Bob Pelham and Pelham Puppets are fondly remembered by Tony Gray. Tony was owner of Ducks Toy Shop, Marlborough from 1965 to 2008, a former Marlborough mayor and town councillor. He has recently been presented with a life-time achievement award by Marlborough town council.
Tony told marlborough.news: “ Initially Bob Pelham had his own shop in Kingsbury Street and in the post war period used a lot of ex-army materials, convoluted tubes from gas masks, as well as wooden coconut balls. As the business expanded to the factory down by the Kennet, off London Road, Pelham Puppets became a huge employer in the town with wonderful esprit de corps among the workers.”
Tony shared his memories of Bob Pelham who died suddenly of a heart attack in 1980.
“Bob Pelham was a very shy man. He seemed to communicate through his puppets. He would come to the shop on a Saturday morning with new puppet designs and walk up to kids with the puppets. The kids would talk to the puppet and not to him.”
Ducks Toy shop became one of the main retailers for the puppets, along with Hamleys in London and Schwarz in New York.
‘We used to go down to the factory to pick up the puppets and this gave us the pick of the bunch. At Christmas we would have a special animated (motorised) Pelham Puppet display in the window of Ducks.”
When Tony became Mayor of Marlborough in 1971 he invited local businesses to a trade fair and asked them to mount a display. Bob Pelham created an eight foot Bimbo the Clown puppet especially for this event. ( See photograph of Tony and his wife with Bimbo the Clown.)
The puppets were always successful, especially with American tourists visiting Marlborough. Some of the best-selling puppets in Ducks included Muffin the Mule, Mcboozle, and in 1966, World Cup Willy. In the 60’s and 70’s The Magic Roundabout characters were very popular, particularly Dougal the dog.
Bob Pelham was meticulous in sourcing exactly the right materials for his puppets. He went to Iceland to buy Icelandic sheepskin for his Dougal puppets because he believed that Icelandic sheepskin had just the right texture for Dougal’s coat.