Sunday Independent (Ireland)

Vlasta Dal­i­bor

Czech-born refugee who co-cre­ated, with hus­band Jan, the squeaky-voiced, pop­u­lar pup­pets Pinky and Perky

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VLASTA Dal­i­bor, who died last Sun­day aged 94, was the co-cre­ator, with her hus­band Jan, of the un­melo­di­ous porcine pup­pets Pinky and Perky.

Ar­riv­ing as refugees from Cze­choslo­vakia, Vlasta and Jan Dal­i­bor set­tled in York­shire in 1948. Jan had been a painter and Vlasta an ac­tress, but the Com­mu­nist takeover had left them with noth­ing. While Vlasta took a job as a maid to make ends meet, the cou­ple dis­cussed how to turn Jan’s hobby of modelling mar­i­onettes into a ca­reer.

“I had al­ways been in­ter­ested in pup­pets,” Jan re­called, “and Vlasta sug­gested I make some pup­pet pigs be­cause the pig is a sym­bol of good luck in Cze­choslo­vakia.” He cre­ated the fig­ures out of glass fi­bre and Vlasta dressed them in out­fits of her own de­sign. To dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the two on black-and-white tele­vi­sion, Perky was given a beret.

The cou­ple be­gan per­form­ing dur­ing the 1956 sum­mer sea­son at Heysham, for £25 a week. Trevor Hill (pro­ducer of The Sooty Show) saw them and gave them their own BBC TV se­ries. The pair were ini­tially called Pinky and Porky, but ‘Perky’ was adopted af­ter Hill’s wife Mar­garet pointed out “pork is some­thing you eat”.

Their de­but was in Pinky and Perky’s Pop Pa­rade in Oc­to­ber 1958, set in the myth­i­cal ra­dio sta­tion POP (later “PPC TV”), with Roger Mof­fat as the sta­tion an­nouncer.

The BBC granted the Dal­i­bors the light en­ter­tain­ment slot be­fore the six o’clock news, and grown-up au­di­ences warmed to the pigs’ gen­tly sub­ver­sive hu­mour and high-pitched ren­di­tions of speeded-up pop songs. Their pop­u­lar­ity soon ex­tended across both Bri­tain and the US, and Hill al­ways thought that his and the Dal­i­bors’ pi­o­neer­ing work paved the way for The Mup­pet Show.

Pinky and Perky joined The Bea­tles and Mar­lene Di­et­rich on­stage for the 1963 Royal Va­ri­ety per­for­mance, and the fol­low­ing year they ap­peared in Amer­ica on The Ed Sul­li­van Show. Elvis was fre­quently among the au­di­ence mem­bers when the pair ap­peared in cabaret in Las Ve­gas. The arty pup­pet ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ re­sented the pair, how­ever, as did some mu­si­cians. Paul McCart­ney dis­missed them as “wooden pup­pets with lit­tle piggy faces”. None­the­less, Pinky and Perky’s cov­ers of songs – in­clud­ing Yel­low Sub­ma­rine – sold in vast num­bers.

Vlasta Cely was born on May 22, 1921, in Brno, Cze­choslo­vakia, where her father had a for­ward­ing com­pany. She at­tended the Lan­guage High School and the Janacek Academy of per­form­ing arts.

She and Jan Dal­i­bor were in­sep­a­ra­ble from the age of 13, but af­ter the Nazi an­nex­a­tion in 1938, Jan was re­moved from his po­si­tion as an arts lec­turer and put to work in a fac­tory, while Vlasta was ap­pointed sec­re­tary to a Ger­man busi­ness­man. “When the Rus­sians came [in 1944], we thought we were free,” she re­called. “I told them how glad we were to have Cze­choslo­vakia back. But they just laughed and said, ‘This is Rus­sia now.’”

She and Jan mar­ried at the end of war, but de­cided to es­cape. In 1948 they were ac­cepted into Bri­tain. Jan took a job as a stone­breaker, and turned to pup­peteer­ing af­ter win­ning a Na­tional Coal Board com­pe­ti­tion with a sculp­ture made from soap. De­spite the suc­cess of Pinky and Perky, their ten­ure at the BBC was not with­out its dif­fi­cul­ties. A skit on political can­vass­ing filmed prior to the 1966 gen­eral elec­tion was post­poned on the grounds it was too sen­si­tive to broad­cast. Mean­while, Mary White­house took um­brage at the pigs’ “cal­lous” at­ti­tude to­wards their hu­man co-stars.

In 1968, the Dal­i­bors ac­cepted an of­fer from Thames Tele­vi­sion, but in the event only two more se­ries made it to air. The Dal­i­bors re­tired in 1973 and sold the rights to Pinky and Perky in 2000. There were at­tempts to re­make the char­ac­ters for a mod­ern au­di­ence, in­clud­ing a se­ries for CBBC and a mooted — but shelved — scheme for a late-night ‘adult’ se­ries. Vlasta was unim­pressed: “I think we brought them up to be proper.”

Jan Dal­i­bor died in 2013. The cou­ple had no chil­dren.

 ??  ?? PUP­PET MAS­TERS: Vlasta Dal­i­bor and hus­band Jan with their cre­ations Pinky and Perky. Photo: Tele­vi­sion Stills
PUP­PET MAS­TERS: Vlasta Dal­i­bor and hus­band Jan with their cre­ations Pinky and Perky. Photo: Tele­vi­sion Stills

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