On this day in history : 20th October 1946 – Muffin the Mule appears on BBC Children’s Television for the first time….
Muffin was already 12-years-old before debuting on TV…. Hogarth Puppets, run by puppeteers Jan Bussell and his wife Ann Hogarth, were used as an experimental medium during the pioneering days of television in the 1930s…. The mule, which at that point remained nameless, was made by Fred Tickner (who also created Punch and Judy) and was added to the Hogarth collection in November 1934….
It was in 1946 that Annette Mills, older sister of actor John Mills, joined the BBC…. Annette had been an accomplished and up and coming dancer – but her dancing days ended when she suffered a broken leg…. In a career change she took on the role as presenter of a show to entertain children by singing and telling stories….using the top of her grand piano as a ‘stage’ for the characters in her stories….
Annette and her colleague, producer Andrew Miller Jones, approached Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth – and together as a team they devised the ‘Muffin the Mule Show’ using the mule puppet Fred Tickner had created….
Usually the show went out on air at Sunday teatime and ran on the BBC until Annette’s death in 1955…. Each 15 minute episode began with Annette singing the theme tune ~ “We want Muffin, Muffin the Mule…. Dear old Muffin, playing the fool” …. Ann Hogarth would operate the puppet, so that it would be dancing on the piano top, from behind a screen…. A story would then be told by Annette, usually featuring other puppet characters, such as Sally the Seal, Poppy the Parrot, Peregrine the Penguin and Katy the Kangaroo….
Muffin was one of the first stars of British television – and one of the first examples of character merchandise….including toys, books, playing cards, clothing and games, such as ‘Pin the Tail on Muffin’…. The puppet featured as a regular comic strip in the 1950s publication ‘T.V. Comic’ and there was even a Muffin the Mule Club to join….