Carole Cullen & Muffin the Mule

“Muffin the Mule is a marionette beloved in my childhood. I grew up in rural North Cornwall in a old house which creaked with age and charm. My family consisted of my father who worked in adult education, my mother who taught elocution and piano, my granny who cooked and loved us, and my sister Janet who was four years older than I. She was and is, my hero. Janet led the way in all our fun and games. Very specially she learned how to work the strings of our beloved Muffin the Mule. Muffin was made famous in the 1950’s by Annette Mills (sister of film star John Mills). Muffin pranced on the table top of a grand piano as Annette sang his special songs and charmed the whole nation on Children’s Hour. On Christmas Day in Cornwall, where the television didn’t work, we always had a puppet show to entertain ourselves. Mummy would play the songs in Muffin’s songbook including ´I’m Louise the Lamb’ and the signature tune ´Here Comes Muffin Muffin the Mulé’ Suddenly, Muffin trotted out onto the dining room table – the piano was too high – as Janet worked the strings of our puppet ´Muffin the Mule.´Our family, the delighted audience, clapped with glee at Muffin’s antics, and Janet’s expertise. I still have this beautiful puppet and keep him in a lovely round box.”

Carole Cullen.

Carole’s ‘Muffin’ was chosen to feature as a National Treasure*.

Muffin the Mule A puppet from the BBC television show for children shown between 1945 and 1956. The original TV shows featuring the animal character were presented by Annette Mills, and broadcast as a live show by the BBC. Mills and the puppet continued with programmes broadcast until 1955, with Mills’ death. The television series then transferred to ITV for 1956 and 1957.

A modern animated version of Muffin the Mule aired on the CBeebies channel between from 2095-2011.

In 1933 Punch and Judy puppet creator Fred Tickner, created the original puppet for husband-and-wife puppeteers Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth, to form part of a puppet circus for the Hogarth Puppet Theatre. 

In 1946, when Bussell and Hogarth were working with presenter Annette Mills, she nameed the puppet  “Muffin”, and it first appeared on TV as ‘Muffin’ in an edition of ‘For the Children’ broadcast on October 20th 1946.

The character proved very popular, and the show ran on the BBC until 1955. It was decided to discontinue the show after Mills passed away.

Muffin reappeared on BBC television on the 27th of January 1957 with Jan Bussell as his companion.

Typically, Muffin danced on top of a piano as Mills played the piano keys. Muffin was supported by a host of other puppet characters who appeared occasionally. These included Kirri the Kiwi, Zebbie the Zebra, a hippopotamus named Hubert, and a sea lion called Sally.

A separate series of 15-minute episodes of Muffin the Mule, was broadcast from 1952, along with the signature tune, ‘We want Muffin.’

Muffin became a television star, and a wide range of spin-off merchandise was manufactured, including books, records, games and toys.

Muffin also was made into one of the first-ever licensed children’s 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.”

In the early 1950s, a Fleetways weekly magazine, Woman’s Illustrated, featured stories about Muffin the Mule and or his friends on its children’s page, (Gnomes Club). Some were written by Annette Mills and illustrated by Annette’s daughter, Molly Blake, such as ‘Muffin meets the Rear Light’ (1953). Other stories did not name the illustrator, such as ‘Muffin’s Good Deed’ (1953) by Mills. Many stories were written and illustrated only by Blake such as ‘Willie Disappears’ (a Muffin story) on August 20th 1955.

Bussell and Hogarth, and later their daughter Sally McNally (1936–2004), continued to use Muffin the Mule in their own shows.

Surviving original episodes of Muffin the Mule remain available on digital media.

Archive footage of the original 1946 series was shown on the television set in a 2006 episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern.’

Carole’s Muffin the Mule on display for the Museum of Childhood Ireland, at BOI, Dún Laoghaire 2020.

*Produced by the National Treasures team, a beautifully-presented colour publication. The people of Ireland rummaged through attics and scoured mantelpieces in order to uncover objects that say something about the history, culture and heritage of Ireland over the past 100 years. From a pair of Sonia O’Sullivan’s Olympic running shoes to a War of Independence grenade, the amazing response to the project revealed stories that were profound, entertaining, heartwarming and tragic. This book is the culmination of that campaign. With a foreword by John Creedon, this fascinating publication reveals a selection of 200 diverse and fascinating objects that were unearthed by the project and presents them alongside the owners and the personal stories attached. The book, much like the project as a whole, reveals a unique crowd-sourced tapestry of modern Irish history, one that emphasises the voices of ordinary Irish people.