Most of the history of the display unit that we know about was passed on to us by Tracey, its previous owner. We know the unit was commissioned by Selfridges of London for their main Christmas window display. We believe that was for the year 1965, but we are prepared to be corrected on this. Tracey told us it was built by Bob Pelham and David Leech originally. However, we have been in contact with David (more below) who explained that he was only 12 in 1965 and he didn't meet Bob until the following year. Bob did make the original unit, however.
When Selfridges had finished with it, it moved home to reside in a museum in Hull. During this time it was taken around many trade fairs and shows. When not traveling, it remained on display until the museum closed down and this is when Tracey; a very big Pelham Puppet collector; acquired the theatre herself and had it transported down to Torquay. It remained on Tracey's kitchen floor for the next four years. That hadn't been its intended final resting place in the house, but once put there, it never seemed to get moved again! All the local children used to love going to visit and seeing the animated characters. It didn't have much work done during this time, other than general maintenance to the motor, except for a little work on the electrics such that the lights and motor were separated so they could be independently controlled. This was to allow them to display the unit with its lights on, but without having to run the (noisy) motor all the time as well.
The most recent chapter in its life has come about because Tracey and her family wanted to move to a new house and to begin with, they could not find a house that could accommodate the display unit. After several houses had been rejected on these grounds, the family realised they were allowing the unit to dominate their house hunting search and decided this was not acceptable. So a hard decision was made and the display unit eventually ended up on eBay. That is how in summer 2006, after winning the auction, Diane and Ken became the new owners of this magnificent animated display unit.
In an attempt to find out more about the history of the animated display unit, we found David Leech via a web site search and discovered he still works in the puppet industry. He remains a leading authority on puppets, puppet making and maintenance and also continues to do very interesting lectures in these subjects. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to reply to our emails about our particular display unit. After seeing photographs for identification purposes, David has passed on some information about our unit, like the construction method in that the frame is made from a material called Dexion (one of three construction methods used by the Pelham factory over the years). It was one of several units made under the title of "The Night before Christmas". David confirmed that he has definitely maintained the unit himself during its life time, the last time being in 1981, not long before he left the Pelham factory himself. At that time, the cabinate exterior and all the internal walls were repainted. Some of the puppets were replaced with various other models dated up to 1981. As far as we can tell, the unit has not gone undergone many other changes since that time. We would still like to try and find some early photographs of the unit or any more information about its life. So if you have anything you can add to this history or even a photograph or two you would like to share, we would very much like to hear from you.
Despite its age, the unit still works extremely well, though it was very dusty and looking just a little shabby in places. This is where our restoration of the unit began, to bring a clean and fresh new lease of life to the unit, whilst enhancing where appropriate and sticking to the original "Night before Christmas" theme of around 1965, its year of birth.