"PELPOP" - The story of Pelham Puppets
Bob Pelham began making puppets in 1947 after he obtained some help from Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth (who used to operate Muffin the Mule on TV) with designing puppets that would be simple enough for young children to use.
Bob Pelham 1947
All the early puppets were made from recycled materials and Bob told how he used to rummage through his father's home and how he persuaded his friends and employees to do the same, searching out all sorts of bits and pieces would be useful for making puppets. The local scrap-yards received many visits from this tall, blonde rather loose limbed figure, who, at times seemed to look like one of his own creations.
Photo: Laura Ray making puppet costumes in 1947
At first it was a struggle trying to convince toy retailers that puppets were a viable proposition, he was frequently met with indifference and resistance. Eventually, Hamleys of Regent Street, London, let him demonstrate them himself behind his own counter.He recalled, “By explaining how simple string puppets really were to work and showing a somewhat surprised audience their comical antics, the first puppets began to sell!”
Photo: The Pelham Puppets factory Dressing Room in 1953
Within a few years, Pelham Puppets had really caught on and retailers around the country began stocking them. For the next twenty years the Company enjoyed steady progress and expansion and Pelham Puppets were exported to over forty countries.
Photo: Bob Pelham (left) accepts an Award for Toy of the Year 1972
The years following Pelham Puppet’s quarter-centenary in 1972, were exciting ones, but they also brought mounting problems of a commercial nature and Bob discovered that more of his time was beginning to be eaten away and his enthusiasm sapped by the increasing pressures.
Photo: The Pelham Puppets factory Assembly Room in 1973
By trying to meet the demand for ever increasing quantities he apparently became a victim of his own success.
Rapid expansion and increasing trade in the late 1970s, reached a peak in 1979 when every puppet produced in the first six months of the financial year was exported to the United States.
Photo: Bob presents Sid Long with retirement gift in December 1977. Sid worked for the company for 30 years. Frank Lawton (centre) looks on.
However, like many other manufacturing companies in the early 80s, Pelham Puppets was obliged to make cut-backs. Many loyal, long-standing employees, nearly one-third of the workforce were made redundant from June 20th 1980. Then the greatest tragedy struck, when on the evening of June 19th, 1980, Bob Pelham died suddenly at his home. He was 61 years old.
His widow, Anne, tried to keep Pelham Puppets going for six years, but in 1986 she decided it was time to sell up and retire.
Photo: The Pelham Puppets factory in 1979
Between 1986 and 1993 Pelham Puppets changed hands several times with other hopeful toy manufacturers trying to re-introduce Pelham Puppets to the market. Since the early 90s, the puppets have not been available in toy shops, although many of the earlier models are now very collectable and of course, the new range of puppets can be obtained directly from this site by visiting the Puppetry Shop page.