What’s with The Wombles? Writer Phil Bowne discusses his role alongside the much-loved brand

Books, bibles and buzz: what’s new with The Wombles? Head of Publishing Phil Bowne tells all…

Phil, you’re the Head of Publishing at The Wombles. I don’t know under which rock people would have to be hiding to not know The Wombles… But for the benefit of the under-rock dwellers, how would you describe them?
The Wombles are a community of furry creatures that live in a burrow on Wimbledon Common. They’re passionate about the planet and their local environment and go to great lengths to protect it. They go out every day picking up litter and tidying up the common, with the hope of repurposing and recycling it into something new. As their motto goes: making good use of bad rubbish.

This brand was green before green was a thing. That’s not their only schtick, though, is it? What are the brand pillars? What are their values?
The Wombles are all about community. Whether that’s coming together to help the local environment, to enjoy Madame Cholet’s wonderful meals, to listen to Orinoco’s latest musical masterpiece, or to help each other out in times of need. The Wombles believe in working together.

“The Wombles believe in trying their best, and working together to overcome the problems they face.”

The Wombles believe in being there for each other. They believe in looking out for their elders, as well as for future generations. The Wombles understand that every generation has a responsibility as custodians of the planet. They aim to leave behind a better place than they inherited. But The Wombles don’t seek perfection – they’re far too clumsy for that! They simply believe in trying their best, and working together to overcome the problems they face.

A TV return is often touted as a possibility. Might that come to fruition?
The Wombles have a joint venture with Altitude Television to develop The Wombles for the screen… And Will Davies – the writer behind How to Train Your Dragon, Man vs Bee, and Johnny English – is writing the script for the film as we speak.

Phil Bowne, The Wombles, Film & TV

Great answer! Tell me, then: what’s been keeping you and The Wombles busy recently?
Over the past few years, I’ve been working with a wonderful team of writers and editors to develop the characters, story bibles, and work with our animation team to expand the animated Wombles ‘world’. We then used these amazing new assets to get to work on a raft of new Wombles books.

And when you say “books”, what kind of books do you mean?
From picture books to non-fiction guides, all the way up to middle-grade novels. I can’t say too much about them as of now, but we’re very excited about sharing them with readers when the time’s right.

I hope you will come back and tell us all about it! Meanwhile, when you’re looking to write new material, Phil, where do you start?
Ideas come to us in a few different ways. Some have been borne out of the development to our Wombles CGI world. We have so many new areas for The Wombles to explore now, such as a canal, an allotment, a recycling centre, and a very impressive underground train network…

Underground train?!
Yes, The Wombles have their own tube system and canal network too! There are plenty of natural storytelling opportunities in the new assets we have at our disposal. At other times, we’re inspired by a news story or a development in environmental technology that we feel might be fun to explore with The Wombles. We’ve also looked at the original Wombles TV episodes for ‘seeds’ of ideas to adapt and use as a storytelling springboard.

“When writing, we want to ensure the characters retain that lovable feel of the original books and TV series…”

And on that, how do you protect the brand heritage and carry it forward to find a new audience?
The Wombles are part of the cultural fabric of the UK, and we know how important it is to protect that heritage… So all the writing we do follows the guidelines set out in our writers’ bible. When writing this, we wanted to ensure that the characters retained that lovable feel of the original books and TV series, and the characters stayed credible. It wouldn’t feel right if Orinoco was suddenly into jogging, for example!

No, I hear that. People are SO excited to see The Wombles – on the stand at BLE, for example… I guess there needs to be a really strong brand guide for the new material?
Yes, and every writer that comes on board here is tasked with familiarising themselves with that brand and our bible. That way, we make sure we remain as true to the brand as possible.

Phil Bowne, The Wombles, Film & TV

Brilliant. What’s your background, Phil? How did you come to be doing this?
I’ve always had a love of reading and writing. I went to university and studied English Literature and Creative Writing. I then spent a couple of years working and travelling, while writing my debut novel, which was published in 2020. During that time, I was lucky enough to meet with the team at The Wombles. I was excited to learn about the project, and the prospect of working to develop a brand as huge as The Wombles was impossible to say no to.

You mention your debut novel – you’re the same Phil Bowne that wrote Cows Can’t Jump?
I am, yes… Do you know it?!

I do! And you must give that a plug, Phil!
Ha! Well… Cows Can’t Jump is about Billy – an 18-year-old gravedigger with no prospects. He’s desperate to escape his dysfunctional family. When he meets an enigmatic Swiss girl, Eva, he sees a chance to create a new life in Europe. His journey involves hitchhiking with a flirtatious truck driver, walking with refugees and a mysterious encounter with ill-fated cows. But the further he goes, the harder it is to know what he’s chasing – and what he’s running from.

Great! It’s impossible not to be compelled by the words “a mysterious encounter with ill-fated cows”!
Thank you, Deej!

My pleasure. Thanks for joining us, Phil. And I’ll tell you what, we’ll end this with a picture of the book!

Phil Bowne, The Wombles, Film & TV

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