17 Dec The History of Pelham Puppets
About Vintage Pelham Puppets
We absolutely love Pelham Vintage Puppets and we’re sure you will do, if you don’t already! Every Pelham Puppet is hand-made and hand-painted, with their costumes also cut by hand and hand-sewn. This means that every puppet is unique in it’s appearance, and because they’re not mass produced we think this adds to the excitement of owning one.
With all our stock pieces we like to do plenty of research into their history and any back stories they may have, and the Pelham Puppets are no exception. Here’s some interesting facts to get you started.
Bob Pelham – Wonky Toys Ltd:
Bob Pelham initially started the company in 1947 as Wonky Toys Ltd. Wonky Donkey Officer was Bob’s Second World War Military nickname, and he got the name because he made small toy donkeys. Wonky Toys Ltd initially started making basic wooden toys held together by string, this became the foundation for his puppet production. In 1948 he changed the company name to Pelham Puppets to reflect the focus on producing marionette puppets.
Increasing Interest for Pelham Puppets:
The the late 1960’s Bob Pelham created a greater interest in puppetry by creating a new range of Pelham Puppets – Pelham Ventriloquial puppets. These appealed more to older children and to older age groups in general, as they were more complex and harder to operate. Ventriloquial puppets have moving mouths, eyes, and very large heads, and also have an inner handle to stand upright whilst being operated.
In 1961 the Pelham factory was destroyed by a fire but it was quickly rebuilt and grew rapidly in size. Sales increased into the 1980’s, and the site was sold and moved in 1985 to Collingbourne Ducis in Wiltshire, with another further move in the 1990’s to Gloucestershire.
The 1970’s saw peak growth in the popularity of Pelham Puppets, particularly to the United States where the company were experiencing approximately one hundred thousand puppet sales each year. To keep up with demand the work force grew to over 200 employees, which saw the company become the largest employer in Marlborough.
Bimbo the Puppet:
One of Pelham’s most popular puppets was a character named Bimbo, a clown with red cheeks, nose and hair. A life sized Bimbo puppet stood in the factory reception and he was always on hand to great visitors to the factory (an image of the puppet can be seen on the Pelham Puppets website here). Bob was not overly happy with suggestions for much needed renovation of Bimbo, with factory officials claiming his hair was too long. After much deliberation Bob agreed to cut his hair himself using scissors and a cardboard box as a guide. Later the same day, at the age of 61, Bob Pelham suddenly died of from a heart attack.
1993 Saw The Company Go Into Liquidation:
Bob Pelham sadly passed away in June 1980 and Bob’s wife Ann took over the business. In 1993 the company went into liquidation, however in 2008 David Leech, a former employee, revived the brand and Pelham Puppets are still produced today, although this is only by specific requests and often only for private collectors.
Unique & Rare Pelham Puppets:
Pelham puppets are very collectable, with the well looked after rarer puppet models fetching significant amounts of money. Some of the rarest Pelham puppets are listed below with descriptions;
Great Uncle Bulgaria from the Wombles – Brown felt face with purple glasses.
SS Dwarf – A very rare Pelham Puppet with black shoes, spotted trousers and a red hat. Has a very large red ball nose and his hair is made from lambs wool.
SL Bunny Girl – Blonde hair, black legs and a black bow-tie.
Horror Girl – Blonde/Ginger locks, blue eyes and a large red mouth.
SL Jimmy Cricket – Looks just like Jimmy Cricket, our personal favourite!
Henry VII – Looks like a mini Henry the VII, with a red and orange tunic and a fur coat.
SL 63 Elephant – Hollow moulded head with a blue face. He also has a flowered coat with blue trousers and orange shoes.
Arnett Vintage Co – Vintage Pelham Puppets:
Here at Arnett Vintage Co we source Vintage Rare Pelham Puppets, photograph them, research them and then accurately list them in our 21st Century Online Vintage Shop. Here’s the models we currently have in stock;
Sid The Monk – A vintage 1968 Pelham Ventriloquial puppet with box. In fantastic working condition with moving mouth and detachable halo. Production of this model stopped in 1971, so this is a lovely example of one of the rarer models in the range. With original shaped wooden face, lower legs and feet, and a felt main body and sheepskin hair.
Katie The Caterpillar – Vintage 1968 Pelham Ventriloquial puppet with original box. Stunning original 1968 example of Pelham Ventriloquial (Vent) puppet, with large hand operated moving eyes. Original shaped wooden features and sheepskin fur, spring antenna and felt main body. Production of this model stopped in 1971, so this is a lovely example of one of the rarer models in the range.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and if you have any more information on Pelham Puppets we would love to here from you. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below. You can also visit the Pelham Puppets website for more information, it’s definitely worth a bookmark!