Underground Overground, Wombling Free
February 5, 2013 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first television appearance of The Wombles, the beloved children's programme based on the books by Elisabeth Beresford, animated by Ivor Wood, and narrated/voiced by Bernard Cribbins.

Organised, tidy, and clean, the minute band of furry conical-nosed recyclers live in Wimbledon Common receiving their name from its mispronunciation by Beresford's young daughter. With their motto "Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish", they were at the forefront of the Green movement, ultimatelty taking their adventures to the big screen in 1977's live-action Wombling Free.

Select episodes can be found on YouTube:
Orinocco and the Big Black Umbrella
Running out Of Steam
Bungo Up a Tree
The programme also inspired a costumed novelty pop band for the characters, which produced the chart-topping albums Wombling Songs and Remember You're a Womble (and reunited at the Glastonbury Festival in 2011). Previously.
posted by Doktor Zed (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Kitteh at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to think the song went:

"Underground, overground,
Wombling free,
The Wombles of Wimbledon,
Common are we."

I didn't know what Wimbledon Common was, so I thought they were just really humble.
posted by Jehan at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

I wonder if the Wombles ever interrupted the tennis players. Or vice-versa.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:21 AM on February 5, 2013

Apparently, I took my first steps walking over to get close to the Wombles on television.
posted by gaspode at 11:22 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tomsk was my favourite.
posted by gaspode at 11:22 AM on February 5, 2013

Not having grown up in Britain my first exposure to the Wombles was in their dark parody form, the Rumbles, who were the evil adversary in Michael De Larrabeiti's The Borribles.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2013

ToddlerTaff loves Great Uncle "Vulgaria". *snort* Possibly because she's been told, many, many times, that she's a vulgarian.
posted by taff at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2013

Every now and again, for no particular reason ' Remember you're a Womble' pops into my head.
The thing is, I only ever recall part of it from the dim caverns of my childhood.

This leads to me singing to my three-year old over and over:
'Remember you're a Womble.
Remember, 'member, 'member'

I am entirely convinced that one day, a stray Englishman of a certain age will join in one day at the playground, and we will embarrass our children in harmony.
posted by madajb at 11:35 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This post is not complete without a mention of Mike Batt, whose career got started when he composed the theme song, and four albums based around the show.
posted by monospace at 11:38 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am sort of obsessed with the Wombles, in part because the theme song has not left my head since I was 10 years old and lived in England.

As mentioned, the Wombles had a sideline career as pop stars in the 70s, which meant actual humans dressed in Womble outfits and performed live in front of audiences. Including who? Well, funny you should ask. Including Chris Spedding, first producer of the Sex Pistols. Their music was pretty odd -- while the Wombles theme is legitimate, I think, a bubblegum classic (written by Mike Batt, also responsible for the Art Garfunkle song "Bright Eyes" and discoverer of Katie Melua.) -- seeing them show up on Top of the Pops is just bizarre. And the rumor is that the people in the costumes here are Steeleye Span. One member of the band, Robin LeMesurier, was caught after a show with marijuana, which seems suitably rock and roll, even for a womble, but he was kicked out of the band nonetheless.

The drummer for The Rutles was also a Womble -- sort of. He was Barry Wom, formerly Barry Womble.

More from above: The Wombles were rather savagely parodied in the The Borrible Trilogy as the Rumbles, the villains of the book; it's a great fantasy series that is about as explicitly class conscious as anything ever written for children. The Wombles are actually a sort of important plot point in the Neil Jordan film Breakfast on Pluto, with one of them played by Brendan Gleeson.

Believe it or not, Wombles are not entirely unknown to Americans. Captain Kangaroo used to show segments from The Wombles, along with the somewhat psychedelic Crystal Tipps and Alistair.

Interesting side note: The Wombles came up during the London Riots of 2011. People who were organizing street clean up via social media used the hashtag #riotwombles.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:52 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Jehan, me too!
posted by Catch at 3:30 PM on February 5, 2013

My favourite womble clip.
posted by Catch at 3:32 PM on February 5, 2013

Oh god I hadn't heard this song since the "hip, unique" DJ used to play it at the Abyss goth nightclub in Melbourne in 2000, in order to clear the dance floor, for whatever reason.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:50 PM on February 5, 2013

Hey! It's also the 40th anniversary of H├Ągar the Horrible. That's where I'm a Viking.
posted by unliteral at 5:02 PM on February 5, 2013

I can share this with you right? Between us?
I have had a Wombles pillow for 36 years.
I still use it, sometimes. Just because.
posted by Mezentian at 5:42 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jehan, me too!

Me three, until five seconds ago.

I miss my Wombles PJs.

/googles for adult Womble PJs
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:15 AM on February 6, 2013

Ah! I still have a boxed set of Wombles LPs.

I saw their live music set with my Mum at York Theatre Royal over 30 years ago, very loud indeed. Must have been immensely hot playing any instrument, never mind lead guitar, wearing those outfits.
posted by hardcode at 1:48 AM on February 6, 2013

The Wombles trailer needs a health warning. For Bonnie Langford. You can't just go springing Bonnie Langford on people without warning. It isn't kind.
posted by Decani at 2:47 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't just go springing Bonnie Langford on people without warning. It isn't kind.

Them's fighting words.

I'll meet you at Pease Pottage, 10am tomorrow.
Bring your megabyte modem.
posted by Mezentian at 5:13 AM on February 6, 2013

Holy .... Grange Hill? 40?


That means that, somewhere, it is possible that a Grange Hill: The Pension Years is probably in the works.
posted by Mezentian at 5:15 AM on February 6, 2013

On re-reading: Grange Hill is only 35-ish, but still.
posted by Mezentian at 7:40 AM on February 6, 2013

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