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Muffin the Mule (1946-55)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Muffin the Mule (1946-55)
Parthian for BBC (1952-55) and ITV (1956-57)
Created andAnnette Mills;
Written byAnn Hogarth
Presented byAnnette Mills
SongsAnnette Mills
PuppeteerAnn Hogarth
DirectorJan Bussell

Songs and stories for young children, with Annette Mills at the piano, joined by Muffin and his other puppet friends.

Show full synopsis

Annette Mills, older sister of actor Sir John Mills, was a promising dancer whose career was ended by a broken leg. Following a further injury in a serious car accident during the War, she joined the BBC in 1946, telling stories and singing songs for children. Noticing one day how the top of her grand piano resembled a stage, she hit upon the idea of populating it with the characters in her stories.

With producer Andrew Miller Jones, Mills approached top theatre puppeteer Jan Bussell and his wife Ann Hogarth. Among Bussell's huge store of puppets, Mills found an underused clown and circus mule (made by Fred Tickner). Naming them Muffin the Mule and Crumpet the Clown, she used them in her For the Children broadcasts from Alexandra Palace.

Mills and Hogarth felt non-speaking animal characters better stimulated young imaginations, and Crumpet was soon dropped. Alongside other Bussell puppets, including Poppy the Parrot and Sally the Seal, Mills and associate Stanley Maille added new ones like Peregrine the Penguin and Katy the Kangaroo. Also popular were the kittens Prudence and Primrose.

The stories were plotted by Hogarth, and fleshed out with songs and dialogue by Mills. The team broadcast live until 1952, when they began filming stories for repeated broadcast, renamed Muffin the Mule, and usually screened on Sunday teatimes.

Each fifteen-minute episode opened with Mills seated at the piano, singing the theme song - "Here comes Muffin, Muffin the Mule/ Dear old Muffin, playing the fool..." - while Muffin clattered loudly on the piano top (operated from behind a set wall by Hogarth). There followed a loose story, populated by the many puppets at Hogarth's disposal. Mills rarely addressed the children directly, beyond a cheery "goodbye 'til next time." Her slightly shrill upper-class tones are perhaps the most poignant reminder of early television.

One of television's first stars, Muffin began the postwar industry in character merchandise - toys, games and books (many illustrated by Mills' daughter Molly Blake) were produced and Muffin was an early feature of the new TV Comic.

Usually remembered as part of the Watch With Mother strand, Muffin was never in fact a part of the regular WWM line up (although it may have run for a time in the slot in 1953). After Mills' death in 1955, Hogarth took the films to ITV, where they ran in 1956-57.

Alistair McGown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
We want Muffin! (2:44)
Children's Puppets and Animation
Children's Television
Watch With Mother