Robert (Bob) Pelham was born on the 28th of February 1919 in Ripon, Yorkshire, son of the local vicar the Reverend Walter Pelham
1939 to 1945
In 1939 before starting up the company Bob Pelham was called up to serve in the Armed Forces to serve in the second world war, where he was involved in active service on several fronts.
After being called up he was based in Portland, Dorset on Coastal Defence Duties. He was on full alert waiting for the German war machine that was thought to be ready to invade. Later in the war he fought with the 8th Army in the Western desert of North Africa.
He saw action at the famous Anzio Beachhead and took part in the invasion of Italy.
During his time in the Army, Bob gained the nickname of "The Wonky Donkey Officer" as he made small animated donkeys that moved when the spring at the bottom was compressed.
At the end of the war Bob Pelham was stationed In Germany serving with the Occupation Forces and it was during this time he became very interested in traditional animated musical toys.
In May 1946 at the age of 27 Bob finally arrived home to Marlborough, Wiltshire and rather than going back to his prewar training as an architect, he decided to use his considerable carpentry skills to go into business making his donkeys.
It was not long before the new one man operation was producing not just donkeys but giraffes, elephants, horses and ostriches. During war time, toys were virtually unheard of due to supply shortage, and these new novelty items sold well. In a rented workshop behind a solicitors office in Silverless Street, Marlborough, Bob and his first employees started turning out his designs.
The employees were local ex-servicemen and this idea of hiring them was very important to Bob in the early years.
Bob patented his design in the UK, but a legal problem with another company forced him to look for another product he could make that still had the magnetism of the "Wonky Donkey". It was then he thought of a stringed marionette and made the first one, a black girl called Chloe.
With great enthusiasm, Bob approached Jan Bussell of Hogarth Puppets, who also lived locally with his idea of making puppets. Jan worked alongside Bob giving him support for several years.
With no capital, it was Bob's father the Reverend Walter Pelham who came to the rescue. He sold one of his two cars for £130 and gave the money to Bob, even though he thought that the venture would not succeed. The new venture, named "Wonkey Toys Ltd", was set up in rooms of Victoria House, 3 Kingsbury Street, Marlborough.
The company was incorporated on the 20th of May 1947.
It was at Victoria House on the 22nd of June 1947 that the first "Sandy McBoozle" was made. It was photographed at the Puppetry Institute, Kings College, The Strand in London.
The earliest puppets came in Brown Boxes. Each had "Wonky Toys Ltd." printed on the label along with the flying pig logo. Bob's father had at one time said that "Pigs will fly before Bob makes a go of it".
As the real early puppet heads were turned by hand on a lathe, they could be almost any shape from oval to a sort of square/round.
It was not until 1948, when Bob hit on the idea of using coconut shy balls, that the puppets got their truly round heads. The very early puppets have the neck joined to the body extending into the bottom of the head.
These very early puppets also had wooden hands,arms, feet and leg joints.
During 1947 Bob and McBoozle were filmed for television at the British Industries Fair. They were also written about in several national newspapers including The Mirror on the 30th of December 1947.
On the 14th of October 1948 at an extraordinary board meeting, a resolution was passed to change the name "Wonky Toys Limited" to "Pelham Puppets Limited".
In October 1948 after a visit to the Marlborough mop fair, Bob found a ready made supply of wooden puppet heads.
After convincing people that he was not going to start a coconut shy with the balls he started using them as the heads on SS type puppets. These were made by a company called Hoopers in Stroud, Gloucester who also made the balls used to throw on the mop fair coconut shy.
1948 saw the introduction of metal knee joints.
In 1949 master wood carver, Gill Leeper joined the company.
December 1949 saw the production of Pelpup News No 1
By the end of 1950 over forty thousand puppets had been sold in the UK. The brown box still proudly displayed the flying pig logo however the colour of the label changed several times.
In September of 1950 the first Pelpup Club News was printed. With every puppet sold there was an invitation to join, and almost overnight the club became a success. It claimed members from all over the world ranging in ages from seven months to seventy years.
