Paxtonvic’s Blog

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Cousin Whanny, a camel and Valerie Hobson

I have a  cousin twice removed, long since dead, called Harry Whanslaw. (Whanny for short)  He was my grandfather Will Trimby’s cousin and lived in London for most of his life – in the Putney area for a good deal of it.

He was a maker of marionette puppets – and quite famous in his day for his talents.


Here is Harry with Waldo Lanchester with  whom  he teamed up with to form the London Marionette Theartre. Harry is on the right of the picture.

Harry wrote and illustrated a lot of books about how to make bible characters for little theatre productions and I have some of his books which are utterly charming. In his later years, he worked with a lady called Valerie Hobson on a very early BBC TV pupet Show called ” Whirligig” – all about a littler sailor character  called Timothy and his friends – one of which was a camel called Cactus.camel

Okay, Paxtonvic – long day surely, isnt all this a bit bizarre?

Nah – its all true – and Im very rpoud to have had a cousin twice removed who was so creative.

” Ship Ahoy”  was a children’s  book published in 1951  and it is full  of the  puppet characters featured in Whirligig in a strange little tale  centred around Valerie Hobson. Harry Whanslaw did the illustrations for the tale –  Im not sure it would pass a CRB check now- but then life was far more innocent all those years ago.

And Valerie Hobson…well Valerie Hobson (14 April 1917 – 13 November 1998) was a British actress, who appeared in a number of British films during the 1940s and 1950s.

valerie hobson

She  married MP  John Profumo (1915-2006) in 1954, giving up acting shortly afterwards. After Profumo’s ministerial career ended in disgrace in 1963, following revelations he had lied to the  House of Commons  about his affair with  Christine Keeler, she stood by him, and they worked together for charity for the remainder of her life. ( Help!  Im old enough to remember all that stuff! )

I came across a poem that she wrote and which was read out at her funeral – I love the sentements in it:

You are the eye of the storm
The centre of each flower
The cohesive power in a bird’s feather
The central might of middle ocean
The brightest point of each star.
You are the sigh after love
The surcease after pain
The smile of a baby;
You are both the thirst and quenching
Hunger and satisfaction
Laughter and tears, joy and sadness.
Everywhere I look, You are as much in the shadow
as in the sun.
Without You – nothing is.

” The surcease after pain” – that line really strikes me.

I hope you like the poem too and Im glad cousin Whanny led me to this poem by a brave lady.

Just, by a rare chance, anyone hits on this post about Harry Whanslaw – please get in touch with me as there is lots I dont know about him.

July 12, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I found this fascinating perhaps partly because my Dad’s brother Uncle Dennis was a professional magician and is a member of the inner magic circle and also used to do something called living marionettes where you use your own head and a puppet body as well as punch and judy and a ventriloquist act. He’s still well remembered in the Cambridgeshire area as Uncle Dennis and Auntie Jean ( RIP)as they used to do a lot of schools work on road safety.

    Comment by Allrevedup | July 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. fascinating, I put ‘harry whanslaw into the search engine and ended up here. I love this guys illustrations, I have a little book he illustrated called ”The ever ever land”. It is a truly beautiful book. I have googled him before and learnt that he was primarily a puppeteer not an illustrator but I wasn’t expecting to find this. Which brings me to my point, to put it bluntly…. would you like the book?? I am slowly, possibly too slowly, relinquishing many of my belongings, deciede they own me rather than vice versa. For some reason when I off loaded most of my books to various charity shops, I kept hold of this little one, now I know why, it was obviously destined to be returned to a family member. I write a blog and quite often do stuff about artists, this is one i did about him and it includes scanned illustrations from it.

    Comment by Loretta | March 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. I am fascinated by this entry which I found on Google, as I think it possible that we may be distantly related. My mother showed me a small picture we have by ‘Whanny’, and told me she thought he was a cousin of my grandmother, Irene Phyllis Sheldrake who was born in Bishops Stortford, but whose family had moved from Putney before she was born. My grandmother married George Charles Brown, who ran a saddlery in Colchester called Claridges. I don’t know the exact relationship with ‘Whanny’

    Comment by Lesley Searle | January 8, 2012 | Reply

  4. I’ve just googled Harry Whanslaw as he made the puppets for my late Mother’s TV programme, Vegetable Village, that was first broadcast on 13 July 1951. I’ve just been visited by a man from the Beeb as Antiques Road Show is coming to Falmouth and I wanted the puppets to appear. I’m going there on Thursday so hope they’ll be shown. The puppets, now over 60 years old haven’t worn very well and are very fragile. They were converted from glove puppets to marionnettes in the early 1970s and I don’t think look as good as Harry’s puppets, altho’ the heads are still the same. I remember visiting his studio? where the puppets were made and meeting a little man who looked just like a puppet himself.
    Unfortunately, when Vegetable Village was broadcast everything went out live so I have no record of any of the TV programmes, just some very fragile puppets and Mother’s press cuttings.
    Kate Crombie

    Comment by Kate | September 9, 2012 | Reply

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