Classic TV Revisited: Muffin The Mule

The daddy of all kids’ TV shows. Muffin was a piebald puppet whose forte was dancing across the top of a piano played by presenter Annette Mills. He originally made his debut in 1946 and was hugely popular in the 1950’s.

Why was it golden?
It was a pioneer post-WWII show which was decidedly low-tech. Once heard, the shrill singing and cut-glass accent of Annette were never forgotten.

How did it begin?
Muffin actually began his life in 1933 when he was created for puppeteers Anne Hogarth and Jan Bussell for their stage show. He cost £1.25.

How did he get on TV?
Anne and Jan decided to drop him for a while as his stage routine had become boring. He was revived in 1946 when Annette Mills used Muffin and another puppet Crumpet the Clown for her BBC1 show For The Children.

What was the show like?
Annette Mills played the piano and sang while Muffin danced with his pals.

Who were they?
The bossy Peregrine Penguin, shy Louise Lamb, dim Oswald Ostrich and the minstrel Wally the Gog.

Anyone else?
Who can forget Zebbie the Zebra, Willie the Worm, Maurice and Doris the mice, Prudence and Primrose kittens, and Sally Sea Lion. All the puppets were operated by Anne Hogarth behind a partition.

Was Muffin a happy mule?
Not that you’d notice. Would you be if you had the same name as a type of bun?

Was he a wonky donkey?
He didn’t have much fun and as all mules are sterile, he had very little to bray about.

Didn’t he have a jolly song?
It grated after a while but it went like this: “Here comes Muffin, Muffin the Mule. Dear old Muffin, playing the fool. Here comes Muffin, everybody sing. Here comes Muffin the Mule.”

How popular was Muffin?
He was huge as the first star of kids’ TV in the ’40s and ’50s. From 1953 he was a regular on BBC1’s Watch With Mother with Andy Pandy. Later came The Flowerpot Men, Rag, Tag And Bobtail and The Woodentops. He was so successful as the first star created by TV that special Muffin films were made for US TV and other spin-offs included records, comic strips, books and toys.

What happened to Annette Mills?
The sister of actor Sir John Mills, she died aged 61 in 1955. As a result the show transferred to ITV for a year before returning to BBC1 for a last series in 1957 with Jan Bussell acting as Muffin’s singing partner. By then he had appeared in more than 300 episodes.

Do say: “An award-winning mule who paved the way for all kids’ TV shows.”

Do not say: “Hasn’t he expired from Dutch elm disease yet?” “He was never a serious rival to Sooty.”

Not to be confused with: Drop The Dead Donkey; The Vicar Of Bray; chocolate muffins; Two Mules For Sister Sara.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.