A Festival of Puppetry is being planned for the weekend of July 8 & 9 to mark the seventieth anniversary of the start of Pelham Puppets in Marlborough – the company that delighted millions of children and whose exports took the name of the town around the world. But it is still in need of sponsors and volunteers.
At an open meeting on Thursday evening (March 16) in the Town Hall, twenty people came together to hear about the plans from the originator and organiser of the Festival, David Leech. He emphasised the educational potential of the Pelham Story – both as local history and an opportunity to make and use puppets.
Mr Leech is working in partnership with the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild – including its treasurer Brian Hibbitt. They stress that the Marlborough Puppetry Festival will be a ‘Non profit community event’ – and if they get enough sponsorship, the great majority of the events will be free of charge.
Mr Leech charmed those present with three short demonstrations of his puppets and his skills with their strings. These included a lip-sync perfect rendering of ‘This is my song’ – a perfect way to attract the interest of those who remember 1967 – and may even remember Petula Clark. Also appearing was another sing-along performance – this time with Nat King Cole – and a couple of highly amusing singing donkeys.
The Marlborough Puppetry Festival will be centred around Bob Pelham (1919-1980) who founded and ran the company from 1947 until his death. Originally founded as Wonky Toys Limited, Pelham Puppets became the town’s largest employer and sold about nine million puppets.
David Leech was eleven years old when he first met Bob Pelham. He worked in the Pelham workshops during his school holidays – paid not in cash but in boxes of puppets. And after he left school, he worked there full-time – only leaving eighteen months after Bob Pelham’s death.
The Town Council’s support for the Festival comes with free use of the Town Hall and Priory Gardens for July 8 and 9. And some financial support has been forthcoming – from the Marlborough History Society and a local shop. But more sponsorship is needed.
Mr Leech’s plans for the Festival include an opening parade with giant puppets – including a fifteen feet high Punch and Judy – and baby. There will be performances in the Town Hall and Punch and Judy in Priory Gardens.
There will be exhibitions – some of the most important collections of Pelham Puppets. Mr Leech hopes to attract two of the best collectors – one from Jersey and the other from Manchester. He himself has a collection of 600 marionettes he has made himself as a professional pupeteer.
He is trying to get a ‘juke box opera’ off the ground. This will tell the story of Pelham Puppets. He has been talking to the Marlborough Academy of Dance and Drama about taking part in this stage show.
Anyone willing to sponsor a part of this Festival – for instance a group of puppeteers coming from other parts of Britain or from abroad – or able to offer their time as volunteers over the weekend of 8 and 9 July, should contact David Leech at email@example.com (or 07415 458 200) or Rob Dickens via firstname.lastname@example.org
If the sponsorship money comes flowing in, Marlborough should watch out for an appearance by a Thunderbird or two.