Why? Because I have met Muffin the Mule, my very favourite puppet from childhood, in person. He hasn’t aged a bit, and is asI am in my seventh heaven!
Why? Because I have met Muffin the Mule, my very favourite puppet from childhood, in person. He hasn’t aged a bit, and is as frisky as ever, despite being born a good twenty years before I was! So perhaps you’ll indulge me a little while, with a personal anecdote, before I get on to the main task.
For my recent birthday, I was bought a book about the history of “Muffin the Mule”, written by the organiser of the sadly now dormant fan club. My husband had ordered it from Amazon, so he was startled to find that the book was popped through the letter-box a little later, hand-delivered. Incredibly the author lives near us. One thing led to another, and I was invited to go and meet the real (original) Muffin the Mule, at her home, where he would be visiting after a performance at a local Care Home with his current puppeteer. What a kind - and exciting - thought!
Both the author, Adrienne Hasler, and puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew, are charming people, and I can well understand why Muffin is such good friends with them. Muffin was in the lounge, resting on a blanket but instantly up and prancing around, just as much of a show-off as ever, when he saw me. He’d had a fresh coat of paint occasionally, plus Ronnie Le Drew had re-strung him and given him a new mane. He was said to be carved from lime wood, by the Punch and Judy expert carver Fred Tickner, but of course we all knew he was “real” in actuality.
Puppets such as Muffin, in the hands of an expert puppeteer, can display a wide range of subtle movements, mimicking both human and animal demeanour. Adrienne Hasler’s book goes into puppetry as an Art form, with puppets for adults, from different cultures. More literary puppet shows in Great Britain, by the Hogarth Theatre, creators of Muffin, include Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”, and portions of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, as well as a flexible rubber “Picasso” puppet. In a way watching Muffin, it is possible to envisage how endless the possibilities must be. Plus of course, puppets are not always marionettes. Adrienne Hasler goes into the various rod puppets developed, and glove puppets etc., all of which are still fashioned and created by current puppeteers such as Ronnie Le Drew.
Ronnie Le Drew is famous world-wide for his work. He has worked on numerous films, including working some puppets in “Labyrinth”, and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and was the plant (“Feed me!”) in “Little Shop of Horrors”, plus many others. As well as my hero Muffin, he was also behind “Bill and Ben: the flowerpot men”, “Sooty and Sweep”, was the boastful “Zippy” in “Rainbow”, and “Brains” in “Thunderbirds”. He is the present President of the Puppeteers’ Association, and teaches at the “London School of Puppetry”, which he founded in 1987, as well as at the “Little Angel Theatre” in London. Yet, by the very nature of the work, his is a face not many would recognise. Truly modest, he says he likes being behind the scenes, as then he hears what people (including children!) really think. And he’s a born raconteur, with his own book “Zippy and Me” to be published shortly.
But what of this book, I hear you say. And certainly Adrienne Hasler is equally modest in person, allowing Muffin to steal the scene, as he is wont to do. For those who do not remember Muffin, he behaves like a cheeky little boy, who has his moments of throwing a tantrum, but is usually adorable. As an adult, I was amazed now at the subtlety Ronnie could put into Muffin’s gestures. When sitting on my knee, Muffin followed the conversation with great interest - and reacted to it. He could nuzzle me affectionately, or turn his head in a stand-offish moment, look embarrassed, cheeky, frisky, quiet, kick up his heels cantankerously, and all sort of other things, all perfectly conveyed by his handler. I swear that puppeteers must develop dexterity and hand and arm muscles the rest of us don’t have!
Adrienne’s lovely book is perfect for Muffin fans, both old and young. Muffin enjoyed something of a comeback earlier this century, with new animated films on BBC’s “CBeebies” television slot, in 2005, plus accompanying books. This book is for those who would like to know more of his history, as well as a handbook to all the memorabilia available. It begins with an introduction explaining how the project came about, followed by a short section entitled “Team Muffin”, detailing the main people involved with Muffin throughout his life.
