The Wombles were created by author Elisabeth Beresford, originally appearing in a series of children's novels from 1968. The characters later became nationally famous in the mid 1970s as a result of a popular BBC children's television show using stop-motion animation. A number of spin-off novelty songs also became major hits in the British music charts.
Wombles are pointy-nosed furry creatures that live in burrows, where they help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in useful and ingenious ways. Their motto is Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish. This "green" message was a reflection of the ecology movement of the 1970s. Although Wombles live in every country in the world, the stories focus on the life of the burrow in Wimbledon Common in London, England.
One Christmas, Elisabeth Beresford took her young children for a Boxing Day walk on Wimbledon Common, where one referred to the green as "Wombledon Common." On getting home, Elisabeth Beresford wrote down the idea and started developing the characters and storylines.
Beresford developed the characters around members of her family, and named them after places the family had associations with:
- Great Uncle Bulgaria - the Wombles' leader, was based on Beresford's father-in-law
- Tobermory - an engineer, was based on Beresford's brother, a skilled inventor, and named after the capital of the Isle of Mull
- Orinoco - a shirker who loved sleep and food, was styled on Beresford's teenage son
- Bungo - over-enthusiastic and bossy
- Tomsk - athletic but not overly-smart Womble
- Wellington - scientifically inclined, named after her nephew's school
- Madame Cholet - a cook, was styled on Beresford's mother
- Cousin Cairngorm McWomble the Terrible - named after the mountain range in Scotland
- Alderney - Madame Cholet's assistant, was named after the island where Beresford lived at the time of the second television series
- Shansi - often paired with Alderney, as Bungo was with Orinoco
- Miss Adelaide - schoolmistress
- Stepney - East Ender with dreadlocks
In the first book, Bungo was the youngest and least experienced of the team, and the story is mostly viewed through his eyes. Afterwards Wellington (who was not introduced until the second book) took over the role of "new boy". Alderney and Adelaide appeared in the earlier books but were not included in the original 1970s TV series. Alderney was re-introduced in the later TV shows produced in the 1990s (the Channel Island of Alderney was actually Elisabeth Beresford's home at the time), along with Stepney (who appeared in none of the earlier versions).
The Wombles and sport
Due to the Wombles' association with the area, sporting teams representing Wimbledon are sometimes affectionately dubbed "the Wombles". These teams include the Ladies side of wikipedia:Wimbledon RFC  (whose mascot is Alderney), Wimbledon Volleyball Club and the Wombles Netball Club. 
From 2000 to June 2003, Wimbledon F.C. used a Womble named "Wandle" as a club mascot after the local River Wandle. However, in light of the controversy of moving the club to Milton Keyes, the licence was not renewed. In 2006 the club's spiritual successor AFC Wimbledon agreed a licensing deal, and launched its own Womble mascot. After a naming competition in which the final name was chosen by Elisabeth Beresford herself, the club announced that the new Womble would be known as "Haydon," after Haydons Road, the nearest railway station to Wimbledon's original home ground, Plough Lane.
Though Wombles live all around the world, the story is based on the group living in Wimbledon Common burrow in London, England. Below a certain age, all Wombles are nameless. Upon coming of age, a Womble chooses his name from Great Uncle Bulgaria's atlas, after which he leaves Miss Adelaide's "Womblegarten" and enters the communal work of the burrow, which is mostly clearing up and recycling human refuse. The life expectancy of a Womble is over 200 years, with some reaching 300, which would make them the longest-lived of all animal species.
The story is mostly viewed and told through the eyes of the lazy and gluttonous Orinoco. His favourite food, as with every Womble, are Cloud Berries.
There were a total of five novels:
- The Wombles (1968)
- The Wandering Wombles (1970)
- The Wombles at Work (1973)
- The Wombles to the Rescue (1974)
- The Wombles Go Round the World (1976)
The latter two books are less well known than the original three, perhaps because they appeared after the advent of successful TV series. In The Wandering Wombles, the setting moved from Wimbledon Common to Hyde Park in central London. However The Wombles to the Rescue saw them return to Wimbledon Common.
Four of the books were illustrated by Margaret Gordon. The Wombles at Work (1973) was illustrated by Barry Leith. The appearance of the Wombles in the books followed the design of the Ivor Wood TV puppets, with the exception of The Wombles (1968) which preceded the TV series and depicted the Wombles as teddy bear-like creatures.
Wombles appearing in the books included:
- Great Uncle Bulgaria
- Madame Cholet
- Miss Adelaide
Additional Wombles included:
- Cousin Yellowstone Womble
- Cairngorm the MacWomble
- Ness, Ross and Cromarty - the Water Wombles
- Cousin Botany
- Speyer and Heilbronn
- Frau Heidelberg
- Habsburg Von Womble
- Ms Atlanta
- Dalai Gartok
- Cairns and Perth
- Great-Great Aunt M. Murrumbidgee
- Uncle Dunedin
- Cousin Tokyo
Beresford also wrote a collection of short stories entitled The Invisible Womble and Other Stories (1973), in which the original Wimbledon Common setting was restored. Although based on episodes from the TV series, these stories occasionally refer to events in the novels.
In addition to these books, a great many annuals, picture-books and children's early readers have been published over the years, some of which were also written by Elisabeth Beresford.
A motion animated series was made in 1973-1975. Further animated episodes were made in 1998-1999.
The Wombles were exported to American audiences in the early 70s when they made occasional appearances on CBS' Captain Kangaroo but were never aired in the US ever since
In popular culture
Barrington Womble MBE is the drummer of the fictional band The Rutles played by John Halsey. A spoof of The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, he is sometimes referred to as The Lost Womble.
English rock band, The Libertines mention the characters in their song "Time For Heroes".
The 2005 film Breakfast on Pluto features the Wombles.
The British comedy The Vicar of Dibley references the Wombles repeatedly. According to Dawn French's character Geraldine Granger: "I once tried to go on Mastermind, but they didn't like my special subject. Apparently there just aren't enough questions about the Wombles."
The term "womble" is sometimes used in British slang to describe a person who is well-meaning but absent-minded or ineffectual.