Frank Mumford was British puppet royalty, yet in Britain remained relatively unknown, that is until a few years before his death thanks to the wonderful film An Attic full of Puppets. The film based on Frank and his fascinating life ensured that he finally received the acknowledgment he deserved.
He started as a puppeteer in 1932. An early member of the Guild, initially he learnt how to make puppets from one of the books written by American puppeteer Tony Sarg.
He met his wife and puppetry partner, Maisie, in the late 1930’s and they married in 1944 whilst he was on leave. In the same year whilst working in Arnhem, Holland he was taken prisoner and served the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. After returning home in 1945 he and Maisie devised a show Stars on Strings and toured this for a few years, before adapting it for bigger stages in 1948.
It was this second cabaret show that really took off. In 1949 they secured their first overseas engagement, a three month contract at Le Boeuf sur le Toit, the celebrated cabaret bar in Paris. It was here they met celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for whom they performed at their private birthday party.
Following success in their first contract they remained performing in Europe and almost 90% of their work was completed overseas. A superb achievement, but one that meant they did not get the exposure and recognition in Britain that they richly deserved.
Maisie died in 1985 but Frank continued to perform, design and plan right up until his death in 2014 at the age of 95. Following his death his niece, Jennie Allen, inherited his puppets and designs. Jennie made the decision to distribute the puppets between Frank’s family members, the V&A museum and the Guild’s archive, and we are absolutely delighted that she has, and very grateful to Jennie for this generous donation.
Over the coming months we will be restoring the puppets and ensure they are preserved and displayed for generations of future puppeteers to see.
The British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild
There is a direct link to Richard Butchin’s 2014 documentary on Frank’s life: An Attic Full of Puppets directed and produced by Richard Butchins
Photograph copyright: ” The archives and estate of Frank Mumford “