Report – Look! No Strings

Posted on: Wednesday 05 July 2017 5:08pm by Gabrielle Smith

Puppets are brought to life for television, theatre and film by the talented puppeteers that operate them. Thinking about puppetry as a skilled and diverse art, this panel explores the magic and illusion of puppets and performance


  • Puppets have the ability to animate and engage their audience, and are allowed to get away with things that a human just couldn’t!
  • Performance skills are essential: a puppeteer must sing, act, dance, move… and then make it live!
  • The craft of the puppeteer is often a self-directing role


As puppeteer and puppet maker Neil Sterenberg begins: “Puppets are perennially loved, they hold a special place in our culture and have been around since we’ve been around.”

With an array of styles of puppetry and types to behold, what is it particularly about the children’s television puppet an audience can find so endearing? The popular and often loveable characters initially draw us in. But as the panel explain, when we begin to think about the puppet as a child’s first call to play, the unique personalities shine through and we realise – (hang on) they may not exactly be human, but they are still very much alive.

Host and moderator Pui Fan Lee recalls her experiences as a children’s presenter working with puppets, and how she was often ‘used to them lying on the floor beneath her.’

Highlighting the child’s investment in puppets, and of course the emotional response they can elicit, is important to identify, as puppeteer Finn Caldwell from the award-winning stage show ‘War Horse’ rightly points out. He comments that ‘more and more we live in a visual world, responding to the bolder visual to move narrative on’, another reason perhaps that puppets are still well-placed in today’s televisual landscape.

Current Cbeebies puppet Dodge T. Dog joined the conversation with puppeteer Warwick Browlow-Pike at his side. Bringing the best out of a puppet is no easy task, Warwick says, reflecting how by watching the character develop, the job at hand is often a self-directed one, working things out in between takes and just being a bit silly.

Without doubt, the background and expertise of the panel is impressive. With Ronnie Le Drew’s extensive experience working with marionettes from London’s Little Angel Theatre before he became known as the infamous and ever-so-cheeky Zippy from ‘Rainbow’, to the Jim Henson trained puppeteer and actress Louise Gold, notable for her roles on ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘Spitting Image’ – this panel was a puppet performance in its own right.

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Gabrielle Smith

About the author

Gabrielle Smith

Northumbria University, Ph.D Student

Gabrielle Smith is a final-year Ph.D candidate at Northumbria University, Newcastle and is a film and television studies graduate from the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. Her current research explores the role of the British children’s television presenter. She has spoken at several international conferences, including the plenary panel of… Read more