While trawling through the museum archives, a newspaper cutting caught my eye. It had on it a picture of Sir Harry Secombe alongside Pinky the donkey and Don Trapnell in the atrium and entitled ‘Harry’s Return’. I decided to dig deeper into the story and the reason why such a distinguished comedian and singer came to Weston museum.
Sir Harry was a devout Christian and presented a popular Sunday evening religious programme ‘Highway’. In March 1982, he was in the area with an HTV outside broadcast unit. Harry spent two days in what was then called Woodspring museum and visited the sea front and Grand Pier. Previously Sir Harry had appeared at the Playhouse several years ago so was no stranger to Weston.
There is a fine collection of Peggy Nisbet dolls on display in Clara’s cottage and Peggy was invited to be interviewed by Sir Harry.
Peggy explained that in 1952 she designed the dolls and her Aunt Kitty, (an able seamstress), made the prototypes. She made figures dressed in national costumes, historical costumes and dressed as famous historical figures. Through exhibiting at toy fairs in Britain and America the demand for Peggy Nisbet dolls grew. She conducted detailed research on each costume and their character which were designed with great accuracy. There was wide variety ‑ from Henry VIII and his six wives, to Tutankhamen, and the doorman at Harrods! She regularly attended collectors’ conventions in America, which further promoted the dolls. At its height, the House of Nisbet was the second largest doll manufacturer in Britain. In 1979 she was honoured to be awarded the MBE for her services to export trade. Harry said this was a fitting tribute to someone who put Weston-super-Mare on the map, especially in America.
The interview concluded and Sir Harry was taken to meet Cllr Mary McEwen Smith as well as other personalities.
Sadly Peggy died on 9th October 1995, aged 86. Tributes poured in from all over the world. It is fitting that her dolls still remain as collectible as ever.
For such an international doll collection to be held in this small museum in Somerset was a revelation to me and I urge everybody to visit the collection in Clara’s cottage before the museum closes in April; it’ll be two years before we see sight of them again. For further information see websites below