The story and history of Bimbo
To say that Bob Pelham loved clowns would have been an understatement. From the early days clowns of all shapes and sizes were made and they always sold well.
The most famous of all these was Bimbo the Clown. So much so that Bob Pelham had a giant version of Bimbo greet factory visitors by placing one in the corner of the factory reception .
It was the highlight of many child's day to have their photograph taken with him.
No one is really sure how the name Bimbo came about but there are several theories.
Some think the name Bimbo came from the cartoon character Betty Boop, who was all the rage just before the war.
In these early cartoons, made between 1925 to 1935, alongside Betty Boop was a dog named Bimbo and clown named Koko.
Maybe Bob Pelham or someone at the factory simply switched the names around to get Bimbo the Clown.
Another theory concerned an American company named Talent Toy Products, who in 1948 made a puppet called "Pim Bo" the Clown. Pim Bo was most likely made using parts supplied by the Pelham factory and just assembled in the USA.
In Pelpup News for May 1954, Pelpop (Bob Pelham) said.
"This week is a busy week as i am getting ready for the British Industries Fair - which starts on 3rd May for a fortnight and is open to the public every afternoon. I shall look forward to seeing any Pelpup who comes, our stand is on the top floor of the Empire Hall. You will be able to see Gingo, my 7ft puppet (or is he 8ft? he is much taller than I am anyway!)"
However he was called Bimbo when he was seen at Harrods over Christmas 1953 so this may be a miss-spelling
The first Bimbo.
In the early days of Pelham Puppets, Bob Pelham was always thinking up ways to make his puppets more appealing to a much wider audience than the children they were originally made for. In those days Pelham Puppets were often used in advertising and window displays.
Being so eye catching, they would often attract attention. The sight of a puppet always seems to have a fascinating attraction to anyone with any imagination. It was found that people just had to stop and take a look at them.
It was therefore not in the least surprising that Bob should decide to make a "larger than life" size puppet for display. After all, the larger something is, the more people will want to look.
The original request came from the Harrods toy buyer, who was said to be a person with a lively imagination. However, the possibility of such a figure had been brewing in Bob's mind for some time.
Bob said at the time "Life should always be serious, and in puppetry it seldom is"
The result of the Harrods request and Bob's imagination was the giant clown named “Bimbo”.
The first Bimbo stood seven feet tall and typical of Bob's inventive genius and outrageous imagination, he was more than just a clown.
His black and white checked trousers started life as a table cloth, his very stylish jacket was Bob's own evening tail coat. He wore a beautifully embroidered yellow waistcoat, and sported a foot wide bow tie. He had huge feet made from wood. On his oversized clown's head, he wore a diminutive grey top hat. The effect was electrifying. Bimbo spent the whole of the 1953 season in Harrod's toy department, standing next to the puppet counter, where he was an outstanding success.
But this was only the beginning of the story, Bob thought Bimbo might enjoy going to the British Industries Fair in 1954 looking over the stand watching the buyers coming and going. It was difficult for Bob to regard Bimbo as only a puppet so it seemed only natural that such a person should wish to talk to the people who passed by the stand.
This Bimbo had strings which ran up around pulleys above the ceiling net of the show stand, to a control at the back. Bob would run up a ladder behind the partition from which he could operate the controls, but out of the view of the public, through he could see them himself.
Bimbo's mouth could move, as could his eyes. But he could do more that just move' he could speak.
As Bob said at the time,“In his head, I put a speaker, the wire of which ran down his neck, under his clothes, out of his trouser leg, under the carpet, and so behind the partition. It was therefore invisible to the public. The wire lead to a microphone, which I strung up behind me so that I could talk straight into it. By operating Bimbo's mouth and eyes, as well as his head and hands, I was able to surprise the unsuspecting public, particularly as the voice really did come out of his mouth. I tried only to make polite comments to people, but is was not always easy, and I had enormous fun surprising everyone. You should have seen people's faces when Bimbo suddenly leant forward and said “Ha! You didn't think I could talk did you?” Then his eyes would blink and his head go on one side. He could wink too, as his eyes were controlled independently. Bimbo had some really good conversations with some people. You see I could hear what they were saying, so could give the right – or perhaps wrong answers. I could also switch him over to a gramophone so that he could sing while I worked his controls. I think the funniest was the laughing record called “I went to the wedding”. We used to end up with the whole crowd in fits of laughter. Bimbo and I had a marvelous time. I also had a similar sized old lady on the stand. She was on springs and was controlled mechanically by a motor, which tugged at the control. But she could not talk so was not nearly such fun. I think it was the funniest fair we ever went to”.
