Family of The Wombles creator pays tribute to Bernard Cribbins

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The son of the writer who created The Wombles has praised Bernard Cribbins for the way in which he brought the famous characters to life.

Veteran actor Cribbins, who has died aged 93, narrated the original Wombles TV series, and provided the voices of characters such as wise old Great Uncle Bulgaria, inventor Tobermory and sleep-loving Orinoco, for the beloved creatures who were the brainchild of Elisabeth Beresford.

Beresford published her first Wombles story in 1968, with the original stop-motion series, which ran between 1973-1975, commissioned after the stories were read on Jackanory.

Marcus Robertson
Marcus Robertson (Family handout/PA)

Marcus Robertson, Beresford’s son, told the PA news agency: “He was always great fun and an amazing bloke, but obviously The Wombles was the thing that from our point of view… The Wombles were all based on members of the family.

“So every character in The Wombles was actually really just a member of our family.

“And Bernard was extraordinary, because Mum sort of explained to him what the characters were like in real life, as it were.

“So for instance, Orinoco was based on me, which was the fattest, laziest and greediest of them, I was only 13 or 14 when she first wrote them, not even that probably.

“But I’m not thinking about myself so much as my grandfather, because the character Great Uncle Bulgaria, he was based on my paternal grandfather.

Bernard Cribbins
Veteran actor Bernard Cribbins, who narrated The Wombles (PA)

“And he obviously is kind of like the sage of The Wombles. And Bernard just was brilliant at taking the characters of all of us and just reflecting them in how he did things, but particularly Great Uncle Bulgaria.

“When I watch The Wombles even now it is as if my grandfather is still alive.

“He’s been dead 50 years, but Bernard just got him to a tee, the way in which he interacted with the rest of The Wombles, the rest of the family, and particularly the way he used to talk to me.

“You know young Orinoco, he used to call him young Womble but in real life I was usually called young Marcus… but just the way he just, Bernard created that family in the burrow… was just like our family.”

A tribute was paid on The Wombles official Twitter account, which wrote: “Bernard Cribbins breathed life into the burrow, his voice was the soundtrack to our lives. We love him, and will miss him. Bernard, you will always be part of our Womble family.” It was signed with a heart emoji and the name Great Uncle Bulgaria.

Composer and conductor Mike Batt, who helped create The Wombles on TV and wrote much of their material, recalled Cribbins’ “mischievous” nature and questioned why he was never knighted.

Batt told BBC News: “Too many memories. He was a wonderful guy to just be with. He was wonderful company. He was generous.

“He was great, of course, with kids which says a lot about somebody. He was very generous to me. Before we even had a hit with The Wombles, we worked together.

“He and I even made a record together, which wasn’t a hit but then we did The Wombles and I sang them and he voiced the show.

“He was rather mischievous and great funny, giggly company to be with, but he took his work very seriously and he was a fine actor on all levels and will obviously be so badly missed by so many friends and of course the audiences who enjoyed his work.”

Speaking about how Cribbins took his work seriously, Batt added: “He was a great actor. He didn’t just do it because there was nothing else to do. That was his vocation. He started it very early, he had a wonderful career and I am surprised he wasn’t knighted actually, but there you go.”

Elisabeth Beresford walks with Wombles Uncle Bulgaria and Alderney in the woods of Wimbledon Common (PA)
Elisabeth Beresford walks with Wombles Uncle Bulgaria and Alderney in the woods of Wimbledon Common (PA)

Beresford died at the age of 84 in 2010 but her legacy of The Wombles of Wimbledon Common has lived on for generations to enjoy.

The name the Wombles came from a mispronunciation by daughter Kate when she was a child on a Boxing Day stroll, and spoke of “Wombledon Common”.

At home that same day, Beresford made out a list of names for characters, and soon Great Uncle Bulgaria, Tobermory and Orinoco became world famous.

The Wombles’ motto “Make Good Use Of Bad Rubbish” and their passion for recycling is widely seen as being way ahead of its time.

Beresford was awarded an MBE for her services to children’s literature in the 1998.

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