Costume drama: Mike Batt criticises ‘unlicensed’ Womble suit

Julian Butler and Great Uncle Bulgaria outside the Wimbledon Bookfest tentThe Wombles made headlines after Mike Batt complained about unofficial costumes being used at Wimbledon BookFest.

He discussed the costumes on Twitter (see below), the night before the Wombles Storytelling and Singalong event, saying he “never knew about them”. After contacting the organisers of the annual book festival, he said he was invited along “to watch, discuss and join in”.

The story was reported by the Wimbledon Guardian, and then picked up by the Mirror. Mike Batt responded that he didn’t “sneak” in and he didn’t say he was “furious”, in fact he’d thought they had done it with the best intentions.

The costume in question appears to be from a range created by character and mascot specialists Rainbow Productions after the 1998 ITV television series. The characters made public appearances over the next decade in anti-litter campaigns such as Stop the Drop with Bill Bryson, and at environmental events like the Green Garden Festival at Ness Gardens in Cheshire.

However, those costumes are no longer licensed, and Mike Batt’s company now holds almost all the rights to The Wombles. His mother Elaine made all the costumes for the Wombles pop group.

Wimbledon BookFest hosted the official launch of the Wombles books in October 2010 when they were republished by Bloomsbury, including a visit from Great Uncle Bulgaria. After the success of that event, BookFest 2011 had a storytelling and singalong session, with Uncle Bulgaria making another appearance.

These popular sessions became an annual favourite, but the Womble guests were downgraded to less realistic costumes, of the type available to hire from fancy dress shops. Orinoco appeared briefly at BookFest 2012, and he was joined by Madame Cholet at BookFest 2013.

I didn’t go along in 2014, but it seems that there were no longer any live Wombles, as the Wimbledon Guardian said: “Although the litter-pickers themselves did not appear, they were there in spirit.”