From the Pelpup news, Bob Pelham became known to all the members as Pelpop. Each of the early Pelpup News was first handwritten and then printed on a secondhand Gestetner duplicating machine. Pelpup news was very important to Bob. It was his way of keeping in touch with his ever growing family of puppeteers. Many members would write to "Pelpop" as he like to be called. Even though it was a huge task, Bob in turn wrote back to each one personally.
In October of 1951 Harrods of London opened their toy fair with Ron and Joan Field of the Field Puppet Company putting on plays using Pelham Puppets.
Also in 1951 Pelham Puppets Ltd were chosen to display in the official exhibitions at the Festival of Britain.
Bob and Anne Pelham were married in Abinger Common, near Dorking, Surrey.
Frank Lawton joined the company.
In 1952 the film "Pulling Strings" was released.
A new sales leaflet was produced
October of 1952 saw the introduction of Wuff, Tuff and Snuff by Tim. They were released as single puppets and with all three on one controller.
The first dis-joining skeleton was introduced
November of 1952 saw Pelpup writing paper for sale
February of 1953 saw the introduction of Ceasar by Tim.
In the March of 1953 edition of Peplup News Bob Pelham announced that they had acquired the rights to manufacture Walt Disney characters. Several new characters were also introduced in 1953.
May saw Pelham Puppets exhibiting at The British Industries Fair at Olympia, London. On the stand was the first 7 foot tall Bimbo.
In the June of 1953 edition of Peplup News Bob Pelham announced the introduction of the Minipup rages. These puppets were packed in simple cellophane bags with a card header, however production records did not start until 15th May the following year.
July of 1953 saw the introduction of Bengo by Tim
August of 1953 saw the introduction of the first versions of Noddy and Big Ears.
August of 1953 saw the introduction of the first Skeleton.
Carrot Top, Golo the Giant, Margaret and Renaldo the Fox appeared in the film "Lili". These hand operated puppets which have moving eyes and mouths are very difficult to find. The Pelham versions were introduced in November of 1953
December of 1953 saw the introduction of Hank
At the factory staff party, staff dressed as Pelham characters.
The parade of stars sales leaflet was introduced
This is the Pelham Puppet factory sales leaflet from 1953
On the 6th of May 1954 Pelham Puppets Ltd registered the logo as a trade mark, which was backdated to the 15th of July 1953
Over 2500 Minipups were produced each month during the year.
During the summer of this year a display which contain a large display Bimbo delighted visitors to the seaside town of Bournemouth, Dorset. During the time that the display was in Beales' shop window, the crowds spread across the pavement causing an obstruction. The local police were called and Beales was asked that the display was switched off until the crowd dispersed.
The 10th of May 1955 was a very important date in the life of Pelham Puppets. At this time the company was exhibiting at the British Industries Fair at Olympia. Several members of the British Royal family visited the stand. The Queen and Prince Phillip visited the stand and many newspapers showed a picture if the queen working a mitzi.
In the September 1955 edition of Pelpup news Bob Pelham wrote for Pelpups the story of How it all began.
1955 saw the introduction of the SS Double Puppets called the "Twin-Pack", these boxes held 2 popular SS puppets and were sold in Harrods and Hamleys. There were just 5 sets; Dutch Boy and Girl, Tyroleane Boy and Girl, Mitzi and Fritzi, Clown and Golly, and the Gypsy and Sailor. First supplied around September for the Christmas sales period, they did not appear again after this.
A new factory sales leaflet / retail price list was produced
During 1955 anti-tangle coloured strings were introduced, however, many early puppets were returned to the factory for re-stringing and these were almost always re-strung using coloured strings. So its not surprising that so many early puppets can be found with coloured strings.
In 1956 the first of the famous yellow boxes was used. Referred to as the solid yellow box this first version featured the "Mad Hatter" on one side.
Noddy and Big Ears with moulded heads were introduced.
