x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

From blue jeans to Wombles, those kids just don't get it

The Wombles womble again! And at this month's Glastonbury Festival, no less. What a cheesy 1970s group is doing at Britain's music festival of cool demands a little explaining.

One of the darkest moments in my wife's childhood, or so she claims, was the occasion when, returning home from attending her first pop festival at the age of 16, she walked into her parents house to find her dad wearing a pair of denims.

For her, it was the ultimate generational betrayal. The blue jean, sacred badge of her own age group, had been hi-jacked and commandeered by a man old enough to be her father. She never wore a pair again until she was 30.

The generation gap has, if anything, widened further in the intervening 40 years, and in both music and fashion modern youth is even more fiercely protective of its cultural emblems. One of the most precious examples is about to be unfurled for another year: the giant open-air rock festival at Glastonbury.

For UK teenagers, Glasto, as it's universally known, is an almost sacred event. Many of the 180,000 revellers who flock there each June find the experience of camping under the stars to be something of a rite of passage, offering as it does their first taste of adult independence.

Consequently, the festival attracts some of the coolest, hippest, hottest rock bands around. The line-up for 2011 has just been released, and it promises to be the best yet, with a stellar line-up including appearances by Coldplay, Beyoncé, and The Wombles.

Sorry, who? The Wombles? Perhaps you missed them the first time round. A pop sensation of the 1970s (and thankfully not seen since), the original group sprung from a children's animated TV series of the same name featuring a collection of large, brightly-coloured furry creatures who went around picking up discarded litter.

Both the series and the subsequent band (featuring four actors muffled up in fun-fur costumes and playing fake guitars), became one of the most popular, if cringe-worthy, groups of the era, enjoying eight straight smash hits including The Wombling Song, Remember You're a Womble, and - who can forget? - We Wish You A Merry Wombling Christmas.

The notion of them performing for Glasto may be lovely for us oldies - after all, their sugary ditties hark back to a more innocent age, when juvenile insubordination meant little more than leaving your greens uneaten on the side of the dinner plate. But the news that they're headlining the UK's trendiest music festival has sent shock waves through teenagers everywhere, many of whom wouldn't be seen dead watching anything their parents might have enjoyed.

Indeed, the mighty Coldplay are allegedly uneasy about following The Wombles onto the main stage, lest their own image be tarnished by association. And suddenly Glasto's carefully contrived image, which has taken four decades to build up, threatens to be destroyed in one fell swoop.

If you don't believe me, just ask the founder. Genial dairy farmer and owner of the 900-acre site, Michael Eavis, wasn't even aware of the plan to book the group. "I've got twenty-fives stages to organise. I can't control every single one of them. But I do get cross about this sort of thing," he fumed, admitting that four giant moles threaten to turn the festival into a laughing stock among the very customers the event most needs to attract. (In fairness to organisers, a number of older acts are also making an appearance this year).

Meanwhile the news has been received with bewilderment and scorn by the younger generation. We may not be able to persuade them to exercise their hard-won right to vote for the next government, but threaten them with The Wombles and suddenly there's talk of boycotts and civil disobedience.

Of course, as in the best showbiz traditions, it'll be all right on the night. Glasto famously thrives on chaos and adversity, and we can be reasonably assured that, as in previous years, the moment the tents are pitched and the festival begins on June 22, the heavens will open, the site will be turned into a giant swamp, and everyone will spend the next three days standing calf-deep in mud.

I wish them all well. Not that I'll be there. I'll be in my garden in London with nice cup of tea and a little George Gershwin playing on my iPod. I only hope that after their set, the dear old Wombles will remain true to their original spirit and pick up all the litter afterwards. And with last year's festivals accruing 2,000 tonnes of the stuff, that process should take them quite nicely until next year's event.

Michael Simkins is a writer and actor based in London