Elisabeth Beresford’s Wombles are being returned to print by Bloomsbury, more than 40 years after the author first created them
It was addressed simply to “Elisabeth Beresford, creator of the Wombles, Alderney, The Channel Islands”, but the letter sent by publisher Emma Matthewson in a last-ditch attempt to bring the Wombles books back into print reached its intended recipient – and Great Uncle Bulgaria, Orinoco and their pointy-nosed, environmentally-aware friends are now set to return to bookshops later this year.
Matthewson, editorial director for Bloomsbury children’s books, was a fan of the “eccentric charm” of the Wombles as a child, and “couldn’t believe it” when she discovered the books have been out of print for almost 10 years. “I was desperate to see them in print again – but I had no idea how to contact Elisabeth, apart from the fact she lived in the Channel Islands, on Alderney,” she said. So she posted her letter on the off-chance it might reach its destination, and was “thrilled and delighted” to get a response from the author.
Beresford agreed to reissue the six Wombles books, which she first created more than 40 years ago, with Bloomsbury from this autumn. The Wombles, the first in the series, is out in November, introducing the stern but kind Great Uncle Bulgaria, Orinoco (fond of his food and a nap), the cheeky young Bungo and handyman Tobermory, able to turn anything the Wombles forage from Wimbledon Common into something useful.
The Wombles’ motto is to “Make good use of bad rubbish”, and Beresford said her much-loved creations “have always been environmentally aware, recycling the rubbish that they find and putting it to good use, so it gives me particular pleasure that their adventures are also being recycled”.
“We cannot rely on The Wombles to do all our recycling for us but I hope they will encourage everyone who reads their adventures to follow their example and have fun into the bargain,” said the author, who is now over 80. “The Wombles have always made people laugh and I hope they continue to do so.” The books will be freshly illustrated by Nick Price, who Matthewson said was keeping “very true to the original books”, which were illustrated by six different artists.
Beresford came up with the idea for the Wombles after a trip to Wimbledon Common with her children, which her daughter mispronounced as “Wombledon”. Each character is based on a member of her family. The books inspired a 1970s animated television show, the theme tune for which (“Underground, overground, wombling free, The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we … “) was a hit in the UK charts, and was performed by the Wombles at the Eurovision song contest.
Matthewson said she hoped “readers young and old” would enjoy the Wombles reissues. If they prove popular, she said she “would love” to publish new Wombles books from Beresford. “It’s early days but it would be fantastic to have new Wombles material,” she said.