John Thirtle

John Thirtle was a pre-eminent practitioner of puppetry, as designer, craftsman and manipulator. He helped in the foundation of the national resource and information centre for puppetry, the Puppet Centre in Battersea, south-west London, and was behind the long-running children’s television series Button Moon and The Spooks of Bottle Bay.

In 1971 he and his partner Ian Allen, a dedicated puppeteer whose talent for writing wacky stories for children usefully complemented Thirtle’s skills, founded their own company, the Playboard Puppets.

At first they played the usual schools and weekend theatre circuit with safe fare such as The Ugly Duckling and Little Red Riding Hood (with some surprises in the interpretation).

But their work carried a stamp of quality which set it apart – in its design, colour, craftsmanship, scripting and live playing, and above all in its humour. Moreover, the company’s professionalism earned them a reputation to be envied.

Television, always hungry for puppetry in its children’s programmes, brought opportunities which Playboard seized, and from Playschool and Rainbow the company rose to their own television series. Mo and Hedge, for the BBC in the Seventies, was followed by Button Moon, which proved a winner for Thames Television and Playboard for many years and 91 episodes.

It was about a family of spoons and their friends, all anthropomorphic household objects, hand-operated, and their unlikely adventures on the moon, a large button reached by the Spoons’ personal spaceship.

Children all over Britain learned to count backwards, delightedly reciting with the voice on the television screen, 5-4-3-2-1 BLAST-OFF!

Born London 25 August 1948; died London 5 June 1995.

Written by

Penny Francis.

Violet Philpott

Violet Philpott, who has died aged 90, was a puppeteer best known for her work on the 1970’s television children’s series Rainbow, for which she created the character Zippy.

Zippy was a typical Violet Philpott creation: she always experimented with new materials and techniques to devise puppet characters, often working with polystyrene, polythene, plastics, and resins.

In 1963 she had been one of the creative figures behind The Telegoons, BBC Television’s adaptation of radio’s The Goon Show, bringing characters such as Major Bloodnok and Bluebottle to the screen. Violet Philpott was involved in the making of many of the Telegoon marionettes, and worked on the series for 15 episodes.

In 1972 she created Zippy for Thames Television’s pre-school children’s show Rainbow, the first British programme to feature significant interaction between puppets and humans.

Although the series ran for more than 20 years, Violet Philpott was forced to withdraw as the character’s operator after the first season because of a back injury sustained on account of having to adopt an awkward position every time Zippy appeared through a window.

With Mary Jean McNeil, she produced The KnowHow Book of Puppets (1975) that showed children how to produce puppet shows.

She was born Violet Yeomans on April 28 1922 in Kentish Town, north London. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and for two years she lived with her father, a pub entertainer, before returning to her mother. At St Martin’s School of Art she discovered a talent for puppetry and met her future husband AR Philpott, known professionally as Pantopuck the Puppet Man.

Theosophists, vegetarians and pacifists, the couple shared their home in Dartmouth Park with the painter Morris Cox (known as Mog), founder of the Gogmagog Press, and his wife, Wyn.

Using junk material, Violet Philpott made puppets to entertain children at the annual Punch and Judy festivals in St Paul’s, the actors’ church in Covent Garden, and worked with the young Emma and Sophie Thompson in a Children’s Theatre Workshop production in the Devon village of Dittisham.

Violet Philpott founded the Charivari Puppets, and in 1971 the Cap and Bells Puppet Theatre. Many of her live shows featured the adventures of a baby marsupial called Bandicoot to which she gave a distinctively comical voice. While touring with Bandicoot in Spain, a kindly woman put her up in what turned out to be a bordello.

She became a regular visiting artist at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, where her puppet adaptations of The Ugly Duckling and The Elves and the Shoemaker are still part of the repertoire. From the early 1970s she also performed as Boo the Clown.

A lifelong advocate of the therapeutic uses of puppetry, and a dedicated supporter of the Educational Puppetry Association (founded by her husband in 1943 and amalgamated with the Puppet Centre Trust in 1978), she regularly ran workshops and gave performances for disabled and disadvantaged people.

As well as being a creative puppeteer, she wrote poetry and stories .

Violet Philpott’s husband died in 1978. There were no children.

Violet Philpott, born April 28 1922, died December 14 2012

Obituary – courtesy of The Telegraph (23/12/2013)