For Muffin the Mule was an institution, back in the day. He began his life as a hastily scribbled cartoon by Jan Bussell, on the back of an envelope, some time in 1933. He was to be a “kicking mule”, to chase a clown round the stage. A simple idea, but popular for a while with the children who visited the Hogarth Puppet Circus. It was deemed a limited idea though, so Muffin was put on a shelf for several years, until around 1946, when television started to be broadcast again, “live from Alexandra Palace” after the Second World War. Then when the BBC were relocated to the Lime Grove studios in Shepherd’s Bush in 1949, three people were asked to officiate at the opening ceremony. There was a Bishop, the Prime Minister’s wife, and … Muffin the Mule! He was clearly a celebrity even then!
However, in Great Britain, televisions were something of a rarity even as late as the 1950s. For many people, the first programme they watched would be with a group of neighbours, all invited by someone who was lucky enough to buy or rent a set. So there they were, all crowding round a tiny black and white box in the lounge, excited to watch the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Around this time, Annette Mills (sister of the actor John Mills) was to come into Muffin’s life, and ensure that he had far more exposure through the new medium of television. She was to visit the home of the talented husband and wife team, Jan Bussell and his wife Ann Hogarth. The immensely creative duo had created the “Hogarth Puppet Theatre” in 1932, and since then had built up an extensive repertoire of diverse puppets, and established a popular following, having toured world-wide with them.
Annette Mills was having to rethink her career as a dancer, following an horrific road accident in 1942. On returning home from entertaining the troops, her car had collided with a military vehicle in the blackout. She was hospitalised for two years, and was subsequently left in a lot of pain. Since her second talent was as a concert pianist, she decided to switch to this, and was part of the BBC’s new venture into children’s entertainment, in a show entitled “For The Children”. Seated at a grand piano, singing and playing to entertain the children, she became aware of the unused space on top of the piano, and envisaged putting something there which would bring her songs to life.
Sally McNally, the daughter of Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth, recalls that Annette Mills visited their home, and asked if they would create a puppet to accompany her songs. The reply came swiftly enough: no, but perhaps Annette Mills could write songs to illustrate their puppets! This element of friendly competition, a mutually respectful vying for power, seems to have been present in all the cooperative ventures between Ann Hogarth and Annette Mills which were to follow. For of course, for many children of that era, Annette Mills was Muffin’s companion, and was the face of Muffin, regardless of the fact that it was Ann Hogarth who - quite literally - pulled the strings. This is both the fate, and perhaps the reward, for all puppeteers.
But Annette Mills it was, whose photograph was in all the Bush television shop windows, on a cardboard cover which slipped over all the television screens, advertising this newfangled machine for the family. In 1953, these sets measured just 9“ or a larger one, a whopping 13”. No doubt children seeing their favourite character would then nag their parents not only to buy a TV, but to buy that particular one: a Bush television set. Annette Mills was the face alongside Muffin at the launch of the new Children’s TV. She had the film star looks, the glamour, and the popular appeal, with her beautifully modulated 1950s voice, even if her brother John Mills had quipped that she was now a “stooge to a mule”.
At this first meeting, Annette Mills chose a kicking mule, whom she named “Muffin” and his partner, a clown, whom she renamed “Crumpet”. They were immediately incorporated into her show, and Muffin was an instant success. Sadly Crumpet did not fare so well, perhaps since his only function appears to have to be kicked! He went back to the Bussells, hopefully to have a less antagonistic life as “Tickler”, starring in the live shows of the Hogarth Puppet Theatre. Meanwhile, Muffin’s new celebrity status grew. Ann Hogarth devised the plots and wrote the scripts, and Annette Mills would write two or three new songs each week.
New characters from the Hogarth puppets were introduced: “Peregrine the Penguin”, “Louise the Lamb”, “Oswald the Ostrich”, “Willy the Worm”, “Peter the Pup”, “Sally the Seal” and “Morris and Doris the Fieldmice”. Some were newly created, and some were already established characters from the popular touring puppet shows at the seaside. When the programme became popular overseas, such as in New Zealand, new characters such as “Kirri the Kiwi” were included. Later too, Annette Mills was to create her own puppets such as “Prudence Kitten”. But of course Muffin was the star, and he knew it, prancing about, bucking and kicking on the top of the grand piano, to the strains of the opening theme tune, unforgettable to those who lived through the experience: “We Want Muffin!”
