Meeting the Small Stories characters

Grandad Hopkinson

(c) V&A Museum


Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been in the recording studio, hearing the characters we’ve created for the Small Stories exhibition come to life!

From the early stages of developing the exhibition, we knew we wanted to have some of the 107 dolls speaking directly to the audience, sharing their varied experiences and ideas of home and bringing each of the wonderful dolls’ houses to life.

Now, 34 characters have come alive from across 300 years of the home and I for one, am already convinced they are real.

During research for the exhibition we thought a lot about what dolls’ houses mean to people.

As well as researching the history of the home, we have researched the real owners of each dolls’ house, delving into archives and genealogy records for many and talking to the living relatives of others. One of the common themes that struck us was the desire for owners to use their dolls’ houses as a space to enact their own imaginary narratives.

Betty Pinney’s wonderful house (you’ll hear more about Betty and her house in a later blog) is one of 12 in the exhibition. Set in the Edwardian period, she used her dolls’ house to recreate aspects of her childhood home, but she also collected dolls and created specific characters and characteristics for them. She was dead set on having a drunk man in the living room and a footman with shapely calves and a stiff butler with a puffed out chest – they all had specific roles and places within the house’s narrative. She thought about these dolls as real people inhabiting her perfect miniature home. Among dolls’ house owners, Betty certainly is not alone in this type of commitment to imagination and creativity.

We wanted to embrace this idea of a playful narrative and have created many characters who live in the exhibition’s 12 houses, each researched to be likely inhabitants for each dolls’ house, each of whom could tell us something interesting, playful or informative about the history of the home.


Uncle Herman, Betty Pinney's dolls' house

Betty Pinney's dolls' house

(c) V&A Museum

Writing scripts was challenging but great fun and now we have named and imagined worlds (and back stories) for each of the 34 characters, it is impossible for us to see Betty’s drunk man in the corner of the saloon without knowing him as Uncle Herman, or to be able to think of Grandad in Roma Hopkinson’s WW2 home without hearing air raid sirens and planes overhead and the fantastic voice of Al, who recorded the part at the studio, delivered with fantastic comic appeal.

We will be posting more about stories from each of the houses and some snippets about each character in future blog entries. For the moment, here’s an extract of Al reading Grandad’s Small Story.

Grandad Hopkinson in the kitchen of Roma Hopkinson's dolls' house