It was a relief to discover that, as Great Uncle Bulgaria had predicted, the Human Beings all about him took no notice of the fact that he was a Womble. They were all far too busy about their own affairs, and Bungo, who had never before been so close to so many people, decided that beside being dreadfully wasteful they were also remarkably unobservant.
‘Funny creatures,’ he muttered to himself.
— The Wombles
Elizabeth Beresford reportedly got the idea for the Wombles, bear-like (later raccoon-like) creatures who live beneath Wimbledon Common and scurry around picking up human trash, during a Christmas walk in Wimbledon—a place one of her children called “Wombledon.” Intended as merely a humorous children’s story about the delightful Wombles, the book instead became more of a commentary on human society as well as a passionate cry for saving the planet. It also eventually sparked a children’s television show, an almost compulsively singable Wombling Song (that is, if you are six) which if you were very lucky, you could sometimes hear on the BBC World Service, some stuffed Wombles currently for sale over at Amazon’s United Kingdom division, and even some McDonald’s Happy Meal toys which I very much fear some small children may have tossed into the trash, largely missing the point.
Despite all this, the Wombles remain almost completely unknown in the United States. (I blame the inept scheduling of the BBC World Service for this, but that may just be residual bitterness talking.) So unknown that after my return to the States, I was almost convinced that the books and the song were nothing more than figments of my imagination. Almost. Which is a shame, since the Womble books certainly deserve a more worldwide audience, and are now easily available in the U.S. in both print and ebook editions.
So, for British readers and viewers who might have forgotten, and others who never knew, what are the Wombles?
[I’m so glad you asked. Wombles of Wimbledon, Wombles are WE!]