Baby Bimbo was introduced at the Industries Fair at Olympia
On the 27th of February 1956, Bob Pelham appeared on the BBC TV news program "Panorama" and following this program an order for 100 display Clowns was gained from a US buyer. The order was received in July and shipped in September.
In July 1957 Gill Leeper was tragically killed in a road accident on his way to work at the Pelham Puppets factory.
Saw the introduction of the Enid Blyton's "Bom"
In January 1959 several display animals were introduced, SL Twizzle was introduced During 1959 as well as the Jumpette range of animals including the Donkey, Reindeer, Mother and Baby Giraffe.
February 1960 saw the last Pelpup News to be produced on the old duplicator.
In the second half of 1960, almost the entire factory production was exported to the United States. At the time this was a new company export record.
In 1960 the first string through plastic legs were introduced. This design replaced many of the wooden legged types
January 1961 saw the introduction of the first glossy printed Pelpup News, being renamed to the Puppet Post. 6000 to 7000 copies were printed. After just 2 issues it was renamed back to Pelpup News.
October 1961 saw one of the biggest events in the companies history when it suffered a very serious factory fire. It started just after 9:00 pm and within 2 hours, 10 thousand puppets were destroyed.
On the 26th of October 1961, the Wiltshire Gazette and Hereld reported that production had restarted with an improvised production line. Work continued in a building at the rear of the burned out factory. Local business Garrards supplied chairs and shelving, while the local collage cadet force loaned squads of cadets to help set up the tent village. The town that Bob helped to employ many of it's citizens, really came together to help one of their own.
1961 saw the introduction of a new sales leaflet
In March of 1962 "The Sooty Show" from the BBC featured Sooty and Sweep operating the Pelham Puppets versions of Pinky and Perky. The BBC no longer has copies of this program so it may well be lost forever.
In 1962 the yellow box design was changed with the new box having a picture of the Snake Charmer on the side instead of the Mad Hatter.
In the July 1962 issue of Pelpup News, Bob Pelham explained to readers how many people were involved in puppet production; 202 people in total, with 101 (11 men, 90 women) working in the factory and 101 (all women) working from home.
In the same July 1962 the new versions of Gepetto and Pinocchio were unveiled.
Pelham Puppets versions of the Disney characters were no longer exported to the USA.
The Harrods store christmas window display featured a 6 foot animated display of the Supercar team landing on the moon.
In 1963 the first use of the large yellow box as seen below was introduced. This bigger box was needed to allow room for the larger puppets, including much of the new 63 "Animal" range that were introduced that year.
The 63 "Animal" range, as they have come to be called, was introduced and the box below displays some of these. This new range consisted of 31 brand new characters. The prototypes were carved by Peter Carter-Page, a respected Canadian artist who had worked for the Disney company in California before joining Pelham Puppets.
White copyright tags started to appear sewn into puppets clothing to help stop the spread of cheap imitations from the far east.
In the August edition of Pelpup News it was announced that the new 63 range would not be available until October due to a large export order.
In October 1963 a book of twelve plays was introduced, written by Jan Bussell.
The December 1963 edition of Pelpup News featured a nativity scene on the cover.
1963 saw Pelham Puppets have a record sales year with over 226 thousand puppets being made.
1964 saw the introduction of the "Woodenhead Range" of puppets. These range of puppets were the first produced that were not hand painted, instead the features were printed onto the face of the puppet.
On the 1st of June 1964 Pelham Puppets were featured on BBC Televisions award winning children's program "Blue Peter". Viewers saw 5 SL Pop Singers perform Dave Clark's "Glad all over."
December of 1964 saw the Pelpup Club with 16000 members
December of 1965 saw the introduction of Iz and Oz, the two comical ostriches. The heads of these puppets were made from table tennis balls.
1965 saw a massive downturn in sales, when cheap imitations from Japan flooded the market.
