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Postby Chris » 25 Feb 2009, 20:11

It was a nonsense answer. How can you put a date to an evolution?
The BPMTG was formed in 1925 so that was the start the mixing of the hobbyist puppeteer with the professional, and produced the exchange of ideas and wide discussion of techniques. New ways of making puppets and presenting puppets were encouraged, and exposed by the series of annual London puppet exhibitions organised by the Guild. These were hugely influential. Also this period was the early days of the marriage of Punch with Magical Entertainers.
In 1946 Jan Bussell in his book The Puppet Theatre maintained that Punch had to be performed hands above head and accused one performer who lowered his playboard and performed seated as being a Lazy performer. Years later, in another publication, he retracted the accusation.
It was in the early 80s that Eric Sharp published the plans for his Hands-in-front booth but he had been advertising these for sale before this. Eric's adverts which claimed he had invented this folding booth resulted in a midlands Punch man offering his similar plans free on request. His too was a Hands-in-front booth. Actually neither of these gentleman invented the folding booth principle,(although Eric Sharp certainly adapted the idea brilliantly when applying it to the Punch booth) - that honour must go to Tozer. His plans appeared in an American publication of 1946.

The postwar Batchelder book The Puppet Theatre Handbook and the Macpharlan Puppetry Yearbooks through the 30s and 40s introduced a great number of construction and staging techniques gathered from puppetry all over the world. I would imagine that it was the gauze technique used by puppeteers generally which led to it being introduced to the Punch booth. It was certainly a widely used and accepted technique in general glove puppetry by the 1960s.
But even when the PJF was founded in 1980 there would be many of the founding members who would believe that true Punch was to be performed aloft. Today you would find that very many of their members have been converted to Hands-in-front or indeed never done it any other way.
So really your question as to when the Hands-in-front technique came in, and gained popularity, is pretty unanswerable. Probably between 1947 and 2008. I reckon 1962 and a half is as good an estimate as any, although there must have been a further surge in 1982 and a half due to the popularity of the Sharp booths and the communication between Punchmen afforded by the arrival of the PJF and the decline of the seaside and the growth of domestic shows.
I wonder if there are any parallels with the decline of the Y Front and the growth of Boxer Shorts? James - a topic for your Masters?
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Postby johnstoate » 25 Feb 2009, 21:47

Mmmm.. Interesting stuff. I, of course work a big booth 'Hands in front' with a black backcloth and black booth interior. But one small point, I have only briefly perused the postings here as yet but the distance from blackcloth to playboard is also pertinent, as is the width of the playboard when one is considering the audience perspective. Another point is the distance from the booth frontage to the audience, which should be such as to give a good 'line of sight' to the proscenium opening from either the front seated, or the 'big ones at the back' without being a 'pain in the neck' (Moi? :D ) In this respect, I like to use the height of the booth as a guide to the 'Front of house' length as this then can be explained where required as health & safety should the booth be blown over forwards! - As to the blackcloth anchorage, I have a length of chain stitched into the bottom edge with elastic from the end links to the side frames. Works for me!
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Postby Tony James » 25 Feb 2009, 23:07

Chris wrote:It was a nonsense answer. How can you put a date to an evolution??


It did cross my mind Chris, especially as you hadn't provided any support. I asked in case. But you can sometimes put a date on evolution. We know, for example, when George Blake released his plans for the Lazy Tongs in Abra in 1946. And we can put a date on Eric Sharp's Up In Fourteen Seconds folding panel booth.

However Tozer made his style of frame, up came Jack Hughes in the 50s with a similar folding panel booth very reminiscent of the later Eric Sharpe booth. Jack's must have been heavy because his was built of thick, solid ply panels.

Even Edwin's later Cabaret Puppet Theatre was hands above. My experience doesn't count. I didn't know what was going on at the time. I was working out of the country quite a bit.

