Ann Hogarth (1910-1993), puppet-master, was born on 19 July at Frensham, Surrey, the fourth child of William Jackson, a schoolmaster, and his wife, Olive Howle. Her mother died when she was two, and Ann was brought up mainly by her stepmother. Encouraged by winning prizes for public speaking at school, she resolved to become an actress and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She then became stage manager at the Players' Theatre, London.
The producer there was an amateur puppeteer, Jan Bussell. In 1932 he and Ann set up their own puppet company, the Hogarth Puppets. The couple married in March 1933 and spent their honeymoon camping and touring the Cotswolds with the company. They did everything themselves - booking the church halls, selling tickets, and finally performing their puppet circus show, billed as "One and a half hours of scintillating entertainment!" There followed 50 years of touring, in Britain and around the world.
The Bussells felt that it was the excellence of the acting that was unique to British puppetry; so having begun with circus and variety, they widened their repertory to include scenes from Macbeth, poetry, and operetta. There were many musical items, including a whole burlesque orchestra, and shadow puppets were also introduced. At first puppets were just a "paying hobby", but this was to change shortly after the end of the Second World War when Jan returned to his job as a television producer at Alexandra Palace.
Since the 1930s, performances of the Hogarth Puppet Circus had featured a marionette of a mule and this was chosen by presenter Annette Mills to appear with her in a new children's television programme. On 4 August 1946 Muffin the Mule, as he was now known, debuted on For the Children and became one of the first stars created by British television. The 15-minute programmes, in black and white, were transmitted "live" from Alexandra Palace, and later from Lime Grove Studios, on alternate Sundays for eight years.
The marionette characters, along with Annette, delighted young and old. Muffin received an enormous quantity of fan mail and more carrots than anyone could eat. Ann worked all the puppets, devised the shows, and wrote the scripts and many of the books that spread his fame. Annette interpreted the puppets' mime and composed the songs to which they danced while she sang and played the piano. Jan Bussell made Muffin's first friends: intelligent but cross Peregrine the Penguin, coy Louise the Lamb, and sweet, stupid Oswald the Ostrich.
Replicas of Muffin can be found in London, Moscow, and New York, and a Royal Mail stamp was issued in 1996. A new fan club, the Muffin the Mule Collectors' Club, was set up in 2000. When Annette Mills died in 1955, the BBC said goodbye to Muffin, but he continued his career in theatre, films, and books. His last appearance was as compere of a BBC documentary, The Lime Grove Story, in 1991. Ann was then over 80, but had lost none of her skills, and Muffin seemed as young and cheeky as ever.
The Hogarth Puppets toured the world, playing West End theatres, the outback of Australia, and the ice caps of Canada. In summer they toured the many parks of London with their caravan and tent theatres, giving pleasure to countless children. When the Bussells retired from performing to Devon they set up an international exhibition of puppets, showing all the figures they had collected and been given during their travels. This is now owned by the Puppet Centre Trust in London and is regularly on display. After Jan's death in April 1985, Ann moved to Budleigh Salterton. She found old age and living alone very frustrating, but was much loved and respected for her sensible criticisms of the next generation's puppet shows. She died at a nursing home on 9 April 1993.
• Extracted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Simon Callow. Copyright Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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