First watched : February 1973
With this well-loved little series in The Magic Roundabout slot , the BBC proved itself somewhat ahead of the curve in promoting environmental concern and recycling. The Wombles first appeared in a series of novels by Elisabeth Beresford about these furtive creatures who lived on Wimbledon Common and found new uses for things left behind ( rather than actual litter as such ) by human visitors. When the first one , The Wombles ( published 1968 ) featured on Jackanory the response prompted the Beeb to commission Ivor Wood to make a new stop motion series based on the characters. Beresford's creatures were basically child-sized teddy bears; Wood shrank them to knee height and gave them a more individual appearance. Otherwise it was pretty faithful to Beresford's creation requiring children to grapple with difficult geographical character names like Tomsk and Tobermory. The reliable Bernard Cribbins was brought in to narrate it and a young songwriter / producer of hitherto moderate success , Mike Batt came up with the Beatleesque theme tune.
The show was an instant success creating a huge demand for Wombles merchandise which the BBC were still a little unsteady in meeting. Batt had no such qualms; having craftily obtained musical rights to the characters in lieu of a fee he launched a string of hit singles ( only narrowly failing to qualify for my Hello Goodbye blog ) two of which nearly made the number one spot. Indeed Batt claims that "A Wombling Merry Christmas" was well ahead of Mud's "Lonely This Christmas" in 1974 until negative reviews of a Wombles stage show which Beresford's husband had authorised despite Batt's opposition, hit the press.
The show survived this embarrassment and its two series of 30 episodes each were regularly repeated although the live action film Wombling Free in 1977 was a bit too late in arriving . A new Canadian-produced series was aired on ITV in 1996 and another new series is due to be aired this year. How much it affected attitudes to litter is hard to say; the statistics just aren't there to say one way or the other. Schools mounting litter campaigns were obviously grateful and the Keep Britain Tidy campaign got a shot in the arm. Previously there had been some resistance to its propaganda due to the movement's roots in the Women's Institute protesting at the newly mobile working class coming into the countryside. Wimbledon Common clearly wasn't in a National Park so this association was painted over by Orinoco and his pals' ubiquity. While waste and its treatment remains a live issue I suppose they'll never go away.