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Pelham Puppets by David Leech

Reviewed by Ray DaSilva - November 2008

This new hardbound book contains a complete revision of the author’s previous book ‘Collecting Pelham Puppets’(1998) together with a biography of Bob Pelham and a glimpse of life at his Marlborough factory which was serialised in the author’s magazine ‘Yours Puppetually’ (1996-1998). It could therefore provide an invaluable identification guide for collectors, and also a revealing insight into the production methods as well as the personalities involved.

I confess to not being a Pelham Puppets addict; a mere mention of them reminds me of the conglomerated Gordian snarlups which people would occasionally bring to Norwich Puppet Theatre with the expectation that I could easily sort them out. If this book had been available I could have referred those people to the pages which show how easy it is to disentwine ‘a typical tangle’ and to the instructions for restringing the little beggars if frustration has lead to the use of scissors.

Defying his father’s scepticism, Bob Pelham succeeded in developing the puppet as a saleable toy. He formed a company, set up a factory which became Marlborough’s largest employer and produced vast numbers of puppets which were exported all over the world. Doubtless those puppets must have brought hours of fun to families just as the ‘penny-plain, twopence coloured’ toy theatres did a century before. Although most were probably eventually cast aside or relegated to the attic, there are several examples of how those toy puppets provided the inspiration and impetus for many to take up puppetry as a career. I enjoyed reading the anecdotes contributed by professional puppeteers who were influenced in this way: Keith Anderson (South Africa), Simon Buckley, Geoff Felix, Roger Stevenson, Nick Thomas, and Ian Thom.

The chapters on the methods of manufacture which include a room-by-room tour will bring back memories to all who visited the factory. I was lucky enough to do that when we happened to be performing nearby in the 1970’s. I recall that Bob immediately left off what he was doing and still wearing his green apron took us on that same tour. He was a charming self-effacing man and the atmosphere throughout the factory, where people were beavering away at the various stages of the construction process, was one of a large family.

Almost half of the book is devoted to ‘collecting’ which is neatly divided into sections devoted to the various types including vent puppets, animals, the boxes, animated displays etc. There are useful contributions by Peter Card, Mark Heaton, Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Dave Showler, and John and Sue Valentine. I do however wish that the index would be more user-friendly. In a reference book this is so important, but here it seems like a hurried afterthought because unfortunately, it is not a comprehensive listing of all the examples mentioned in the text or portrayed within the photos. Nevertheless, David Leech has done a good job in bringing all this information together especially the 480 pictures which are mostly in colour, and Crowood Press are to be thanked for adding this work to their increasing stable of puppet-related books. The price is £25.00



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For more information on this please visit www.pelhampuppets.uk.com



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