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Revealed: Wombles are from the Weald

By Kent and Sussex Courier  |  Posted: March 04, 2013

By Scarlet Jones scarlet.jones@courier.co.uk

  • WOMBLING FREE: The TV characters created by Elisabeth Beresford were inspired by the Weald, according to her son, even though they did their litter-picking in Wimbledon

  • Wombles creator: Elisabeth Beresford in 1974 with Orinoco and Great Uncle Bulgaria

  • Wombles creator Elisabeth Beresford pictured in 1957 with her family, 18-month old Marcus Robertson, his big sister Kate and their father Max

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THE Wombles may be synonymous with Wimbledon Common but the Weald was the real inspiration behind Orinoco and co.

Elisabeth Beresford based the world's favourite litter-pickers on members of her own family, according to her son who is returning to his West Kent roots for an adventure of his own.

Rather than wombling free, Marcus Robertson will be bringing steam back to Tonbridge railway station for the first time in decades.

His mother was the author of many popular children's stories which were later adapted for television, and prior to the Wombles she created the 1960s series, Danger On the Old Pull'n Push. Both shows have links to the Weald.

Mr Robertson, who was the inspiration for Orinoco Womble, is now chairman of a Surrey-based steam train operating company and said that the area held fond memories for his family.

Danger On the Old Pull'n Push was a children's television series all about adventures on a steam-hauled branch line and Mr Robertson, 57, said it was based on the Hawkhurst branch and filmed in Goudhurst.

He said: "I was about four when it was written in the 1960s and my mother dedicated it to me – inside the books said 'To Marcus, the boy on the train' as I loved everything about steam trains.

"Then ITV decided to make a television series from it, and they filmed it along the Paddock Wood to Hawkhurst branch.

"They filmed scenes along there, and Goudhurst was transformed into Cloudhurst, it was easy to change the sign as it was just turning the G into CL.

"I seem to remember the post office featured was the real post office in the village.

"It lasted for two series and then it stopped, because the Hawkhurst branch closed on the same day steam finished, as they electrified the lines.

"It literally just stopped overnight."

And the Weald once again inspired Mrs Beresford some years later when it came to the Wombles, as Mr Robertson said: "Great Uncle Bulgaria was based on my grandfather Allan Robertson who had a fruit farm when I was a child, at Gibbet Oak just outside Tenterden."

The Wombles provide not only happy childhood memories for Mr Robertson, but they are similar to watching home movies.

He said: "My mother did base Orinoco on me. He was the fattest, greediest, largest womble, and my wife says it's accurate.

"It's funny as in the TV series Orinoco is always nicking things to eat, and I still do that if I wander into the kitchen – I don't realise I'm doing it."

He said his childhood was a happy one and he did not share the resentment of other children whose famous parents fictionalised them – such AA Milne's son, the inspiration for Christopher Robin.

He said: "I see the Wombles programmes now, and I see members of my family.

"Grandparents were the inspiration for Great Uncle Bulgaria and Madame Cholet.

"They have been dead for about 40 years but every time I see the show it's as if they are there and it is a genuine privilege to have been a part of that."

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  • nmatthews68  |  March 07 2013, 5:20PM

    'The Wombles may be synonymous with Wimbledon Common but the Weald was the real inspiration behind Orinoco and co.' Ahem. No, not really. While a Womble may have been inspired by a man of Kent, the implication that all Wombles are from Kent is, of course, totally misleading and wrong. In the books, there are Wombles all over the world. In terms of the characters' origins, the individual Wombles were named after places with family or other associations for Elisabeth Beresford. Hence, for instance, Madame Cholet was based on the author's mother and named after a French town her daughter visited on a school trip, for instance. And Tobermory was based on the author's brother, who retired to the small town of that name in Scotland. I interviewed Elisabeth Beresford in 2009 about the Wombles. I can assure you she didn't mention Kent as their place of origin! But then a headline in a Kent paper 'Wombles are from Kent as well as lots of other places' probably wouldn't be deemed to be quite so Kent-tastic, would it?

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