Councillors give unanimous - no strings - support to a Pelham Puppet Festival next July

Written by Tony Millett on .

In 2017 it will be seventy years since the famous Pelham Puppets were first made in Marlborough - boxes containing some nine million puppets took the name of Marlborough around the world.  They also gave huge amounts of pleasure - and sometimes a little frustration - to many generations of young puppeteers.

Marlborough Town Councillors have given unanimous support to plans for The Great Marlborough Pelham Puppet Party to be held in July next year.  At the council meeting this week (November 7), they pledged some financial support for the event in terms of reduced rate use of the Town Hall and perhaps some funding from the Council's 'events budget'.

The application to hold the Party comes from the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild and is being led by David Leech, the managing director of the present day Pelham Puppet company. He told Marlborough.News: "We are delighted with the support offered by Marlborough Town Council."

He plans a major exhibition in the Town Hall and live performances in Priory Gardens with an opening parade on the Saturday - a ‘March of the Marionettes’, for which they hope to have larger than life puppets to lead the way. 

It sounds irresistible for anyone who remembers the fun of trying to get lifelike movement out their puppets and the frustration of getting caught up in the strings.

Pelham Puppets were founded in Marlborough and employed many residents of the town worked for the company.  More than nine million puppets were produced over a forty-year period.

The founder, Bob Pelham, began making toys in a small workshop in Silverless Street.  In 1947 he opened a workshop in Victoria House, Kingsbury Street. 

Then in 1953 Pelham bought land on London Road which became the home of Pelham Puppets until 1987.  The factory burnt down in 1961, was replaced and later expanded as demand increased.   

The company changed hands in 1986 and manufacturing was moved to Collingbourne Ducis and the Marlborough factory was demolished. The site is now Pelham's Court.  

Councillors were enthusiastic about the plans.  Councillor Cook:  "When I read this I immediately had a smile on my face - yes, yes, yes."  Councillor Ross: I am very happy to support this.  It is a fantastic opportunity for the town - and the Council should put its weight behind it."

And Councillor Fogg thought it was time a blue plaque marked Pelham's starting point in Silverless Street.

L to R: Bob Pelham working on a lifesize puppet (1965) - Grenville Hodge (works manager 1977-1985) - Mary Lester stringing Donald Duck puppets L to R: Bob Pelham working on a lifesize puppet (1965) - Grenville Hodge (works manager 1977-1985) - Mary Lester stringing Donald Duck puppets   Laura Ray sewing clothes for the puppets - 1947Laura Ray sewing clothes for the puppets - 1947

There are still hurdles to overcome:  the full cost of the Festival will be about £20,000 and the organisers have applied for a grant from the Big Lottery's Celebrate Fund.  And local sponsors are being sought.

Our thanks to David Leech for use of the archive photos.  There is much more information - and photographs of Marlborough people at work in the factory - on the Pelham Puppets website.