Neither Peter nor I can remember why the Puppets came to be used in the 'Fol-de-Rols' as a feature of the Finale of the show. We suspect that Bob Pelham was a friend of 'Rex Newman and the idea came from one of them.
The idea was charming. Each set of puppets were 'themed' and they were much bigger than the standard size.
There was a specially written song which went with each set of puppets, and the Finale began with a couple of singers entering on a front cloth, or in front of the tabs, and singing a little verse about the puppets and the end of the show.
The tabs would then open onto the company apart from the comic or top of the bill, and each person would take a call while singing, with his or her puppet doing a little bow at the same time.
First the dancers, then the utility people, then singers, second comic etc, then the Leading Lady and the Principal Comic.
When I joined the show in 1966 there were several different sets in use.
We had the "Old Time" set, which were dressed as stars from Music Hall
i.e. looking like Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Florrie Forde etc.
The dancers puppets were dressed as Can Can dancers and their hands held their skirts up.
In the period between 1966 and the demise of the show the puppets used in the show were the following:
- The Goodnight Puppets – dressed in Nightgowns and Pyjamas
- The Old Time Puppets, as previously mentioned.
My favourite were the 'Junior Fols' dressed in the Fol-de-Rols costumes. The females in the brown net dresses with Picture Hats and the males in brown velvet tail coats and Beaver Hats – so performers and puppets were the same – wonderful!
The other beautiful set that were in use, and very popular, were the 'Disney' set. They were bigger than the other sets and were all the loved Disney characters – Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, the Dwarves, Pinochio and Disney Animals.
These had a spring at the back connected to the crossbar at the top and only the hands had strings. These were in use until the last show.
There was also a set of animals in 'Twos' as in Noah's Ark, and the song was "Animals went in two by two"'.
There was a set of Glove Puppets dressed as Father Christmas and these were used in the Christmas Tour, also in the summer with the song "Where does Father Christmas go in the Summer Time?"
Most of the Disney Puppets were sold to Roger Stevenson from Southport for his collection, and most of the others sold at the auction in 2010 and some have since appeared on e-bay. Most were in poor condition as they had been stored in skips and eaten by the mice!
I often have emails from collectors and am so pleased that there is still an interest in them as part of Bob Pelham's history.
Brighton & Hove Gazette
Friday 4th February 1966
Puppet designer Bob Pelham was in Brighton this week for the Toy Fair. And at Brighton, too, at the Theatre Royal are the Fol-de-Rols - who ordered a set of puppets, twice the normal size, some months ago for their show.
Result: a meeting between the puppeteers and the puppet master.
"It was the first time I had seen them in action on the stage," said Bob.
Photo detail: standing, left to right:
Joan Mann, Pat Kane, Charlie Stewart, Howell Evans, Freddie Sales; with Bob Pelham kneeling.