Tributes paid to ‘Mr Corgi’

'Mr Corgi' Marcel Van Cleemput with his wife Molly.
'Mr Corgi' Marcel Van Cleemput with his wife Molly.

Tributes have been paid to a man, affectionately known as ‘Mr Corgi’, who designed classic models, including the Batmobile and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in a 27-year career.

Marcel Van Cleemput was responsible for every Corgi model in his role as chief designer, a position he held from 1956 until 1983.

He was also the author of The Great Book of Corgi in 1989, which became known as The Corgi Bible, and subsequently The New Great Book of Corgi in 2010.

Mr Van Cleemput died peacefully on Friday at Cynthia Spencer Hospice, in Northampton, following a short illness. He was 86.

He was born in France and came to England in 1935 at the age of nine. He later served in the French Army and proudly remained 100 per cent French.

Mr Van Cleemput is survived by wife Molly, daughters Patrice and Ginette, granddaughters, Karen and Laura, and great grandchildren, Maddie, Charlie and Evelyn.

Patrice said: “He was deeply loved and will be sadly missed by his family. Everyone said he was a true gentleman. He was very well respected and lots of people were very fond of him.”

Mr and Mrs Van Cleemput were happily married for 62 years, and have lived in Great Brington for the past 24 years.

Mr Van Cleemput proposed three weeks after meeting his wife, but fate nearly kept them apart.

They nearly missed each other on their second date, as they were standing on the wrong corners of the square where they had agreed to meet.

Luckily, they bumped into each other, went to the cinema as planned and continued to meet up.

After it was discovered he had not completed his national service, Mr Van Cleemput had to plead with the authorities to be allowed to return to England and propose, before returning to serve at home.

He died on his wife’s 85th birthday and was so anxious to make sure she had a present and card from him he arranged it through his family, and wrote his last message to her a few days before he died.

During his life working for Corgi, Marcel Van Cleemput designed and oversaw designs for hundreds of miniatures.

He led projects on the toy models for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, James Bond cars, the Batmobile and the Beatles’ yellow submarine.

Speaking to the Chron in 2010, Mr Van Cleemput said: “I joined the company on January 1, 1954, which wasn’t a good day for a French man to start work as we are always celebrating New Year’s Day. Within a short time I became chief designer.

“I did the first drawing of the very first Corgi model and was involved with every single Corgi model produced until it went into liquidation in 1983. The first model was a Ford Consul.”

“When I think, I left something like 27 years ago and yet many people still come up to me and say ‘thank you for giving me such a wonderful childhood’. That has happened about 50 or 60 times and that is a delight in itself.”