the bridge who had no roof to his mouth. These creatures had no roofs to their mouths, of course they had no –
"Aa 00 re o me me oo a oo ho el?" said the voice again. And it had said it four times before Gerald could collect himself sufficiently to understand that this horror alive, and most likely quite uncontrollable was saying, with a dreadful calm, polite persistence: "Can you recommend me to a good hotel?"
The speaker had no inside to his head. Gerald had the best of reasons for knowing it. The speaker's coat had no shoulders inside it only the cross-bar that a jacket is slung on by careful ladies. The hand raised in interrogation was not a hand at all; it was a glove lumpily stuffed with pocket-handkerchiefs; and the arm attached to it was only Kathleen's school umbrella. Yet the whole thing was alive, and was asking a definite, and for anybody else, anybody who really was a body, a reasonable question.
observations: When I did an entry on Pamela Brown’s The Swish of The Curtain recently, various commentators were reminiscing about BBC teatime serials for children, of which Swish was one. Crimeworm remembered one where ‘they had created some kind of "dummies" - I don't know how else to describe them - as the audience and they utterly terrified me.’
Daniel Milford-Cottam, great friend to this blog, knew exactly what she was talking about:
That series with the dummies was [the 1979]The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit (who also wrote the original book The Phoenix and the Carpet). The dummies were called "Ugly-Wuglies" and I have been DESPERATE to see the series for real ever since I heard about them. One of my ex-boyfriends remembers it from the first time round and says the Ugly-Wuglies were remarkably terrifying. It's one of the BBC dramas I REALLY want to see because I only know it from a couple of pictures from an old paperback cover.
I only know this because I've read (and loved) the book - it is one of E Nesbit's less well-known books but it's pretty amazing. There's a gorgeous scene in it where the children are asking their French governess for hairpieces to make up the dummies with, and she whips out her hairpins to reveal that all her abundant hair is her own, and then asks if they want her (definitely not false) teeth too. Very funny and very affectionate.
So naturally I had to read the book (and another Nesbit he recommended, coming soon) – it’s in the public domain so you can get it free for a Kindle. It is a complete delight, and the French governess is an intriguing and (as Daniel pointed out) quite sexy figure. But the stand-out feature is undoubtedly the Ugly-Wuglies, who are indeed terrifying. The children make dummies out of household objects to represent an audience, but they accidentally come alive, and are real people – but ones made out of hockeysticks, coats and bits of paper. They are more troublesome than dangerous, but there is something very creepy indeed about them. I think they must have given young children nightmares, and would make a great animation project for an enterprising film company, who could do wonders with the concept nowadays.
STOP PRESS: Daniel has established that you can see the relevant episode from the 70s BBC series on YouTube - it's here:
And this is what the Ugly-Wuglies look like:
Interesting contemporary notes: E Nesbit makes it clear she thinks all schools should be co-educational; and also has one of the children reporting on being horrified by the conditions in prisons – so much so that he lets some thieves escape. The children say ‘Wireless is rather like magic’ – I was interested, thinking this was a bit early for radio (I’m ever alert for false anachronisms) but I think this is wireless telegraphy, transmitting Morse code clicks rather than voices. As ever she has funny sidenotes – a boy says he can make his nose bleed at will, and another boy ‘congratulated him on this accomplishment, at once so useful and so graceful.’
Thanks again to Daniel for comments and recommendation – every time I read an E Nesbit I remember how funny she was, and how different from most writers for children, in her own time and now. There are several entries for her on the blog - click on the Nesbit label below.
The first two illustrations are from an edition of the book. The third picture I came across in a schoolgirl annual while doing a different entry, and she seemed to fit in nicely….