Underground comedy: The Wombles in Detectorists

DetectoristsThe Wombles were mentioned in this week’s episode of the award-winning BBC4 sitcom Detectorists.

They were the focus of the closing scene, in which the lead characters Andy and Lance discuss the recent death of a fellow member of the metal-detecting community.

Lance: He was a legend, Rod McClin.

Andy: Didn’t people say he had metal detector shoes so he was constantly detecting?

Lance: There’s lots of stories about old Rod. Yeah, he used to go detecting at the end of each day for loose change on Wimbledon Common.

Andy snickers.

Lance: What?

Andy: Wimbledon Common.

Lance: What about it?

Andy: Well, it’s not real.

Lance: Not real?

Andy: No, it’s fictitious. It’s made up for the Wombles.

Lance: No, it wasn’t.

Andy: Yes, it was. ‘Underground, overground, Wombling free…’

Lance: No, no. I know the Wombles lived there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real place.

Andy: You believe in Wombles?

Lance: Course I don’t. Look, the fictitious Wombles lived fictitiously on the real-life Wimbledon Common.

Andy: Really?

Lance: Google it.

Andy: . . . No signal.

Lance: Google it later.

Watch the episode on BBC iPlayer

Detectorists is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who also stars as Andy, alongside Toby Jones as his friend Lance.

It’s not the first time that existential questions have been asked about the Wombles. People are often unsure whether Wombles are real animals – or whether they’re bears, rats, moles or something else.

On the panel show Would I Lie To You? in 2012, actress Katherine Parkinson admitted that she was so sure Wombles were real that she used them as an example of a mammal in her GCSE biology exam. She said: “I should make clear that I didn’t think the children’s programme was a documentary. I thought the children’s programme was based on a real mammal.”

  • Frederick W Harrison

    I picked up a book on the history of WImbledon Common and Putney Heath while visiting the Common in 1986. Metal detecting on the Common is prohibited, which explains the metal detecting shoes of Rod McClin. There used to be a rifle range on the Common plus with its use by the army in one or both wars I can see the worry about someone digging up the place in search of coins and uncovering spent bullets and shell casings. Then again, it might well be an arrangement to keep the Wombles burrow hidden while providing them with a source – however paltry – of income for buying things like concrete and the use of the mixer, plus tip or fare for the underground to central London.