Muffin the Mule
Muffin the Mule is a puppet character in British television programmes for children. The puppet had been made in 1933 for Hogarth Puppets. The original TV programmes featuring the character were presented by Annette Mills, sister of John Mills, and broadcast live by the BBC from their studios at Alexandra Palace from 1946 to 1952. Mills and the puppet continued with programmes that were broadcast until 1955, when Mills died. The series then transferred to ITV in 1956 and 1957. A modern animated version of Muffin appeared on BBC Two in 2005.
The original mule puppet was created in 1933 by Punch and Judy puppet maker Fred Tickner for husband-and-wife puppeteers Jan Bussell (1909-1984) and Ann Hogarth to form part of a puppet circus for the Hogarth Puppet Theatre. The act was soon put away, and the puppet was not taken out again until 1946, when Bussell and Hogarth were working with presenter Annette Mills. She named the puppet mule "Muffin", and it first appeared on television in an edition of For the Children broadcast on 20 October 1946. The character proved popular, and ran on BBC television until 1955. Typically, Muffin danced on top of a piano as Mills played it. Muffin the Mule was supported by a host of other puppet characters who appeared occasionally. A separate series of fifteen-minute episodes, "Muffin the Mule", was broadcast from 1952, with his signature tune "We want Muffin". Muffin became a television star, and a wide range of spin-off merchandise was made using the Muffin character, including books, records, games and toys. Muffin also was made into one of the first ever licensed kiddie rides. A die-cast movable puppet was produced by Lesney Products, "the first toy to be marketed under licence as a result of a successful TV appearances." The BBC decided to discontinue the show in 1955 after Annette Mills' death.
In the early 1950s, a Fleetway weekly magazine, Woman's Illustrated, featured on its children's page (Gnomes Club) stories about Muffin the Mule and/or his friends. Some were written by Annette Mills and illustrated by Molly Blake, Annette's daughter, such as "Muffin meets the Rear Light" in 1953; others did not state who the illustrator was, such as in 1953 "Muffin's Good Deed" by Annette Mills, and many stories were written and illustrated only by Molly Blake such as "Willie Disappears" (a Muffin story) on 20 August 1955.
Bussell and Hogarth, and later their daughter Sally McNally (1936–2004), continued to use Muffin in their own shows. Surviving original episodes are available on DVD. Archive footage of the original series was shown on a television set in the 2006 Doctor Who story "The Idiot's Lantern".
A book containing some of the stories was published in the Soviet Union in 1958. At least three cartoons based on it were made in 1974 and 1975. These cartoons and the book make Muffin a donkey rather than a mule.
The rights to Muffin The Mule were bought by Maverick Entertainment Plc in 2003, and a new 26-part animated version of Muffin The Mule was shown on BBC TV in September 2005 and released on DVD in the same year. The new series was also translated into Welsh as "Myffin y Mul" and broadcast in Wales on S4C.
Characters and Voice Cast
- Muffin (voiced by David Holt) - A male black and white intelligent mule (the star of the show) who lives in a caravan and often acts like a big brother to all his friends in Muffinham village who he loves dearly. Muffin enjoys trying to help all his friends out, but he does tend to sulk or get cross if things don’t go his way. He is, however, easily "jollied" out of these moods and is with masses of enthusiasm for life. He is also rather partial to a cup of tea and a slice of carrot cake (his favourite food)! His friends all look to Muffin for guidance and despite his little "mischievous" nature, they would do anything for him too. Although Muffin can be quite cheeky, he puts on his red and yellow thinking cap whenever a problem occurs and always does his best to think of a possible solution.
- Peregrine (voiced by Jimmy Hibbert) - A male inventive penguin who lives in an igloo and is one of Muffin’s closest friends and has appeared in virtually all the programmes with Muffin. He is very keen to help out, but he does tend to interfere and comes across as quite short and bossy, although he does mean well. Peregrine is a very clever and important bird, well, he likes to think so, and spends most of the day working, occasionally on top secret things like, "How many sardines a penguin can fit into his mouth"! He doesn’t suffer fools lightly and will be more than capable of telling them so!
- Louise (voiced by Sue-Elliott Nicholls) - A female white black-eyed lamb with an enthusiastic Cockney accent who lives in a knitted house of her own and is very close friends (and often goes out on walks through and sometimes around the village) with Grace. Grace actually sent Louise back home one day, stating that “…her curls weren’t tight enough and a lamb must always look her best!” Poor Louise had to trot back and completely redo her fleece.
- Peter (voiced by Jimmy Hibbert) - A male brown bloodhound black-eared dog who lives in a kennel and has so much energy he just cannot sit still. He has a very good sense of smell and always wants to use it to try and help solve the mystery or the problem of every show. Although his enthusiasm to help out can get him into big trouble on occasions, like the time when he decided to bury all the precious things that his friends had, as he wanted to protect them and keep them safe from getting lost – on the face of it this does sound like a good idea, but only if he can remember where he buried them in the first place.
- Oswald (voiced by Jimmy Hibbert) - a male pink-headed ostrich with a thick British accent who lives in a shed but unfortunately has a tendency to walk around the village with his beak wide open, and so it is often heard in the village of Muffinham that his friends, (particularly Willie) are calling out "Don’t gape, Oswald!" to which Oswald replies with a “Duh”, even though he is caring and kind. He and Willie are the best of friends and inseparable and love to bury their heads in the sandpit for hours at a time.
- Willie (voiced by David Holt) - A male pink worm with an unknown accent who is Oswald's best friend and is often carried around on top of Oswald's back (a much faster way for a living worm to travel).
- Grace (voiced by Maria Darling) - a female orange red-spotted giraffe with a soft, light English accent who lives in a lighthouse by the sea and is incredibly elegant with her long neck and long eyelashes. Grace is very good friends with Louise, but whenever they go out for walks in (or around) the village of Muffinham, they make sure that each other are always looking their best. Although Grace's age is not made clear, Grace loves nothing more than a good natter with her friends "chewing the cud" over a spot of tea and a really good muffin – the edible variety.
- Monty (voiced by Sue-Elliott Nicholls) - A male brown pink-eared monkey with a memorable British accent who not only lives in a tree house, but can frequently cause mischief in the village. The accidents that Monty sometimes causes are a continuous threat to the calm of the village. If there is either chaos or a mishap anywhere in Muffinham village, the chances always are that Monty won't be far away.
- Morris (voiced by David Holt) - A male brown purple-nosed field mouse with a memorable upper-class English accent who lives in a straw house with his wife, Doris. He enjoys gardening and is ever eager to try and solve problems, as opposed to Muffin.
- Doris (voiced by Maria Darling) - A female white purple-nosed field mouse with a childish English accent who is Morris' wife. Doris lives in the straw house near the orchard with Morris, but while she loves being outside in the open air, as long as the weather is good, she likes everything in Muffinham village just as it should be.
- Official website
- www.turnipnet.com many images of Muffin and friends
- Muffin The Mule Collectors' Club
- British Film Institute Screen Online
- Whirligig TV
- CBeebies - Muffin the Mule at bbc.co.uk
- Muffin The Mule at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Museum of Childhood at the Victoria and Albert Museum
- Muffin the Mule to return, BBC News, 16 April 2003
- Muffin the Mule gets modern touch, BBC News, 5 September 2005
- TV star Muffin the Mule turns 60, BBC News, 30 October 2006
- on YouTube 49 second clip