Sadly Annette Mills was to die at the early age of 60, in 1954, and as a mark of respect the BBC cancelled all further programmes. It seems extraordinary to us now, as we are used to retrospective seasons, or a film being replaced with another, starring an actor who has just died. But that was accepted as the honourable way, and for those of us who were born later, our memories of Muffin are from re-showings of those very early programmes. His cult status has lasted so well that in 2005 he was revived again, not as a puppet, but as an animated feature, appealing to a new generation.
Undoubtedly part of the appeal lies in the hefty amount of merchandise available. From road safety to “busy” boxes, bagatelle games to buttons, Christmas tree lights to cutlery, gramophones to handkerchiefs, Muffin the Mule was everywhere. This was before mass commercialisation on a grand scale, so many of these items were produced in small numbers, especially since in the early post-war period, paper and packaging was in short supply. Later little die-cast models and brooches were more readily available, and I still have my much-loved little model puppet, a “Moko Muffin Junior”. Granted he is a little worse for wear, without his tail, and missing the strings, but all his joints are still fully working. I also remember a card game, an embroidery set, and a record of “that song” which perhaps you too can sing even now …
Of course the books are much prized too, and not too difficult to obtain. There are the “Muffin books”: a different colour of annual by Ann Hogarth each year, and the six Muffin story books, written by Annette Mills, and illustrated by her daughter Molly Blake (who went on to write and illustrate her own stories about Prudence Kitten). Neville Main also wrote and drew some strip cartoon books, and Muffin featured in other children’s annuals. Everything was produced under the aegis of the Muffin Syndicate.
There are far too many items to mention here, and some are most surprising. Adrienne Hasler has produced an impressive and complete a list as seems possible, after such a long time when much of the documentation must be long lost. It is a labour of love, with descriptions, dates, and coloured illustrative photographs alongside each item. It can function either as a pleasant passing reminder for those who owned some of these, or as a useful guide to serious collectors, since it includes a code for rarity, plus another for relative values, to indicate the likely current prices.
This is a lovely book to dip into, for enthusiasts, and equally it may be a book you wish to read straight through from cover to cover. Adrienne Hasler writes in a pleasant chatty style, and has evidently researched the material thoroughly. At the beginning she makes it clear that it was to be a co-authored book by her and Sally McNally, but sadly Sally McNally was to die before the book was properly underway. Adrienne Hasler pays tribute to Sally McNally by including some memories and notes written by her, verbatim, as they appeared in the Collectors’ Club Newsletters. Some of the information I have included comes from those; some from Adrienne Hasler’s narrative. The author also writes about how the Collectors’ Club became established, and the charities it supports.
I have only touched on part of Muffin the Mule’s history here, which is the few short years when Annette Mills was involved. The book contains far more, with the history sections divided chronologically, and brief biographies of Jan Bussell, and Ann Hogarth, as well as others. The history of the Hogarth puppets touring company makes particularly entertaining reading, with many amusing anecdotes remembered and reported to the author by Sally McNally. The book contains a list of the TV comic memorable events, as well as a bibliography, other credits, and a useful index.
This is a unique treasure trove of a book, for all fans of Muffin the Mule, and as such deserves 5 stars. It is nothing grand however, being quite a compact paperback book, perhaps the size of an average hardback novel. How I would have loved to see a glossy coffee-table sized book, with enlarged photographs to do our equine hero full credit, but then the niche demand may not merit this. Some of the photographs are necessarily in black and white, as monochrome was standard for the time.
It is admittedly of limited appeal, and if you have no memory of Muffin the Mule, it would not be for you. But I wouldn’t be without it. It fills out my childhood memories nicely.
