To mark what would have been Bob Pelham’s 100th birthday, his standing in Marlborough’s history was commemorated earlier this afternoon (Thursday 28 February) when a blue plaque was unveiled on the side of the curved building at the bottom of Kingsbury Street, Nos 1, 2, and 3 where Pelham Puppets graduated from it’s first incarnation, Wonky Toys.
The blue plaque was unveiled by Mayor Lisa Farrell with assistance from Bob’s nieces, Astrid and Sue Pelham, and sure enough with a tug on the string the plaque became visible for the crowd assembled on the other side of Kingsbury Street to see.
Arguably one of Marlborough’s most famous and iconic businesses, Pelham Puppets started out in the buildings in lower Kingsbury Street before success demanded more space to create more puppets. The business then moved to the eventual factory home in London Road, from where many, many thousands of puppets were made and exported right across the world making Pelham Puppets the probably the most famous of all puppet manufacturers anywhere.
Mayor Lisa Farrell commented when when she pulled the cord to unveil the plaque: ”This blue plaque is a fitting tribute to Bob Pelham who played a hugely important part in Marlborough’s history”. She added: ”Many of Marlborough’s residents will remember the importance of Pelham Puppets to the town and may well have worked in Kingsbury Street or at London Road factory, whilst others will have grown up playing with the internationally famous puppets and will have their own personal favourite”… “Today is our chance to say thank you”.
David Leech, who worked at Pelham Puppets in its heyday and who now owns the brand said: ”It is wonderful that the Town Council has made this possible”. In July 2017 he, in partnership with the Town Council and the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild organised the Marlborough Puppetry Festival to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the business. He thanked the Town Council for all of their involvement, both with the blue plaque and with the anniversary festival, adding: ”I’m so pleased that Bob Pelham has been recognised for all he did with the placement of this plaque”.
There weren’t just people in the crowd who turned up to watch the unveiling. Quite a few puppets turned up as well. ’Bimbo’ bought along poet, artist and marionette Ann Field, who was born into a family of puppeteers, and for whom Pelham Puppets holds a very special place.
‘The Parson’ was accompanied by Pelham Biographer Peter Beaven, who explained the significance of this puppet – Bob Pelham’s father was a parson in nearby Chilton Foliat where Bob grew up. He explained how popular Pelham Puppets are nowadays, not just for collectors but puppeteers as well and that many of the puppets that were produced either in Kingsbury Street or later in London Road are still performing regularly as there are many different societies and clubs, and “we all celebrate the genius that was Bob Pelham”.
Following the unveiling David Leech held a puppet show in the Town Hall, showing us how puppets actually come to life with performances from Ken Dodd, his Diddy Men and the classic Frog, one of Pelham’s most famous figures. There was also a display of many puppet characters, including the puppet master himself, Bob Pelham.
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