Jim"s Puppet Pantomime History
Television was just about to start in Australia and Jim decided puppets would become much more important on television - because they would be the same size as a human being (amazingly, this was 20 years before Jim Henson put puppets on TV in 1976 with The Muppets).
So, Jim asked for a push-button
tape recorder to be placed alongside his bed and a microphone beside his
head. Partially paralysed, he had just enough movement in his hand to
be able to use it for stopping and starting. Then he set about composing
puppet stories and puppet tunes, putting them down on the recorder. The
nurses would go past his bed and would hear strange growls of the Wolf
chasing people, or the Little Pig squeaking, or the Old Crocodile singing
away. He was sure some nurses wondered about him!
The “Oz Puppets’ pantomime was unique in the 1950's - Jim used this revolutionary tape recording technology to replace live voices. Most puppeteers at that time used their own voices - but Jim animated his mainly string and glove puppets to the pre-recorded sound track of voices, music, and sound effects. The puppet operators would simply have to manipulate the puppets as they mimed the audio tape. That's why he used the word "pantomime". Jim purchased a number of his string puppets, including Skeleton, from the now famous UK based Pelham Puppets - see online link at right.
Jim had big ideas, but little money. He designed a stage which allowed them to use all varieties of puppets in one show: string puppets; glove puppets; shadow puppets; stand puppets and stick puppets.
Initially Jim hired a ballroom
in the middle of Melbourne and put on his first shows - not knowing whether
anyone would attend or not. The ballroom was packed out! Jim moved the
show to the Melbourne Town Hall, and was packed out again - for six weeks.
This was school holiday time, but Jim and his team found fewer paying
jobs between school holidays.
Click image below to view the Jim Vickers-Willis Puppet Pantomime "The Old Croc" (7 minutes) as shown on early Australian TV c1957
Jim’s puppet pantomimes survived for five years (1954 to 1959).
It was a great joy to Jim to see hundreds of children coming in to his puppet shows and clapping and cheering the puppets his team had created.
One of Jim’s most devoted square dance fans, an artistic young man named Dan Bartley, helped to design and produce the first puppets. He became the unique and unforgettable "voice" of the wolf, and one of Jim's best puppet operators. The leader of Jim’s square dance band, Bob Patey, became another fine puppet operator.
So, that's how ‘OZ Home Puppets’ was born.
Now, you can run your own puppet pantomimes using the resources Jim and his team created.
Jim hopes you and your family have much fun with your OZ Home Puppets show – he enjoyed his time as the creator of ‘Oz Home Puppets’, and making these characters and their plays for you to enjoy.
In the late 1950's Jim purchased
his string puppets from Bob Pelham. In 1947, Bob formed Pelham Puppets
in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England after serving in the armed forces.
He employed returning soldiers and his puppets were originally made
from Government War Surplus - puppet bodies from ammunition cases,
feet & legs from coat toggles. and clothes from parachute materials.
Pelham Puppets became very successful. In 1961 a fire destroyed their
factory and 10,000 puppets. The business ceased trading in the mid
to late 80s and their puppets are now highly sought after collector's
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