In 1966 Bob Pelham directed a black and white film called "The Pancake House"
1966 saw the company gain world rights to produce characters from "Magic Roundabout"
July of 1966 saw the Pelpup Club with 20000 members
The 21st of October 1965 in London saw the first UK transmission of the Avengers episode entitled "Death At Bargain Prices" featuring Pelham Puppets
1966 saw the introduction of the "Magic Roundabout" puppets
A glove puppet version of the football World Cup mascot "World Cup Willy" was produced.
The company had a stand at the Nuremburg Toy Fair in 1966
The 21st of April 1967 saw the first UK Transmission of the Avengers episode entitled "Something Nasty in the Nursery" featuring Pelham Puppets.
June and July of 1967 saw Bob Pelham being awarded a certificate of merit for his "Magic Roundabout" puppets at the Harrogate Puppet Festival.
In December of 1967 Pelpup news published an offer for members to buy certain puppets at half their normal price. The article said that the characters had been out of production for 3 to 4 years. The list was SL Bull, SL Cow, SL Tiger, SL Father Bear, SL Baby Bear, SL Mother Bear, SL Dachshund, SL Hedgehog, SL Scottie Dog, SL Mike Mercury, SL Jimmie Gibson, SL Doctor Beaker and SL Professor Popkiss.
1968 saw the first window box being used.
The 31st of March 1969 saw the first US transmission of the Avengers episode called "Requiem" featuring Pelham Puppets. The first UK transmission was on the 16th of April 1969.
In August the list of half price puppets first seen in 1967 was increased. Added were SM Devil, SL Katie Caterpillar, SS Goldilocks, SL Pirate Mouse and SL Pig
1970 saw the removal from production of the "Magic Roundabout" puppets.
The window box had a cardboard band added across the front to give extra strength and to hold in the cellophane window.
In 1971 a purpose built puppet theatre was built at the factory so that the staff could put on performances and demonstrate puppets to visitors.
24th November 1971 - In a board meeting it was resolved to autorise Securicor Ltd to act as agent and collect the weekly wages from Barclays Bank, High Street, Marlborough.
The SL Frog marionette won a prestigious award in France as "Toy of the Year" in 1971
In 1972 an animated display depicting the Makishi dancers was built and exported to Zambia. It was featured on the cover of the August 1971 edition of Pelpup News
In the late part of 1973 the UK was hit by an industrial action on the part of the miners and car workers, causing chaos around the country. A video was made to promote the company. It showed Anna Marshall aged 9 and Andrew MacKichan(?), both life long fans, coming from Marloboro going round the factory.
In the first 3 months of 1974, due to the drastic energy policy on the part of the British Government, work weeks were limited to 3 days. Electricity was limited to conserve coal stocks, so factory machines and lighting could not be used.
Legs were added to the vent puppets in September 1974
In 1975 the first plastic legs with a plastic knee joint was introduced.
1975 saw the introduction of the first three "Womble" puppets in the range. These were Great Uncle Bulgaria, Wellington and Orinoco.
Lilian Ross, Frank Lawton and Michael Pelham were all elected as Directors at a Board meeting on 1st February 1977
In the summer the Pelham factory was expanded into a new building to cope with production, 65% of which was being exported.
In August of 1977 Emu and Dolly Bird were introduced in a new colour leaflet
In December of 1977 it was announced the "Muppets" were being developed.
It was also announced that MacBoozle was to have the normal SM size head.
The Tramp and Monkey Vents were introduced.
Granville Hodge was elected as a Director at a Board meeting on the 30th of June 1978.
During August of 1978 Animal from "The Muppet Show" went on sale for the first time at Hamleys of London. This puppet was never exported to the USA.
On the 10th of February 1979 The Marlborough Times reported that Pelham Puppets would need to take on more staff to complete a £20,000 order from Japan
In February of 1979 Pelham Puppets were on display at the Nuremberg Toy Fair
There were rumors around Marlborough that the company was struggling, on the 25th of April 1979 Bob Pelham denied they were short of business in an article published in the local paper.
