombles could become much more global in the effect they have because you can write Wombles stories in any country.
“Those can be fantastic to bring into future stuff now that we’re not constrained by the graphics or the stop-frame animation of the 70s. You could do amazing things.
“The Wombles in every part of the globe have relevance now. In the past, it was really seen just through the prism of Wimbledon Common and now it can be seen through the prism of the whole world quite easily.”
In 2021, The Wombles were the UK government mascots at Cop26 and supported its #OneStepGreener campaign which included collaborating with Sir Paul McCartney on a project to encourage people to eat less meat for the sake of the environment.
Mr Robertson told PA: “The fact we were in Cop26 was fantastic being the mascot but equally going back to The Wombles all over the world there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a mascot at every Cop.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, 10 of the original five-minute episodes of The Wombles have been remastered and upscaled to high definition and will be uploaded to YouTube on Sunday.
The remaining 50 episodes will be released throughout the year.
The Wombles, who were brought out of hibernation and given a CGI-makeover in 2020 to spread the positive message of local environmentalism, have also announced a year-long partnership with Age UK.
They will be encouraging the public to use the charity’s high street shops as local recycling centres and will be launching a host of events across the country.