Panfried Wombatdangler first came to fame as the UK’s best-known female celebrity tree-stump impersonator. As we all know, tree-stump impersonation does have a long history in the entertainment industry. No-one knows exactly when tree-stump impersonation began. However, there are records in the Domesday Book of certain Anglo-Saxon baronial halls having not only full-time jesters, jugglers, musicians and other entertainers, but several halls also had tree-stump impersonators.
Of course, back in those days, because of certain strict religious strictures about women ‘holding ye woode’ tree-stump impersonators were almost exclusively men. At least they were in public arenas such as the manor house, baronial hall, bear pit and – especially, of course – the cock-fighting ring.
However, some recent work undertaken by both medieval archaeologists and historians has revealed there was more to the practice than this.
The archaeologists discovered both physical and textual evidence that certain brothels, especially in the larger European towns, had women who specialised in the more erotic and sensual forms of tree-stump impersonation. The historical texts also refer to one Mary Trollophound, who was condemned to death by a church court for wanton tree-stump impersonation. Trollophound, the documents claim, ‘kepte several squirrels about her person’ and allowed them to keep their nuts in ‘diverse places aboute her’.
Tree-stump impersonation though really took off during the heyday of the music hall. Several hundred top-flight tree-stump impersonators toured the halls to often sell-out crowds. One, Zebadiah – the Larch – Panegyric was known for his uncanny ability to impersonate a larch tree-stump. Also, he was acclaimed for his mastery of the very tricky pollarding manoeuvre. A manoeuvre that at one point was banned due to serious loss of limbs, or even lives, amongst top-flight tree stump impersonators. Back then, though, it was a hard life and many tree stump impersonators did not get the recognition they deserved, even posthumously.
During WWI, of course, those with an ability at tree stump impersonation were in high demand on both sides in the war. The no-man’s land in-between the trenches was an ideal place for those with the ability to pretend to be tree stumps to practice their craft. Many of the great tree stump impersonators of the time throughout Europe served their various countries with distinction and bravery. Several of them, especially the King’s Own 23rd Birch Stumps, served with particular distinction during the battle of the Somme.
Of course, with the men away at war, tree stump impersonators were in dire short supply for the home front. The government at the time were particularly keen to keep up morale at home, as the war dragged on in stalemate for year after year. So eventually, despite objections from the church, women began to appear – first in private parties, then on the public stage – as tree stump impersonators. Many of the early suffragettes, of course, had long campaigned for women to become tree stump impersonators the equal of men. Many of them felt that this small victory would be enough to achieve their aim at long last.
However, during the interwar years many tree stump impersonators – both men and women – struggled to find work.
However, once the era of the silent films ended, tree stump impersonation took off in films. Soon Hollywood was full of tree stump impersonators, some of whom, because of their uncanny ability to be wooden soon became massive film stars.
This is how Wombatdangler herself shot to fame, playing some of the most memorable tree stumps in motion picture history. Where she continues to be such a success, even these days when most tree stumps in films are rendered in CGI. This makes everyone wonder how long this ancient and noble art can continue in the face of new technology. But it is stars like Wombatdangler we must look to if the noble art of tree stump impersonation is to continue into the 21st century.