Nor would I have missed my chance to meet my childhood hero, Muffin the Mule:
I was so excited to find this book on the Oxfam website, and sent off for it straightaway. There is an old children’s series of “Pinetops” books by FrI was so excited to find this book on the Oxfam website, and sent off for it straightaway. There is an old children’s series of “Pinetops” books by Freda M. Hurt which I really like. I wondered if this book, slightly earlier and by a different author, but also about a group of children all living in the same old house, might have been the catalyst for those. No chance. I shall copy the blurb here (unique for me, but it seems the best way to annotate it):
“The Parry family are introduced to us in their ancient and strongly built home of Pinetops - it had been held by Prince Rupert for the King!”
Never mind the series I knew. This sounded like an alternative or parallel history story. How intriguing! It continued:
“Deep set mullion windows, funny low doors, quaint gables, huge rooms and dark passages, all make it an entrancing place for the young Parrys”
So they are all one family? Perhaps they are Catholic, and we are going to have a spiffing adventure to do with a Priests’ Hole then:
“Alan the eldest, keen on making things; Adelaide the needlewoman; Elizabeth the artist, always meaning to do things but forgetting; Henry the charmer and animal-lover; and lastly curly-haired, brown-eyed four year-old Joe, the favourite of all”
Quite a lot of stereotyping here, but that is typical of the time:
“We see the Parrys at school and at play, but into this happy home comes Inez, their cousin, who manages to dispel the loving atmosphere.”
Warning bells rang. Sure enough when I flicked through to find the first mention of Inez, there it was: “Spanish - with more than a dash of negro”. The chapters so far had included: “The Missionary’s Talk”, “Wandering Sheep” and “The Witch”.
Continuing with the blurb:
“The witch, the firebrand and the Christmas party all add their quota to the tale, while the finding of Inez by the Good Shepherd and the bringing of her to the fold enables an excellent story to come to a happy ending.”
I read the blurb three times to make sense of the second part, looked at odd pages of the story - yes and even the last page - and knew this was not for me.
There were a lot of proselytising books for children around between the 1940s and 1960s, with specialist publishing companies commissioning authors to write these. I can find nothing else by “V. Grey”, but have now learned that “Pickering and Inglis” was a long established Glasgow based publisher, working for the non conformist church in Scotland. They had many Brethren publications. The company has been bought several times since.
Of course I do not object to Christian publications, or stories from any faiths, per se. There is an excellent semi-autobiographical series for children called “Jungle Doctor”, by the Christian missionary Paul White, which I believe is still in publication. Other religions too have fictionalised stories. No, it is the clandestine method of publication I object to. There is nothing on the cover to reveal that there will be a mention of “Him” on every page. Nor incidentally, did I expect quite so much class and racial ignorance.
If it were just the religious aspect, I would say don’t let my rating of one star put you off, if this is your chosen area. It is more of a reminder to myself not to look at this publisher again. But I have to say it was a huge disappointment. And if anyone says to me, bear in mind when it was written, I would just direct them to the Pinetops series aforementioned, beginning with “The Wonderful Birthday”....more
“Kinder-und Hausmärchen” is a key German contribution to world literature. It comprises about 250 traditional tales, which were collected by Jacob and“Kinder-und Hausmärchen” is a key German contribution to world literature. It comprises about 250 traditional tales, which were collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and first published in 1812, with a second volume dated 1815. Although the most accurate translation of this title would be “Children’s and Household Tales”, most English readers know these stories as Grimms’ Fairy Tales, sadly often with the apostrophe misplaced, as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”.
Between 1824 and 1839, Edgar Taylor had translated these tales into English, again in two volumes. In 1870, Wilhelm’s eldest son, Hermann, edited what has come to be known as the definitive edition of “Kinder- und Hausmärchen”. In 1901, Marian Edwardes made a selection of these tales, and it is on her selection which most modern collections are now based. There is a typical “English Grimm”, which always comprises around fifty stories; not always the same fifty, but all chosen from a list of around half of the original number of 250 in the 1870 edition.
Charles Folkard - “Hansel and Gretel”
The list is short, because these were tales for children, and some were little more than riddles or anecdotes. Some were merely variations on the same theme. And in addition to those banned by the Victorians for their impropriety, the 20th century rejected some for their brutality, horror and anti-Semitism. It is easy enough to find a list of all 250 online, and some of the little known ones are indeed hair-raising to read.
