Yes, it was back in 1968 that Elizabeth Beresford first introduced the Wombles to the world. She had taken her young children for a walk on Wimbledon Common which her daughter mispronounced as “Wombledon Common”. An idea formed in her head and she went home and outlined a story which included furry characters that lived in burrows on the common. The Wombles were born and a series of books came out.
The books were popular. The message was very much in keeping with today, namely recycling! Wombles collected things that other people had discarded and made them into something useful. As important a message today as it was half a century ago. The little characters were turned into a television series in 1973, always reinforcing the message of reusing rubbish. The series was narrated by Bernard Cribbins (I remember it well).
But it needed a theme tune. Mike Batt was asked to write it and subsequently promote the song with some personal appearances, dressed as a womble of course. He got his mum to make him a costume. It was clear how popular both the theme and this furry creature were so Mike went on to write and produce several more successful singles during the 1970s and the collection of furry costumes grew with the popularity, as the Wombles went on tour.
So what of the promised Sunbury connection in this story? As the musical success took off, the group were in demand. Mike called on two of his old school chums, Tim and Andy Renton. They had a band called Reign, supporting such greats as Genesis and the Moody Blues but were happy to join Mike and his Wombles. Tim Renton now lives in Sunbury. You may even have seen him perform as part of the Chain Gang at the Sunbury Cricket Club or with is own group, 3AM, managed by wife Sandy Renton. So for 9 months, at the peak of the Wombles success, Tim donned a womble suit and toured with the band.
He ‘appeared’ either as Tomsk or Uncle Bulgaria (see photo top of page). He has many happy memories and a few funny ones. The group were the interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974 and subsequently toured Europe. The Wombles were also frequently on Top of the Pops at the time. There they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Cilla Black and the band, Sweet, but Tim also recalls seeing the legendary Stevie Wonder at one of the shows. “These kids had the famous Stevie Wonder on the show and all they wanted was to crowd around the Wombles!” he says.
The furry costumes were rather hot, as you can imagine. During one of the Top of the Pops appearances Robin Le Mesurier, who was dressed as Wellington, fainted and fell off the back of the stage. No one noticed!
So 50 years since the creation of the wombles, the message of littering and recycling is more important than ever. The little furry creatures certainly made an impact. They are commemorated in Guernsey by way of a set of stamps (author Elizabeth Beresford was based there).
As for Sunbury’s Tim Renton, look out for his band 3AM performing locally. You can find
fixtures as well as clips of the band on the website: www.3am.uk.com