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