Pelham Puppets was founded by Bob Pelham in Marlborough, Wiltshire in 1947. What began as a hobby making puppets from recycled household items and army surplus was to become an empire to rival all others in his field.
It started with a counter in Hamleys, London and over the following years the company grew not just here but across the world as Pelhams were exported to over 40 countries.
The original puppets were produced under the name ‘Wonky Toys’ which was printed on their labels but only for the first year until the company was re-named Pelham Puppets. Pelham ‘Wonkys’ are extremely sought after by collectors. Many Pelham Puppets can still be found boxed. Due to the nature of the toy and all their strings likely to tangle, they were usually kept in their boxes.
Pelham boxes can be used to age a puppet as the boxes changed over time. Early puppets came in brown cardboard boxes but by the 1960s these had been replaced by yellow, solid ones with colourful printed pictures and later in the decade cellophane windows were introduced.
The first puppets were wooden but in the late 1940s Pelham found a recipe to make a composite material so they could introduce moulded heads.
An impressive range of characters were created including clowns, witches, animals, fairytale characters as well as Disney ones after Pelham acquired the rights in 1953 and of course most popular TV heroes.
Puppets such as Muffin the Mule, Sooty and Sweep, Pinocchio and characters from shows like The Magic Roundabout and Thunderbirds are coveted by collectors while more common puppets such as the clowns are less popular.