The Sunday Telegraph
Thelwell’s short, fat, cartoon ponies trot to the silver screen
WANTED: actor to star in a new film franchise. Requirements: short legs, fat belly and the potential to throw a small girl into the nearest hedge.
Sixty years after they first appeared in Punch magazine, the comical ponies created by Norman Thelwell are moving to the big screen. His family have agreed to turn the cartoonist’s creations into an action feature film, in what they hope will be the start of a franchise.
The search is on for a girl to play Penelope, the eager young rider, and a pony as Merrylegs, her recalcitrant steed. Merrylegs: The Movie, will be set in Snowdonia and shoots this year.
Penelope was named after Thelwell’s daughter, Penny. She said her father deserves to be a household name again.
“Fans say, ‘My grandmother gave the book to my mum, they’re somewhere in the attic.’ And there are a whole lot of people who love to follow his work, and they know the ponies, but they don’t know the name ‘Thelwell’.
“They know the drawings, but the name has become a thing of the past – so this is a wonderful way of bringing it back.” Thelwell sent his first cartoon to Punch in 1953, based on the ponies he would see in the West Midlands. He produced more than 24 books, starting with Angels on Horseback in 1957.
All were best-sellers, but Penny said the books are no longer easy to find. “I haven’t seen any in WHSmith for years. That used to be the big thing for Dad, when the new books were published and they were so popular, so it would be lovely to bring that back,” she said.
The Telegraph obituary of the author and illustrator in 2004 noted: “Thelwell’s books had a place in the downstairs lavatory of almost every country house. Ponies of a certain shape and temper became known as ‘Thelwells’.”
Candida Bray, at Blenheim Films, said: “We’ve just been filming a pony happily sitting on a beanbag. We’re looking for a cheeky sparkle. Also a big, fat tummy, slightly foreshortened legs and unkempt hair.”