In 1979 about 1200 puppets per day were leaving the factory
The 28th of February was Bob Pelham's 60th Birthday
In August of 1979 Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Woodstock from Peanuts were introduced
Tuesday the 21st of May 1980, Bob called all the staff together for an important meeting, explaining what the current situation of the company was, and that 30 people reluctantly were to be made redundant. This was reported the following day in the local Swindon newspaper. The first of the staff left on Friday the 20th of June 1980.
On Thursday the 19th of June 1980, it was a dark day for Pelham Puppets. Bob Pelham the creator of Pelham puppets sadly passed away during the night from a sudden heart attack. He was just 61 years old. News of his sudden death stunned everyone in the factory, family and the UK toy industry.
On the 30th of June 1980, a new board was elected with Anne Pelham being voted unanimously as chairman. On the board was Lilian Ross, Frank Lawton, Granville Hodge and Michael Pelham.
With UK industry controlled by high inflation, the board reported a 20% drop in production and a 22.5% rise in wages.
August 1980 saw the introduction of Woodstock, Charlie Brown and Snoopy
8th August 1980 it was reported that a 20ft contained had been shipped to Tiderider in the USA and an order for 1120 Animals (Muppets) had been received from Gundlach the german agents.
An updated, painted lips version of Lullabelle was introduced.
In 1980 Proctor and Gamble, the UK's largest detergent manufacture gave Pelham a £20000 order for 1500 18" Display Dopeys to be used in a promotional sales drive for "Lenor" soap.
On the 20th of November final approval for the Pink Panther was agreed on and in December it went into production.
The winter of 1980 saw the factory puppet show used
In the early part of 1981 the first Kermit the Frog puppets went on sale.
In 1981 John Bull, the Guardsman and the Beefeater were introduced.
In May of 1981 Pelham produced a version of Barnum for the London Palladium.
Sales figures for July of 1981 were just over £19800.
In October of 1981 David Leech left the company.
On the 26th of October, an agents conference was held at Ogbourne, New characters tabled were "Oscar" the owl, Swedish Boy and Girl, Kermit, No. 2 range Snoopy, The eight glove puppets in the Punch and Judy range and Barnum. It was agreed to drop from the range the Tyrolene Boy and Girl, Guitarist, Saxaphone Player, Old Man and Woodenhead Boy, Girl, Clown and Horse. It was also agreed to bring back the Ostrich to the animal range with a plastic head
A double sided wall poster showing the full range was produced.
"Collectors Series" versions of Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio were introduced.
Hokey and Cokey from the BBC television series were introduced in a new sales leaflet. These puppets came in a simple plastic bag with a printed header card stapled on. They were first introduced on the 31st of August. Onlyt 1006 were produced. More Hokey's were made than Cokey's.
November of 1985 saw managing director Grenville Hodge leave the company
January of 1986, Mark Reed stepped in as the new managing director.
An article in the local evening news on January 14th of 1986 reported that the 17 remaining staff were hoping someone would come forward to save the struggling puppet factory.
The last Hokey and Cokey were produced on the 9th of March 1986 Production stopped on the 4th of April and after a huge amount of effort over a number of years, Mrs. Anne Pelham was forced to sell the company by the liquidator. The company was sold to Mr. Charles Wrey
On the 13th of May a new company named "Pelham Puppets (Marlborough) Ltd" was formed under the ownership of Charlie Wrey. The company being formed was originally under the name "Abberman Ltd" on 11th March 1986.
"Pelham Puppets (Marlborough) Ltd" moved production to Collingbourne Ducis Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN83EH.
Candy stripe boxes were introduced
On April 19th, in a press release, it was announced that the pelpup club would be continued as the "Pelpup Club International"
A new sales leaflet was introduced featuring several new puppets.
The company reported a turnover of £220050 in its annual report. It also recorded a trading loss of -£77180.
