Rhett’s Great Muppet Caper

Published: December 12, 2023
Categories: Feature

Today’s post was written by Rhett Safranek, who currently holds the Guiness World Record for biggest Muppet memorabilia collect. You can follow Rhett on Instagram, @ribbitrhettsmuppets. Thanks, Rhett!

Hold on to your luggage and be thankful that your radio is frozen to your wrist while you join me on my Muppet-themed caper through London!  Hi, my name’s Rhett, nice to meet you. 

I received the Guinness Book World Record for largest Muppet memorabilia collection in 2017. Eight weeks after I was born I received “The Best of The Muppet Show” on VHS, and the rest was history. During childhood I grew up with DVD releases of seasons 1-3 (and the disappointment of no 4 and 5), new TV specials, a change in ownership, and stores filled with merchandise during the 25 year anniversary era.

As much as I loved the new toys and Sababa plush that were coming out, many of the toys that I grew up with were the same toys children grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s. I grew up with my Fisher-Price puppets and dolls, Milton Bradley puzzles, original Muppet Show lunch boxes, and those great lead-painted McDonalds glasses. Well, that little kid now is into his last year in college and lived in London last semester! 

My favorite movie growing up was The Great Muppet Caper, and since then I’ve tried to do everything the Muppets did in that movie. I’ve taken a ride in a hot air balloon, jumped out of an airplane, and been in a taxicab accident. However, nothing compared to the dream of living in London. So, when I made the decision to study abroad, London was my top choice.

Preparing for London I freshened up on my Muppet-London knowledge and got some expert advice from Joe Hennes, Eric Pahl, and Christopher O’ Connor. Before I dive deep into my Muppet experiences in London, I must first thank Eric Pahl for his work in documenting all the filming locations and giving me pointers along the way on things to find throughout the London area. Without his help I am not sure I could have found half of the spots that I visited during my stay. 

I was all ready to make the move after I packed my hot mustard, paper towels, a pair of mustache glasses, and the wax lips that were in my only pair of pants.

My first stop was The Happiness Hotel, or as it’s known now “Bishopsbourne.”  I’m sure those watching the security cameras weren’t thrilled, but I looked around quite a bit and peeked into both the front door and the window to the left of the main entrance. The building looks updated and redone since the 80’s, but it was still very surreal to be there at the entrance.

My next stop took place in Hampstead Heath! It was great seeing the different houses that Jim Henson lived in and the old Creature Shops. They were doing some construction on the road right outside the old Hampstead Hill house, which allowed me to grab a deep piece in the rubble. So, I might just have a piece of the very road that was there during Jim’s time. 

The best stop in that area though was the old Creature Shop of Camden Lock. The shop’s old area is now converted into condos and an office complex. During an in depth look around, I noticed some familiar faces lit up on the inside walls of the reception. 

After I told them I was a student exploring different Henson-themed places they gladly gave me a quick tour. Other than the front lobby there were few Muppet references. On this huge staircase sitting area they had the giant Statler and Waldorf plush from that Sababa line, and all their offices were named after Muppets.  

Later in my London travel, I stopped at the location of the famous bike scene in Batterea Park. I walked the area for a bit till I realized there was a bike rental stand close by. So I figured… why couldn’t I ride? 

I was able to find the different filming spots and ride approximately the same path they took in the movie. There have been some landscape updates, which made it hard to get the same exact camera angle. Regardless, I rode in on the side where the rest of the gang came riding in, which connects to that big strip that Kermit and Piggy were riding on. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t ride standing on one foot.

One of the hardest spots to get to from where I was staying was the Mallory Gallery, or as non-Muppet fans would call it, Knebworth House. I bought a ticket to check out the interior and to get inside the fence (I was all out of peperoni pizza, and it’d be too loud to eat through the bars). But just in case, I had packed my disguise and some paper towels. 

Next was the Dubonnet Club. It is thought that where I went may not be the exact location, but as of now the exterior shot is believed to be outside the Durrant Hotel. On my way there I stopped at a grocery store and grabbed some cheap caviar and champagne. When I got to the hotel I walked in and went into their public bathroom to partake in my Muppet experience. I don’t know how anyone eats that stuff, in a bathroom stall or not (while you may not find this surprising, sugar and champagne is like coke and mentos).

It would’ve been more comfortable, and not as weird, to explain my situation and just eat it in the lobby. But I figured a random guy eating caviar he just pulled out of his Nebraska backpack would probably raise some eyebrows. That might be acceptable at a restaurant, but this was more of a supper club.

During the last weeks of my semester, I took a long train ride up to see the pond that Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo dropped into at the beginning of the movie. 

From there I took another train to see the jail that Miss Piggy escaped from. It was very interesting to see the renovations that the building had gone through since the 80’s. In the movie, the vehicle that Piggy rides out on comes through a big set of black double doors. Well, those doors are still there, but there is now a building where that driveway once stood. 

After almost getting hit by a car when crossing the street, I took a train all the way up to my final spot, Elstree Studios!

I found the Jim Henson plaque close to the McDonalds and walked around Elstree itself. Back by the entrance to the train station there was also another plaque that referenced Jim and then a star in the walkway similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars. 

Besides filming spots there were some other Muppet/Henson related things that I got the chance to experience. One of which was going to England’s Great Con-Junction Dark Crystal convention, where I got the chance to meet Simon J. Williamson and Dave Barclay. I also met a new friend of mine, fellow Muppet collector Christopher O’ Connor, who would later invite me out to see his very impressive Muppet collection. 

I also rode in a bus across Tower Bridge and around Trafalgar Square just like Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo did in the film. Along with that I took several trips through the Tower of London where Muppets Most Wanted had some important moments.

I went to an Elton John concert at the O2, where I got to see both a Muppet Show guest star and the venue the Muppets took back in 2018. Some may know this, but during “I’m Still Standing” there is a collage of Elton references and appearances running in the background. During the song you can catch Muppet Show clips in three different spots.

My collection also benefited from my trip to London. Since I had a physical address, I was able to truly utilize eBay UK. I had a list of pieces that I wanted to make sure I grabbed, but I may have gotten a little carried away. I won’t share how much I spent, but through all my purchases in London I got 233 new items. I got everything from rare early Muppet show merchandise to huge new cardboard cutouts that I don’t know how survived the flights home. 

Overall, London was a great experience, and I still can’t believe I had the chance to see and experience all that I did. Going through all the Muppet locations spread out in and around London I really got a feel for the city, which enhanced my time there. To my knowledge I only missed one spot in England, an original Fozzie puppet from early Muppet Show. I can’t wait to make the trip out to see him in the future. Thanks for reading my write up and experiencing London through my pictures.

Click here to ride a bike on one foot on the ToughPigs Discord server!

by Rhett Safranek

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