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Making good use of the things everyday folks leave behind
on 21 October 2010
A scruffy, shaggy, slightly overweight, furry creature is riding around part of South London, barely in control of his bicycle. No, not the political memoirs of the incumbent Mayor of London. Better. Far better. It's Orinoco Womble and the gang are back!
Well, I say `back'. This is the original series - and this is the very first book. First published in 1968, Elisabeth Beresford's recycling Wombles could have been written yesterday and are right "on message" for current times, featuring loveable characters whose mischievous adventures make great bed time reading (and kids will enjoy them too!). At last, some sensible person at Bloomsbury has located the originals in Tobermory's workshop and seen fit to do with them what Wombles do best. Recycle them and put them to good use in this newly released series.
Elisabeth Beresford's wonderful creations were staggeringly ahead of their time in many ways. No one really spoke much about recycling back then - but she did. Then of course the great marketing bandwagon went into full swing - again to an extent that is now commonplace but then was little used. There was the wonderfully voiced TV series with Bernard Cribbins, albums with Mike Batt's music (who was the Simon Cowell of the 1970s) and merchandising galore. I know. I had most of it. But none of this would have been possible without the raw material of Elisabeth Beresford's exquisitely charming characters, residing underground on Wimbledon Common, collecting the rubbish "everyday folks" left behind.
There are some surprises. In this first book, Wellington Womble has yet to make an appearance. Long time fans will recall that the Womble who should have gone to Specsavers was one of the gang of four younger Wombles (along with Tomsk, Orinoco and Bungo) In this early book the quartet was completed by a pretty, young female Womble, named Alderney who pushes the tea trolley around the burrow. Poor Alderney - she must feel like the Pete Best of the Wombles. But the biggest surprise was quite how uncannily ahead of her time Beresford really was. Yes, sure the whole recycling thing was brilliantly accurate and poor old Orinoco's problems with obesity are obvious to anyone with a memory of the books or the TV show. But when Great Uncle Bulgaria goes to watch the tennis at Wimbledon with cousin Yellowstone who is visiting from America, the Wombles lament that the game is not what it was because it's all about the serving these days. Once again, can I remind you, this is 1968!
The only slight issue you could possibly have with the books is that there is a degree of gender stereotyping with the divine Madame Cholet consigned to the kitchen and Alderney to serving food to the male workers, but I think we can forgive a slight lack of Womble Women's Lib.
The books are beautifully but sparingly illustrated with Nick Price's line drawings. This first one is split into thirteen chapters all of which are just perfect bedtime reading length. They are also perfect for slightly older children to read alone, but my advice would be to get them for younger children so that you can enjoy them too. Incidentally, a good part of the first book concerns Christmas, so they'd make terrific Christmas presents. They are certainly going on my list to Santa!
With recycling issues now understood by everyone, the time should be right for a full scale Womble revival. These guys should "clean up" again, as it were. No kid should grow up without having the Wombles in their lives.
To paraphrase the only person older than Great Uncle Bulgaria; "keeeeep Wombling". Me? I'm off for forty winks.