Elisabeth “Liza” Beresford, MBE (6 August 1926 – 24 December 2010) was a British author of children's books, best known for creating The Wombles. Born into a family with many literary connections, she worked as a journalist but struggled for success until she created the Wombles in the late 1960s. The strong theme of recycling was particularly notable, and the Wombles became very popular with children across the world. While Beresford produced many other literary works, the Wombles remained her best known creation.
Early life and career
Beresford was born on 6 August 1926 in Paris, France. Her father was writer J. D. Beresford, a successful novelist who also worked as a book reviewer for several newspapers. Her godparents included author Walter de la Mare (who dedicated several poems to her), poet Cecil Day-Lewis, and children’s writer Eleanor Farjeon. Beresford enjoyed many literary connections; her parents’ friends included H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole, W. Somerset Maugham, and D. H. Lawrence. Beresford attended Brighton and Hove High School.
After 18 months' service as a Wren, Beresford started work as a ghostwriter specialising in writing speeches. She began training as a journalist and was soon writing radio, film and television columns, and working for the BBC as a radio reporter. Beresford married BBC tennis commentator and broadcaster Max Robertson in 1949. The couple had one son and one daughter. Trips to Australia, South Africa, and the West Indies with Robertson led to children’s books. The Television Mystery (1957), her first, was among several “conventional adventure stories and thrillers”, and two television series: Seven Days to Sydney and Come to the Caribbean. Awkward Magic (1964) was the first of several fantasies in the manner of E. Nesbit.
During the 1960s, Beresford was a struggling children's author and freelance journalist. This would, however, change with her creation of the Wombles.
'The Wombles of Wimbledon Common' were inspired by her daughter Kate’s mispronunciation of 'Wimbledon,' when Beresford took her children to Wimbledon Common for a Boxing Day stroll. That same day, Beresford made out a list of Womble names. Many characters were based on her family: Great Uncle Bulgaria her father-in-law, Tobermory her brother (a skilled inventor), Orinoco her son, and Madame Cholet her mother. The Wombles’ names came from sources as varied as the town where Beresford’s daughter went on a French exchange and the name of the college attended by a nephew. The first Wombles book was published in 1968. After it was broadcast on Jackanory, the BBC decided to make an animated series.
The Wombles’ motto, 'Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish', and their passion for recycling was far ahead of its time, and captured the imagination of children, who began to organise 'Womble Clearing Up Groups.' Thirty-five five-minute films were broadcast on BBC 1 accompanied by Mike Batt’s music and 'The Wombles' theme song, Underground Overground, Wombling Free. Characterised by actor Bernard Cribbins’s voices and the work of animators Ivor Wood and (later) Barry Leith, the popularity of 'The Wombles' grew. Beresford took part in live phone-ins with children in Australia, and in South Africa she enchanted a hundred Zulus with Womble stories. Back in England, she made countless public appearances with 'The Wombles' across the country.
Within 10 years, Beresford wrote more than 20 Wombles books (translated into more than 40 languages), another 30 television films, and a Wombles stage show, one version of which ran in the West End. A range of Wombles products began to appear, including soap, T-shirts, mugs, washing-up cloths, and soft toys.
Beresford and her family moved to Alderney in the Channel Islands in the mid-1970s. She and her husband Max Robertson divorced in 1984. As well as writing 20 Wombles books, Beresford wrote a variety of adventure and mystery books for children, many based on the small island of Alderney, where she lived in a 300-year-old cottage in St Anne. Beresford was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to children's literature in the 1998 New Year Honours.
Beresford died at 10:30 PM on 24 December 2010 in the Mignot Memorial Hospital on Alderney. According to her son, Marcus Robertson, the cause of death was heart failure.
Her son Marcus Robertson (Orinoco), is a huge aficionado of steam trains. His tour company operates The Cathedral Express service.
American actor James Newman is her great-nephew.