REVIEW: The Wombles

Everyone has heard of The Wombles right? Most people can probably sing the theme tune to the television series too. I loved The Wombles as a child but before I wax lyrical about the book, I’m going to tell you a story.

About 20-25 years ago I was on the island of Alderney, one of the smaller Channel Islands, for a few days to write a travel feature. I was on my own, although I had contact with a tourism officer for the island, and staying in St Anne, the only town on the 3.5 by 1.5-mile island.

Chatting to the tourism officer, I discovered that Elizabeth Beresford, author of The Wombles, had lived on the islands since the 1970s. When I said I would love to meet her, I was given her address and told to ‘just pop round, you can’t miss her house, it’s the one with Wombles in the window’.

So I did.

I arrived at her house to find a sign on the front door which said: “I’m gardening, come round the back”.

So I did that too.

I spent the next couple of hours sitting at Elizabeth Beresford’s kitchen table drinking coffee and chatting about Wombles, Alderney, family, writing and lots of other things. At one point a family of tourists peered through the kitchen window and waved. We waved back. They took our photographs and went on their way.

“Do you get that a lot?” I asked. “Oh all the time,” she laughed, “It’s pretty much all day in the summer.”

She was absolutely charming and I left with gifts of signed books for my daughters who were probably around seven and nine years old at the time and also Wombles fans. It was such a lovely experience.

Alderney is, in fact, the name of one of the Wombles that features in this first book, first published in 1968. We are also introduced to Great Uncle Bulgaria, Tobermory, Bungo, Orinoco, Tomsk and Madame Cholet.

If you’re a Wombles fan, you will notice that the original illustrations do not look that much like the ones from television, or the more modern books. These illustrations were done by Margaret Gordon and have changed slightly over the years.

Elizabeth Beresford described them as looking like teddy bears but living in burrows under the ground. When they were old enough, they got to choose their own names out of a big atlas owned by Great Uncle Bulgaria and then they were put to work clearing up after the untidy humans on Wimbledon Common.

There are lots of things I love about the Wombles. They are small and cute, they have adventures and don’t necessarily do what they are told (always an attraction for a questionably-behaved child like I was) and they were an environmental movement before anyone had ever used the words environmental movement.

What’s not to love?

They also stand the test of time. While some books written more than 50 years ago might not remain as accessible to today’s youngsters, I really believe the Wombles books do.

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

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