It was also a very successful fair, because Bob found that he was being inundated with orders for Bimbo.
Bob suddenly found that I had to work out how I could produce enough Bimbo's to satisfy the demand, and what price he should be. We found that he had to cost £37.10 which was a lot of money in those days, several weeks wages in fact. They took over thirty orders at the fair alone. Twelve going to Holland , one to Belgium , Four to New York , and lots of orders from large stores all round the UK.
There were also half a dozen enquiries from other overseas countries.
Bob commented at the time "I took Bimbo to the fair, because I thought he would enjoy watching all the buyers, but it turned out that the buyers all watched him instead”.
During that summer of 1954, Bimbo fascinated the large holiday crowds in Bournemouth. He was in a large animated display in one of Beale's Department Store windows. In fact Bimbo almost found himself getting into trouble with the law.
The window display proved such an attraction that the watching crowds spread right across the pavement and into the road, and the Bournemouth Police had to ask the manager if he would kindly turn the display off so that the crowds would disperse because they were causing an obstruction and could possibly cause an accident. The manager naturally obliged, and it was agreed that the display could be switched on again after the crowds had gone, provided it was turned off if the crowds began to spread into the road again. The manager said he had never seen anything like it in his life before. It was one of the best attractions Bournemouth had had for a long time.
The giant Bimbo became a regular in shop displays all over the country
Bimbo met the Law on other occasions too, though they always parted the best or terms, as Bob related once. “I had to drive up to the Toy Fair, and at that time I had an open sports car. The only place for Bimbo was beside me in the front passenger seat. It was about 7:00am and I was driving slowly through Slough , when I noticed a policeman standing on the pavement. As I approached him, he turned towards me, and I shall never forget the look of blank amazement on his face as he saw my passenger. I had to stop and let him have a good look, and we had quite a chat. I think Bimbo really made the policeman's day".
Success continued to follow Bimbo. Bob appeared on BBC Television in the Panorama programme while the British Industries Fair was in progress in 28th February 1956. Once again, Bimbo was the front seat passenger as Bob drove up to London , to the consternation and delight of many who saw him drive past.
This pictures show the American Ambassador when he visited the Pelham Puppets stand at British Industries Fair.
This picture shows Prince Richard the son of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester having some fun with Bimbo on the Pelham Puppets stand at British Industries Fair.
The day following the Panorama programme, Mr Sylcestri, an American buyer purchased a Bimbo from the stand and placed an order for one hundred more. Such is the way of the world. What had started as a bit of fun at the British Industries Fair, developed into a major new export market which a few years later was to absorb the whole production of the factory for many months.
In 1955, Bob decided to capitalize on the success of Bimbo by producing a small standard sized version, naming it Baby Bimbo.
- Giant Bimbo (7 foot)
- Display Bimbo (40" tall)
- Baby Bimbo
- SL Bimbo
In the mid 1950's an American animatronic company named Williams made a marionette slot machine called "Peppy the clown". In the 1960's United Billiards Inc changed the design renaming the machine to " Bimbo 3 Ring Circus", showing just how famous Bimbo had become.
When a coin is inserted Bimbo talks and sings to music while moving his mouth and his head as well as his body from side to side. In addition the 'player' can help Bimbo dance via buttons on the front console which control left and right arm movement as well as left and right leg movement.
The results are amazingly life like and fun to watch. The Bimbo image at the top is identical to a Pelham Puppets Bimbo but the puppet used is not.
In 1962 a television crew from ATV visited the factory and in his normal offbeat way Bob Pelham put on a Giant Bimbo outfit to great them.