The Muppets have a long relationship with London. That’s partly because Jim Henson lived in Camden from 1977 and opened his workshop, the Jim Henson Creature Shop, in the area, filming many of the Henson films in London. A rather fantastic Muppets walk with all locations – including a Muppets bench on Hampstead Heath – can be found on the Camden website here.
Henson’s first workshop was at 1b Downshire Hill, NW3. It was initially used for the production of The Dark Crystal but remained in use from the late 1970s to 1990. It is said it had to be closed after neighbours complained about the strange smells coming from the factory, which reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
You can watch a (rather scratchy) tour of (I think) the second Creature Shop here.
I visited this second Creature Shop in 2000 on the invitation of a model-maker who I met in a Camden pub. There was a definite magical/spooky Roald Dahl quality to the experience. This Creature Shop was located on Oval Road overlooking the canal, and was a huge mysterious building filled with puppets of all sizes. This is where the puppets for Animal Farm, 101 Dalmatians and The Muppet Christmas Carol were made.
The Creature Shop closed in 2005 and the building has since been demolished, but you can see London’s influence on the Muppets in a number of films. Here are five of my favourites.
1 ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’
This is from the time when Chris Langham was writing the Muppets. It’s an early, possibly rather clumsy, stab at celebrating London’s multiculturalism, and thus the sort of thing that would make Rod Liddle cry.
2 Burlington Bertie From Bow
A great version of one of the great London Music Hall songs, a repeated inspiration for Muppets songs.
3 The London Fog
Kermit reports from ‘London, England’ and interviews a cockney frog and a Beefeater.
4 The Muppets Christmas Carol
The superior Dickens adaptation is all London, obviously, but this first meeting with Michael Caine’s Scrooge sets the scene nicely. Plus: singing pigeons.
5 Wotcher (Knocked ‘Em In The Old Kent Road)
Another Music Hall classic, with Fozzie Bear dressed as a Pearly King (or possibly as an Old Compton Street stroller).