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Tributes to John Blundall

John Blundall - image credit Peter Chai

Tributes have been paid to John Blundall, who died aged 77 on 18 August 2014.

Stephen Foster, who worked with John at The World Through Wooden Eyes, has sent an obituary which has been posted to the PUK website here.

Tributes are also being paid to John on The World Through Wooden Eyes Facebook Page here.

The death of John Blundall has has been reported in the national media – links to articles follow below the tributes on this page to John by his friends and colleagues in the puppetry community.

Ray DaSilva writes:
We first met at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965 at Cardiff when John was working with Jane Phillipsʼ Caricature Theatre, then later at numerous BrUNIMA committee meetings. John was editor of the BrUNIMA Bulletin from 1978 to 1996 and I became responsible for the photocopying and mailing to members. It was during that period that our lasting amicable relationship was forged. Every four months John would send me the originals which always included his excellent front cover illustrations drawn with intricate pointillist shading. He spent a great deal of time writing for various journals about the theoretical and practical aspects of puppet theatre and included his own technical drawings but despite being ‘pesteredʼ (his word) from different directions to write a book, he never did. He said that he was happier making history than writing about it.

John became one of my best book customers and it is satisfying to realise that I was able to supply some of the rare volumes as well as new ones now in his vast library stored at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Since retiring from supplying puppet books I have missed the long telephone calls from John about the latest publications which somehow invariably led to his concerns about the dire state of British puppetry! It is certain that John set high standards based on his experiences with East European and Japanese puppetry and was not tolerant of what he regarded as poor work. John was however very generous towards me; over the years he gave me several books with an embossed impression on the flyleaf indicating they were from the JMB Collection (doubtless he had acquired duplicates). I shall now miss his hand crafted Christmas cards as well as those long telephone conversations.

Ronnie Le Drew met John Blundall more that 40 years ago - and has written about the support and friendship he shared with John throughout his career. You can read a tribute to John by Ronnie here.

Clive Chandler writes:
I first met John when I joined the Cannon Hill Puppet Company in the 1980’s. It was immediately clear to me what an exceptional designer and maker he was. I didnʼt stay very long with the company but I did keep in contact with John, who was always happy to pass on the benefit of his considerable experience to others.

Many years later, long after the company had been closed down, I was able to help the Cannon Hill puppets escape from a basement at Mac (Midlands Arts Centre). Although John achieved many things this work represented some 25 years of his creative output. It was both tragic and ironic that a man who had spent a lifetime amassing a wide collection which he always intended to leave for the public good was not able to access much of his own work due a dispute over ownership with the management of the centre. When Mac was preparing for a major rebuild the puppets became a problem to them as they didn’t want to spend any money moving them or putting them into store. At this point it was suddenly possible to liberate the many puppets that had languished neglected in a damp basement for far too long.  John chose the ones he wanted, although it was clear that many of the most important figures had already disappeared. By agreement the remainder were auctioned with the proceeds split between PUK and Mac. Standing in that basement with John I couldnʼt fail to be impressed by the scale and quality of his output, surely a body of work without parallel. I was also deeply impressed with him as a person in the way he dealt with what must have been an intensely difficult process. His work is still remembered fondly by generations of Birmingham people and those who worked alongside him. In the midst of an increasing number of administrators and academics, he was a naturally talented individual artist who built a creative team around him and got on with the job of making high quality puppet theatre.

Robert Styles writes:
I first met John at Pollockʼs Toy Museum in the early 80s when I was learning the ropes as a toy theatre/Punch & Judy performer; and then later as an actor/puppeteer at Cannon Hill where you could find John - like Geppetto in his workshop - surrounded by a colourful array of puppets, set designs, props and masks all possessing his distinctive style. He was busy working to deadlines on a production of Roald Dahlʼs The Twits but always found the time to stop and talk, taking a genuine interest in whatever I had to say. Johnʼs knowledge and advice concerning every aspect of the performing arts was exceptional and from hearing his stories - delivered in that soft Brummie lilt - it was clear to me as a young performer that I still had a great deal to learn. Sadly, our paths did not cross again until 2009 on a visit to Glasgow and the Mitchell Library where I was treated to a magical Bunraku demonstration by Johns protogee, Stephen and a visit to view Johnʼs collection of Punch-related ephemera and antiques. I will remember John for his customary warmth and affection and for the encouragement and inspiration he gave me in my formative years.

Ellie Darvill first met John Blundall in 1977, when she began working for him as an Assistant/Secretary/Costume Maker - and whatever else needed doing! She has written a tribute to John and shared her memories of him here.

Darryl Worbey writes:
Johnʼs passion for the theatre in all forms and its people was infectious, he surrounded himself with unique, talented actors and craftsmen throughout his long and vibrant career. He actually never stopped working and selflessly spent much of his time amongst many things - encouraging new and emerging talent - I am very fortunate to have been one of those people. His journey as artist , designer, and Master Puppeteer was one of constant discovery - and exciting for those that were lucky enough to share that road with him - he was a true innovator - a head of his time and yet he was equally passionate and deeply respectful of the heritage of - World Puppet Theatre and its many significant players before him - and he generously leaves us with the most outstanding and priceless legacy that he spent his lifetime curating.

Most importantly John spent decades continually bringing new quality theatre puppet theatre to children, believing that their first experience of theatre should be the very best - exciting, enriching and educating - a theatre for everyone to explore their emotions - some for the very first time. His deep love and admiration of Russian design and the far east is clearly evident throughout his many productions, his absolute distinctive and signature style - bold, contemporary, beautifully crafted - and yet always elegant..... always inspired...... in death he has been hailed as a ʻTitanʼ, a ʻGreat Forceʼ and ʻHeroʼ - I will remember him simply as John - and for his magic, generosity of spirit and joy he bought to many.

David Moodie writes:
So sad about John (Blundall. He was my Director and Puppet Master at Cannon Hill for two productions in 1971. The second one, The Enchanted Well he let me do the script for. Everything he taught us remains in our minds forever. He was a great artist, puppet maker, Puppet Master and teacher. Jeanne Delaney, who voiced and manipulated Clara to my Christian and Mouse Queen, in Johnʼs The Fairy Tales of Hoffmann (The Nutcracker) telephoned me from Orkney late in the evening to tell me the news. We learned so much from him. Yes, truly a great man and a terrible loss to the Puppet Community.

PRESS CLIPPINGS

Thunderbirds and Stingray Puppet Maker Dies - The Birmingham Mail

Tributes paid to Glasgows Puppet Master - The Glasgow Evening Times

August 2014
With Thanks to Darryl Worbey



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