17 Jan 2013

Celebrated puppeteer dies in her sleep

One of the countrys most celebrated puppeteers and clowns, has died at the age of 90.

Celebrated puppeteer dies in her sleep

Violet Philpott, who was the creator of Zippy, star of children’s show, Rainbow, passed away in her sleep last month. Philpott was a well know figure in the theatre world having founded the Cap and Bells Puppet Theatre and also created Boo the Clown.

Until failing health and the onset of dementia struck, she toured schools and parks entertaining children and inspiring generations with her shows.


One of her most memorable characters is Bandicoot, a little lost child-character with a distinctive comical voice and the catchphrase “wiwl you play wiv me?”

And it was while she was working on The Telegoons, BBC Television’s adaptation of radio’s The Goon Show, she introduced the world to characters such as Major Bloodnok and Bluebottle.

Born in Kentish Town, Violet Philpott was the only child of Lilian and Robert Yeomans. who later divorced – in an act very unusual for the period and perhaps influenced the creation of Bandicoot.


She went on to marry A.R. Philpott, also known as Pantopuck the Puppet Man or Panto to his friends, who was a performer, teacher and researcher/writer on the subject of puppetry. He died in 1978 and the couple never had children.

Creative and practical as well as imaginative, Violet Philpott used junk material to make puppets to entertain children at the annual Punch and Judy festivals in St Paul’s, the actors’ church in Covent Garden, and worked in a Children’s Theatre Workshop production in the Devon village of Dittisham. It was in St Paul’s that Panto became the first puppeteer to be honoured with a plaque embellished with his own artwork.

Together with Mary Jean McNeil, Philpott produced a simple guide, The KnowHow Book of Puppets (1975), with lively illustrations aiming to show children how to produce their own puppet shows.

Boo the Clown

She became a regular visiting artist at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, where her puppet adaptations of The Ugly Duckling and TheElves and the Shoemaker are still part of the repertoire. It was here that she also performed as Boo the Clown.

She remained active in the puppet world until four years ago when she moved to Hadley Lawns nursing home.

Puppet maker and co-founder of Little Angel Theatre, Lyndie Wright said: “With the year ending, we lost a remarkable storyteller and puppeteer in Violet Phillpot. Many young puppeteers (and older ones too) would flock to her home to hear stories, be taught, encouraged and fed and often given a bed as well, if one was needed.

“Her stories and characters were always original, warm and wise. Anyone who saw her shows will remember her charm and her humour. She may forget her stage or even the odd puppet but the audiences would always know that they had witnessed a remarkable performer and one they would never forget.”