Bob Pelham was called up to serve in the Armed Forces in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. Throughout his time serving on active duty he became affectionately known as 'The Wonky Donkey Officer' due to his penchant of making small, wooden, animated donkey toys. It was his time spent throughout the conflict which influenced him to start a toy making company upon his return to Britain. After consulting Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth Bob set about designing puppets which would be simple enough for young children to operate and thus ---Wonky Toys Ltd--- was born; a nod to his wartime nickname.
Towards the end of 1947 Bob struck gold when he approached Hamley's in London with his puppets, and they agreed to let him demonstrate them from behind his own counter. They were an instant hit. By 1952, a mere five years later, the company was in need of much larger premises in order to keep up with the increased production. Pelham, whilst staying in Marlborough, moved its offices and retail store to Elcot Lane and one year later purchased a three story factory on London Road, on the south bank of the River Kennet, which would go on the become the permanent home of Pelham until 1987, when the original company ceased trading.
The Pelham company went from strength to strength and at its peak was producing thousands of puppets in a multitude of different colours, sizes and designs. One of the biggest achievements for Bob came in 1953 when the company won the rights to produce a set of Disney puppets This acquisition started a pattern of fighting for commercial rights to other brands and many sets followed including The Magic Roundabout and The Muppets. All of these successes however suffered a drastic set back when, in October 1961, the London Road factory caught fire and was nearly all destroyed.
Stock, materials and documents were all lost but, not to be deterred, Bob and the rest of the company set about building a new factory on the same site, as quick as possible in order to catch up with the lost time. Despite the fact that business had never been better, it was from this time that Bob began to lose his enthusiasm due to the ever increasing commercial nature of his company; it had grown from a small office of close colleagues to an enterprise based across several premises producing at full speed, all day every day.
Bob's troubles reached their worst during the 1980's when Pelham had to make several hundred loyal employees redundant due to the falling economy. After this period of decline for the factory tragedy struck when, in mid-1980, Bob died suddenly at his home. His wife Anne, who had also been a long term employee of the company and had played a huge part in its success, continued to operate the company for the following six years until she reached the point of retirement and closed the original factory's doors for the final time.
Following the closure of the Pelham factory and brand various companies tried, without much success, to bring back the former glory experienced in it's heyday. The rights to the name was finally purchase by once employee, and long-time friend of Bob's, David Leech. This venture produces Pelham puppets to Bob's original designs and standards and continues to be an ambassador for the brand. On February 28 in 2019 a Blue Plaque was erected at 1-3 Kingsbury Street, Marlborough to commemorate Bob Pelham. In 2022 the DVD A Never Ending Story was released to celebrate the legacy of Bob Pelham.