Friday, 14 January 2011

The Wombles - Remember You're A Womble (1974/ No. 3/ 21 weeks/ CBS)

The Wombles phenomenon is a pleasing example of a project that got better and better with each new person that contributed to it;

Firstly, Elizabeth Beresford invented a new breed of reclusive mammal, the Womble. They live, unseen by human beings, in discreet burrows all over the world, the London branch under Wimbledon Common. These helpful creatures sometimes come out into the open to collect and take away litter, recycling it into useful devices. They have an interest in the human world, taking their names at random from an atlas.

Then, in 1973, a series of 60 five minute stop-motion animation films were made for BBC television by FilmFare, to the delight of small children such as myself. The design aesthetic of these films was a labour of great craft and good judgment, especially in the realisation of the creatures themselves, sympathetic characters with an ambling gait, white fur, wrinkling orange snouts and round eyes. It was always a shock for seventies children such as myself to come across older editions of the books, and discover that the pre-TV Wombles were rodents with crisp short black curly hairs and claws. Ugh! You wouldn't want to stroke one of them!

Also crucial to the success of the TV version was the note-perfect vocal work of Bernard Cribbins, one of those kindly and grandfatherly voices that don't seem to be so much of a feature of the more excitable 21st century childrens' television. I now realise that he imbued each Womble with the register and mannerisms of a recognisable London type of the earlier twentieth century, hence Tobermory is a city & guilds trained handyman, Great Uncle Bulgaria an elderly Hampstead Jewish intellectual, Madame Cholet a French house parlourmaid, and so on. For a series of miniatures for small children there's a real and tender characterisation in these programmes.

The Wombles also had a brilliant theme tune by Mike Batt - a brass and strings-led explanation of Womble philosophy;

Underground, overground, Wombling Free!
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we!
Making good use of the things that we find -
Things that the everyday folks leave behind!

So popular is this song with children and their parents that it is released as a single. Extended from twenty seconds to two and a half minutes, it's seriously good - the additional verses all contributing something and with lovely middle eight harmonies ("Oh Uncle Bulgaria, he can remember the days when he wasn't behind the times...")

To promote the single a series of Womble costumes are made, and the decision is made to continue releasing records under the name of The Wombles. 'Remember You're A Womble' is the follow-up single, and is anything but a meretricious cash-in.

A brilliant cheer-up song for children and grown-ups;

"When the sun doesn't shine and it's cloudy and grey
And it's only the beginning of the Wombling day
And you've got to do the washing up for Madame Cholet..."

'Remember' is structured around an ambling drumbeat and propulsive bassline. Over this we get a fiddle, brass, happy crowd noises, and occasional lovely harmonies. And most of all, a lot of call and response;

"Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
Remember you're a Womble! (Remember you're a Womble...)
What a Womba-Womba-Womble you are!"

This is so agreeable that I think it would work even if you were unfamiliar with who The Wombles are. It would take a very stony spirit not to be enticed into the good-nature of this jolly exercise.

1 comment:

  1. Somewhat barmily, the BBC used a five-minute Wombles video package - essentially a mishmash of the Wombling Song and Remember... accompanied by footage of the characters, erm, Wombling around, shaking hands with bemused kids, etc. - as the interval entertainment for that most iconic of Eurovision Song Contests, 1974.

    So there are probably still many millions of continental TV viewers out there who could answer the question as to whether it really *would* work even if you were unfamiliar with who the Wombles are!