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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Annette Mills (postscript)

A postscript to the above...

The death of Annette Mills in January 1955 was not the end of Muffin's career by any means. Muffin was a star in his own rights and generated a great deal of merchandise. Even the addition of a new character to the lineup of Muffin's friends made the front pages of magazines (in the case below it was the first appearance of Zebbie the Zebra in 1953).

Although Annette had named Muffin the Mule, control of the marionette itself -- above simply pulling the puppet's strings -- was in the hands of Ann Hogarth and Jan Bussell. They had created Muffin and many of the character's friends for their own puppet shows and it was they who often suggested the introduction of a new character to Mills as and when Ann Hogarth's scripts called for them. Many of the later puppets were made by Stan Maile directly for The Hogarth Puppets.

The BBC decided to drop Muffin following the death of Annette Mills but, in February 1955, it was announced that negotiations were almost complete between Anne Hogarth for Muffin to move to the Associated Broadcasting Company. Muffin may well have been the first character to transfer to commercial television which had only recently been announced. Broadcasts began in London the following September, although the Hogarth Puppets and Muffin were undertaking a lengthy tour of New Zealand which took up most of the year.

Muffin returned to British screens in 1956 but only continued for another year before new Muffin stories came to an end in 1957, although his adventures continued to be repeated for some years.

During this period, Muffin was still appearing in book form fairly regularly. Neville Main, the artist responsible for Muffin's comic strip adventures in TV Comic, drew a series of books for Brockhampton Press, including a series called the 'Merry Muffin Books' penned by Annette Mills and Ann Hogarth. Muffin was the front cover star of TV Comic until issue 192 -- he was replaced by Sooty -- but new Muffin stories continued to appear until issue 482 (11 March 1961).

Muffin continued to appear in the Hogarth Puppets shows produced by Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth -- and later by their daughter, Sally McNally -- and he continued to pop up on television on occasions, appearing in episodes of The Goodies and Doctor Who; Muffin was the compere of the BBC documentary The Lime Grove Story broadcast in 1991 with 80-year-old Ann Hogarth still pulling the strings. (Hogarth had retired to Budleigh Salterton following the death of husband Jan Bussell in April 1985; she died at a nursing home on 9 April 1993.)

Muffin caused some dissent in the House of Lords on 23 May 1996 when Baroness Castle of Blackburn queried why the Stamp Advisory Committee had decided not to issue a stamp commemorating the centenary of artist, poet and socialist William Morris but to issue on on Muffin the Mule instead. The Muffin stamp (as Lord Fraser of Carmyllie explained) was part of a set celebrating five decades of children's television, and included Muffin alongside Sooty, Stingray, the Clangers and Danger Mouse.

The Muffin the Mule Collectors' Club was set up in 1999 and club founder Adrienne Hasler has also produced a book, Muffin the Mule. Commemorating 60 years of Muffin the Mule with memories and memorabilia (available here).

The rights to produce a new TV series were bought by Maverick Entertainment in January 2003 and the BBC bought 26 animated episodes (later increased to 40 episodes) for broadcast in 2005. The new series, broadcast on BBC2 daily from Monday 5 September, generated quite a bit of nostalgic publicity and new merchandise began to appear, including a Muffin the Mule magazine from Future. The show was watched by 300,000 children and has since been broadcast on the digital CBeebies channel.

DVDs of the original shows were released in 2005 in time to celebrate Muffin's 60th anniversary which contain many episodes of the original Muffin stories.

One item I came across when I was researching the above was a little piece about Molly Blake which, long-time readers will recall, was the subject I was actually trying to research in the first place.

Molly Blake revived Prudence Kitten, the glove puppet character created by her mother, in the autumn of 1955 and Prudence went on to feature in a TV pantomime version of Sleeping Beauty broadcast in January 1956. Prudence was also appearing on the BBC in 1960.

Puffer Dog, one of the characters who starred alongside Prudence Kitten, also had his own comic strip in TV Comic around 1954. I was also surprised to find that early issues of TV Comic featured a regular 'Muffin Club News' spot, signed by Annette Mills...

But now it's "Goodnight children everywhere," until tomorrow when we'll be taking a look at Andy Pandy. And it'll have something to do with comics... honest. And I'll be returning to Muffin the Mule at some point in the near future to reveal a little something about the couple in the photo below.

And they definitely have something to do with comics!

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