Here I have listed all the ones in this volume, along with alternative names I have discovered they are also known by. I have added the number according to the original classication and order in which they were published. These are based on Marian Edwarde’s selection, and checked against Edgar Taylor’s for authenticity. The text therefore cannot be bettered, in English.
Charles Folkard - “The Three Dwarfs in the Wood”
It has to be said though, that the presentation of the volume is a disappointment. The illustrations are by Charles Folkard, whose watercolours are very much in the tradition of the golden age children’s illustrators, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen. They match the style of tales perfectly, but there are only eight colour plates in the entire book, two of which I have included here. The volume is roughly the size of a hardback novel, and there are line drawings at the beginning of each story, plus occasional ones in between. The less said about the cover illustration the better. It is not credited, but clearly drawn by a staff artist of the time, who created a contemporary feel. I prefer to do away with this cover, as underneath the cloth-bound book is printed with a silhouette repeated design of the girl and the deer, but this is a personal preference.
Because of my disappointment with the reproductions of the art work, I am keeping this review at my default rating of 3 stars.
1. The Dancing Shoes - “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, “The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes” or “The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces” - 133 2. The House in the Wood - “The Hut in the Forest” - 169 3. The Golden Bird - 57 4. The Twelve Huntsmen - 67 5. The White Snake - 17 6. Little Red Riding Hood - “Little Red Cap” - 26 7. The Singing Lark - “The Singing, Springing Lark”, “The Singing, Soaring Lark”, “The Lady and the Lion” or “Lily and the Lion” - 88 8. The Brave Little Tailor - “The Valiant Little Tailor” or “The Gallant Tailor” - 20 9. Rapunzel - 12 10. The Iron Stove - 127 11. Jorinda and Joringel - 69 12. Hansel and Gretel - “Hansel and Grettel”, “Hansel and Grethel”, or “Little Brother and Little Sister” - 15 13. The Boy Who Set Out to Learn what Fear Was - “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” or “The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear” - 4 14. Donkey-Wort - “The Donkey” - 144 15. Old Sultan - 48 16. The Fox and the Horse - 132 17. The Travelling Musicians - “Town Musicians of Bremen”, “The Bremen Town Musicians” - 27 18. The Golden Goose - 64 19. The Wishing Table - “The Magic Table, the Gold-Donkey, and the Club in the Sack”, “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack” - 36 20. Tom Thumb - “Thumbling” and “Thumbling’s Travels” (also known as “Thumbling as Journeyman” - 37 and 45 * 21. Snow White - “Little Snow White” - 53 22. The Three Dwarfs in the Wood - “The Three Little Men in the Wood” or “The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest” -13 23. The Four Craftsmen - “The Four Skilful Brothers” - 129 24. Snow-White and Rose-Red - “The Ungrateful Dwarf” - 161 25. The Twelve Brothers - 9 26. Jack My Hedgehog - Hans My Hedgehog - 108 27. The Sleeping Beauty - “Little Briar Rose”, “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods” - 50 28. The Raven - 93 29. Bearskin -101 30. Cinderella - “The Little Glass Slipper” - 21 31. Three Spinning Fairies - “The Three Spinning Women”, “The Three Spinners” - 14 32. Rumpel-Stilts-Ken - “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Tom Tit Tot” - 55 33. Mistress Holle - “Mother Holle”, or “Mother Hulda”, or “Old Mother Frost” - 24 34. King Thrush-beard 52 35. Thumbling the Dwarf and Thumbling the Giant - * 36. The Water of Life - 97 37. The Blue Light - 116 38. The Fisherman and his Wife - 19 39. The Goose Girl - 89 40. The Water Fairy - “The Water Nixie” or “The Water-Nix” - 79 41. The Frog Prince - “The Frog King”, or “Iron Henry” - 1 42. The Elves and the Cobbler - “The Elves”, or “The Elves and the Shoemaker”, - 39 43. Giant Golden Beard - “The Giant and the Three Golden Hairs”, or “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs” - 29 44. King of the Golden Mountain - 92 45. The Two Brothers - 60 46. Hans in Luck - 83 47. The Turnip - 146...more