Mr. Charlie Wrey worked very hard to get the company back on its feet but seemed to be unable to get the puppets to sell in the same numbers as they had in the company's heyday. Another setback was being undersold on their puppets by competitors. Puppets coming from a German importer, a company called "Gundlach" chipped away at a decreasing market. "Gundlach" went dramatically bust with huge stocks piles of puppets even before Charles had taken over Pelham Puppets.
The company reported a turnover of £263690 in its annual report, it also recorded a trading loss of -£63930
On the 31st of May, William Timyn died, aged 87. Tim as he was known created Bengo, Bleep and Booster, Ceaser, Wuff, Tuff and Snuff.
On the 31st of July Charles Wrey sold the company to Anne Wilkinson of "Anne Wilkinson Designs" who made soft toys. Mr Wrey said "Although commercially a fairly disastrous 4 years, I can not help looking back on them with some affection".
The factory introduced a white faced Rupert Bear. A few were also put on collectors series stands.
On the 31st of December Pelham Puppets (Marlborough) Ltd. sent in its last annual return to Companies House. In this return no turnover was registered.
A new sales leaflet was introduced showing several new puppets. The company name and address on this leaflet was Pelham Puppets (Marlborough) Ltd. Unit 3, Saxon Way, Battledown Industrial Estate, Cheltenham, Glos, GL52 6QX.
During the last 2 weeks of December 1992 redundancy notices were sent out to 18 staff with their employment ending on the 1st of Jan 1993.
The biggest selling puppets at this time were the "Thunderbirds" made for Toys-R-Us. This was rather strange as on the 13th of December 1992 the factory placed an advert selling the "Thunderbirds" collectors series in the mail on Sunday.
On the 1st of February a new company was formed named "Mastercrane Ltd" later to change its name to "Pelham Puppets (Licensing) Ltd".
On the 23rd of February 1993 a new company named "Powerware Ltd" was formed later changing its names to "Pelham Puppets and Toys Ltd".
On the 13th of April 1993 The London gazette published that a winding up order against the "Pelham Puppets Ltd" had been made dated for the 23rd of March 1993.
On the 9th of July "Powerware Ltd" changed its name to "Pelham Puppets and Toys Ltd".
On the 24th of September "Mastercrane Ltd" changed its name to "Pelham Puppets (Licensing) Ltd". This company has never recorded any results
Pelham Puppets were in action at the centenary of Tower Bridge in London
On the 21st of February 1995 "Pelham Puppets and Toys Ltd" changed its name to "Pelham Puppets Ltd".
On the 18th of April a meeting of creditors was held in Folkestone and a liquidator appointed. The company went into creditor's liquidation on the same day. An extraordinary general meeting was held and it was decided that the company be voluntarily wound up.
The "Pelham Puppet Collectors Club" was formed.
Companies House struck the company of its register on the 4th of November, when the company was dissolved.
The "Pelham Puppets Online" website went live.
The first edition of a book solely dedicated to Pelham Puppets entitled "Collecting Pelham Puppets - An Illustrated Guide" was published by former employee David Leech. The published book had some errors .
The second edition of "Collecting Pelham Puppets - An Illustrated Guide" was re-published by David Leech. This book had the errors corrected.
The updated Pelham Puppets Online website went live.
On the 27th of September a UK auction house sold 4 early "Wonky" toy puppets for what must be a record price of £2650.00 plus commission. That is a total of around £700 per puppet. The 4 puppets were a Cowboy, Clown, Cowgirl and Chinese Girl. They were contained in a basket bearing the letters TJP with the auctioneer telling an unproven story the it was once owned by Bob Pelham.
*We have checked with Mike Pelham and he does not think the basket ever had anything to do with his father.
Antiques and collectables magazine ran a feature
The new "Pelham Puppets Online" web site went live which included a discussion forum and a new database driven gallery
December 2005 saw the last Pelham Puppets Collectors Club magazine sent out to members (No 40)
A new PPO forum was released
The all new and improved Pelham Puppet Online website and forum was created and launched
David Leech began to sell a new line of Pelham Puppets under the original licenced name.