Sunday, 18 December 2011

Notes from Missing Believed Wiped 2011: 2 - The Mumford Puppets

One of the many attractions of an event such as Missing Believed Wiped is the likelihood that it will draw the viewers' attention to a career and a genre or sub-genre of which they were previously unaware. The first such case this year was that of Frank Mumford. Now 94, he and his late wife Maisie were in great demand as marionette designers and performers during the 1950s and 1960s. Documentary-maker Richard Butchins is currently raising funding for a film about the Mumfords, their puppets, and Frank Mumford's collection of archive film, often from the puppets' television appearances: more details of the project and the archive can be found at An Attic Full of Puppets.

The BFI screening included four short pieces, the first two being advertisements and the second two sequences shot to accompany Burl Ives songs. The two adverts were the most striking: the first, a reminder of a time not so long ago when the British were most likely to consume the exotic alcohol that was wine if its foreignness was mediated through the importer's brand, so a glamorous puppet (Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward's aspirational  middle-class first cousin, three or four times removed) extols the virtues of 'VP wines'. Much of the film can be seen in the video embedded in this post; I make a brief appearance at the front of the BFI audience, a minute and a second in. The second advert showed an elderly male pianist marionette being revived during a performance by the placing of an Empire brand cigarette in his mouth. So near in time to the audience, and (as with Emergency - Ward 9) so far from what is currently socially acceptable.

The remaining two pieces were devised to accompany the playing of Burl Ives records on television. The Doughnut Song, in which the 'old man' puppet becomes a doughnut seller, is the one which lingered longest in the mind, and in the absence of a video of the Mumford Doughnut Song sequence to embed, it is best to leave it to the imagination.

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