Mike Batt’s mother Elaine died of cancer on Saturday 15 June, aged 87.
Sadly this came shortly after Mike was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He wrote on his blog: “I’m so glad that my mum was able to be aware of that when I told her yesterday.”
Elaine Batt played a pivotal role in the success of the Wombles pop group. When the TV theme tune was released as a single in 1973, Mike asked his mum to make him a Womble costume, which helped him get the attention of his record company.
One thing led to another and Orinoco was soon turning up all over the country, walking into regional radio stations and boosting local record sales. “I’d go unannounced into record shops and radio stations,” he told The Telegraph in 2011, “and the DJ would say, ‘Er, a mouse just came into my studio.’ I’d say, ‘Hello, my name’s Orinoco, do you want to play my record?'”
Before long the single was being played on Radio 1 and The Wombles were booked for Top Of The Pops. One frantic family sewing session later, the whole band was born, and The Wombles had their first hit. Mike Batt remembers:
“I wore that outfit for five days flat, touring radio stations round the country. I was able to just wander in: people assumed that someone in costume must be there by invitation. DJs would interrupt their shows to play my song. Eventually, the producers of Top Of The Pops called and asked if there was a Wombles group. I lied and said yes, and they invited me to appear in two days. My parents, siblings and I spent the next 36 hours rushing out three more Womble costumes using ping-pong balls, baseballs, bedsheets and anything else we could find lying around the house.” – The Guardian, 2013
“… using old plastic washing-up mats for the nose, with a black ping-pong ball at the end. She was very inventive.” – The Telegraph, 2008
“My mother, Elaine, still makes all the costumes. As a child I would clean up at fancy dress competitions because she was so great at making them. She made lots of variations for all the different songs – for a Western-themed song she made Stetsons and waistcoats, and for Wombling White Tie And Tails she got plastic buckets and covered them in cloth to look like top hats. Sadly we lost the Father Christmas coat that Great Uncle Bulgaria wore, but she has just made a very grand, floor-length velvet coat for the cover of our new Christmas record, a remastered version of the original Wombling Merry Christmas.” – The Telegraph, 2011
As recently as two years ago, Elaine was hard at work preparing The Wombles for their live performance at Glastonbury Festival. She said to The Independent: “They’ve survived rather well, I think, but Orinoco and Wellington need some new school caps. And just look at their feet! They’re worn through. But then they always were rather energetic, weren’t they?”