Friday, 3 October 2014

People behind the puppets – famous puppeteers

Bringing inanimate characters for children and adults to life by using drama, comedy and satire, puppetry productions can take an incredible toll on the person controlling the puppet.

In front of an audience every aspect of a puppets movement is seen and as it is the puppeteers responsibility to react and adapt their performance according to audience reaction, such productions can make high demands on their controllers having to perform in cramped positions, strained spaces, below stage or even on stage as a ventriloquist.

With the majority of puppet based performances whether on stage or on television, the audience is almost always drawn to the central character being controlled, this suggests just how effective and real such puppets can seem, and is often why the most important people, those behind the puppet, are forgotten.

Here we take a look back at some of those forgotten faces, often missed when we tune in or sit down to a puppet based performance.

Keith Harris and Orville

This duo have been around for some years, even going as far as having a UK top 10 hit in 1982. Keith has been a ventriloquist for many years and had his own television show with Orville and Cuddles the Monkey in the 1980’s and is known for his slapstick jibes recently adding self-mockery to his act. Cheeky but recognisable, Keith Harris has achieved something that most puppeteers miss out on, recognition under his own name.

Jim Henson and Kermit (The Muppets)

An extremely talented puppeteer, entertainer, actor, producer, director and cartoonist, American Henson won fame for his creation Kermit the Frog and Ernie being involved in Sesame Street for more than 20 years. It is believed that Henson, initially didn't want to become a puppeteer but wanted to appear on television however, the fact that he did has seen Kermit the Frog and numerous other Muppet characters become names in households internationally.

Caroll Spinney and Big Bird (Sesame Street)

After first meeting Jim Henson in 1962 at a puppeteering festival, Spinney first missed his chance to work with Henson on the Muppets however a second meeting at the American festival of Puppeteers in 1969 saw them begin talks leading Spinney to join the Sesame Street cast. Playing Big Bird first and foremost and Oscar the Grouch Spinney brought to life characters that remained inaugural characters throughout the decades of the hit children’s show. His work continues to be studied by international puppeteers worldwide.

Roy Skelton and Rainbow

Skelton is quite possibly one of the most prestigious voices of British TV characters, having worked as the voice of George and Zippy from Rainbow and Dr Who’s Daleks for more than 50 years. In addition to writing scripts for spin off programmes, Skelton was a talented voice artist who began his career acting in repertory theatres before being discovered.

Rod Hull and Emu

It was said that the emu puppet which was attached to Hull’s arm was another side to his personality which liked to promote havoc and happiness. The effective use of a false arm gave the misleading appearance that the neck and head of Emu moved of its own accord giving the illusion to children of the 70’s and 80’s that the bird has its own personality that undertook unprovoked but side-splitting attacks on people and even more hilariously celebrities such as Michael Parkinson, which many puppeteers would not have been able to pull off. Initially starting his career in TV as a lighting technician, it was his appearance on the Royal Variety performance in the 70’s that spurred him into the national spotlight.

If you fancy yourself as a puppeteer, have a character that you would like to bring to life or need help doing so, contact Promotional Props and Costumes who will do everything they can to assist with your requirements.

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