Tuesday 6 December 2022

Wooden heart(s).....

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a little girl sat glued to an ancient television - you know, the kind with a small rounded glass screen with a huge shiny wooden cabinet surrounding it.  Rather like this one...  

There wasn't much to watch in those days - viewing times were strictly limited, and even included an hour, just after the daily children's hour (yes, just one), when nothing was shown at all so that the little ones could be put to bed without any fuss.  

But from 1946 onwards (did I say our little girl was born in 1942?) something magic happened at 5pm every day.   Onto the black and white screen trotted one of the first stars to be made by television - and he was a puppet.  

And from then on our little girl was hooked on dolls dancing on strings.

(No wonder her parents thought she would love the Disney film Pinocchio. They were misguided however and she had to be carried out of the cinema kicking and screaming during this fearsome scene.)

It didn't put her off puppets though, and her - or should I come clean? - my collection started on my 13th birthday with the gift of a Pelham Puppet theatre and a number of puppets, including Sandy McBoozle, the drunken Scotsman sitting front and centre, and a matching old lady.   

I can remember performing a scene with this couple at boarding school in 1955, based on the ballad "Get up and Bar the Door".  

Heaven knows where we came across it.  If it helps, here is the written version!

I had a fairly large collection of Pelham Puppets but sadly only two or three remain in my possession.  Not that I like them very much, but they are now quite valuable. Unfortunately, they have gone the same way as all of my Dinky toys, collected for me by my father from 1946 when production restarted post-war, till his death in 1952.  The perils of having a much younger sibling!

But another collection of puppets started during my weekly visits to Prague about twenty years ago.  I went there once a week from my village in South Bohemia to teach the Alexander Technique to a handful of pupils - AT was more or less new to the Czech Republic then. Each time I was there I visited the little market near Wencelas Square, and I fell in love with the beautiful (and very reasonably priced) puppets on one particular stall.  I chatted to the friendly owner who told me that she and her sister made them, using moulds and then sewing many of the dresses themselves. Despite the plethora of shops selling puppets in Prague, these particularly spoke to me and I started to collect them. 

There are indeed many, many shops and stalls selling puppets across the whole of the Czech Republic, since the tradition of marionettes here goes back a very long way indeed.  There are museums devoted to the history of touring puppet companies and to the makers of marionettes. The National Collection is actually based in our closest small town, Prachatice, and there are still travelling companies performing in towns and villages, especially at this time of year.

So what better theme for the Christmas window display then to show off some of my puppets?  And to showcase them what could be more fitting than the extraordinary theatre that my daughter-in-law Laura, and son Adam created for my granddaughter's first birthday 18 years ago?  There was of course also a performance - Butterfly still has the script she wrote for the play she and Adam performed.    

The theatre has been in storage for much of this time but came over, together with the somewhat indignant puppets.... 

....when I finally moved to the Czech Republic last December. Unfortunately the whole theatre does not fit in the window, and sadly I have no photos of its original incarnation.   It was based on a folding bookshelf and designed so that two puppeteers could stand inside without being seen - highly ingenious.  

The opulent curtains and scenery were painted by Laura, whose miniature work already features in Small Worlds, and it is the upper part of the theatre that we have been able to use in the window.

Despite the main material being just cardboard it has all survived quite well and maybe one day we will be able to stage a full performance using the whole theatre.

However, for the moment we have a simple staging to offer you - not helped by the museum windows no longer being divided into two thirds/one third, but straight down the middle, which impacts on any central display but this time there was really no other way of setting it up. 

The construction was decidedly tricky - Butterfly positioned everything on the floor of Small Worlds and rigged the puppets... 

....only to find that when putting it into the window, space constraints were interfering with the original plan.   She had to rethink and spent hours rejigging several times before all was well.

But finally the curtain went up and on stage we have the iconic czech character Krakonoš....

Can anyone solve the sausage mystery?
....the spirit or ruler of the mountains, being tempted by the ever-to-be-feared old woman bearing a shiny red apple, that we find in many a fairy tale. 

A lone dragon is flying worriedly across upstage, perhaps wondering if he is in the wrong play.

The scene is completed by some very chatty fungi and a somewhat tipsy hedgehog.

Waiting in the wings alongside the theatre are all manner of characters, ready to come on stage and play their parts, according to whatever your imagination desires.... 

Inside Small Worlds, ready to give a theatrical, seasonal touch to the exhibition on the day of the Advent Market, when we are open to the public, is the little theatre you met in the Christmas blogpost "Curtain Up" in 2019.  

Like then, The Nutcracker is on stage, ready to delight you, with the waiting dancers perched in the adjacent Christmas tree - clearly a handy tree can help with your warm-up routines!  

And one of my most admired puppets (maybe because she reminds me of my very fashionable mother) is sitting comfortably, ready to enjoy the show, just like that little girl so long, long ago.....

She - and you - can even enjoy it with music and movement, courtesy of Butterfly to whom many thanks for all the help - well, all the work actually!

For those who are wondering, the title of this post comes from a favourite film clip....

.....which reminds us that though puppets may have wooden hearts, they can still speak to us across the years! 

With all good wishes for a peaceful festive season. See you next year!


  1. what a treat to get home from work to find such a delightful post! As usual you have worked so hard to prepare a wonderful display. Happy festive season to you and Butterfly.

    1. Hello Helen - I am delighted to make your return from work delightful! It's equally delightful for me to see you on here, once again the first to comment! I shall try for a few more posts in the next 12 months....

  2. How lovely! I can see it all. Apart from a brief Christmas in Lille at the end of the same year, our visit to you in October 2019 was the last time we were abroad, and we do miss it!

    1. Lovely to see you here! Watching Muffin the Mule made me so aware of how very different children's lives were in those long ago days....I went to school with Annette Mills's two nieces - also way back when!

  3. (Well - I am having to post as Anonymous because of some nonsense - how undignified!)
    Oh oh oh! Splendid window and lovely post. So nice to see the puppets properly, having only slept next to them for many years 😁
    Andrea xx

    1. Oh the humiliation of anonimity! Butterfly reckons it's something to do with signing in on a phone?
      Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I must admit it's nice to see the puppets out and about rather than fast asleep.
      They can't stay in the window too long though because the sunshine bleaches everything. But winter is probably a good time to have them there.

    2. No, I didn't use my phone x

  4. Oh lovely - I saw this post earlier, but didn't manage to comment. What a glorious collection of puppets you have! I remember Muffin the Mule, but at a slightly later date than you do, Cestina, since TV didn't reach Yorkshire until around 1950! I also remember the Elvis version of Wooden Heart, though I actually knew Muss i Denn, the German Folk song it's derived from before that. No idea now how I came to buy a book of German folk songs some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s. (Complete sidebar: I always preferred Elvis singing ballads to his rock and roll songs.) Enjoy the holidays, and all the best in 2023.

    1. What a lovely comment Susan! I too knew Muss i Denn long before Elvis strode across my view. Gyrated maybe a better word....I guess I learned it drying dishes alongside the family I stayed with in Hamburg in 1959. Singing was very much in order then.
      Quite a few of the puppets didn't actually make it into the window. Another time I hope...
      All best wishes to you too xx

  5. Hi Gil, what a lot of informations and beautiful puppets te be seen! And I enjoyed the wonderful Nutcracker with moving puppets. Thanks for that all! The whole is like a book of memories and idea's

    1. How lovely to see your comment. I didn't set out to write such a journey through the past but that's just how it turned out. I hope it triggers similar happy memories for others...xx