The first time I came across working hands in front was when I was told about it in 1977. It was the Queen's Silver Jubilee and my agent asked me if I had an alternative frame to my sit down domestic booth and I hadn't. I only worked Punch at the then fashionable three hour or sometimes only two and a half hour birthday parties.

My agent promptly booked me for close on a dozen Punch shows for the celebrations and I used my little booth. A few years ago the BBC ran a series about how people celebrated the Queen's Silver Jubilee of 1977. That would have been in 2002 celebrating her Golden Jubilee. Anyway, lo and behold, there at the start of each programme was my little sit down booth with Punch up from 1977 .

I got through the shows fine and that was when my agent talked to me about having a 'proper booth' as he put it. He mentioned then working hands in front. I bore it in mind but it wasn't quite what I had in mind and after much huffing and puffing I ended up building the frame I use today. Although I didn't realise it that was the start of Punch taking over my business.

I saw a hands in front at an auction around about that time. probably Blackpool. They held phenomenally big auctions at the time. From mid-morning to a quarter to midnight, and still there were piles of lots they never got round to.

I stood inside the frame and my head hit the roof. It was built for someone a lot shorter than I. Again I had the same experience at an Order of the Magi auction a few years ago. Too small. And I couldn't manage to waggle my hands about without disturbing the gauze. My elbows were poking through the sidewalls. I felt terribly claustrophobic.

When I first saw Eric's hands in front booth I immediately thought of in-store merchandisers. Several companies were making exhibition panels from a lightweight square or rectangular light wood frame with a groove all the way around the outside edge. Industrial nylon was stretched over each side of the panel and secured with a plastic profile which was hammered trapping the fabric and profile in the groove. Don't worry how they assembled the panels together at an exhibition. That doesn't matter.

What does matter is that they also put out in-store merchandisers made from similar panels which were permanently locked together with a two-way folding plastic hinge strip. Looked like it would fold and crack quite easily but surprisingly it was good for hundreds of thousands of folds. A girl - merchandisers were mostly girls in those days - would tow in a pack on wheels and unfold it into a three sided screen in seconds. That was her background, covered with graphics illustrating the product.

Instantly she unfolded a similar three side screen and that was the front of the stand, solid panels at the bottom, open to the front and sides with a logo pelmet board around the top. Make -up, household cleaner dems, food preparation gadgets, they all showed wonderfully. And if the sides were brought right around to a 90 degree angle and the open front raised up - it was very like a Punch booth!.

Eric used brass piano hinge instead of the plastic strip. That's what I thought triggered the idea when I first saw it. The similarity was uncanny.

Since then, on the rare occasion I've seen someone else's frame it has invariably been hands in front. The gauze system was a widely used old theatrical transformation scene technique beloved of Sensation Smith of Drury Lane for adding a simplistic kicker to his otherwise over the top dramatic scenes of train crashes and horses racing at the Derby. I've seen it used in pantomime, first as an 'outside the cottage' frontcloth scene.

As the girl (usually a girl) opens the door and goes in to the cottage, the lights switch. The front light fades, the back light rises and the audience sees the front of the cottage melt away before their eyes and the interior appear with the girl moving around. There is a second when the frontcloth can be flown unnoticed.

From the interior room the girl moves to the rear door and as she passes through the rear door the room melts away revealing the kitchen behind. Again the scene is flown unseen. Once the girl has done her kitchen chores, perhaps with some other person, the whole scene changes yet again, this time moving outside to the garden. And once the remains of the kitchen were flown you had a full stage set for a country garden dance. Oh so simple but the timing is all. Do it correctly and it is visible magic.

A high standard of blackout is essential, both on stage and in a Punch booth. It's very difficult to be sure you've achieved it. You need someone out front to check. That's where the magic can let you down.

Thank you Chris for taking the time and trouble to write all of that background to hands in front frames. There's very little reference to them in books on my shelves.. It is interesting. We often know where we started and where we ended up but the getting there can be less easy to recall. Jan Bussle was a BBC radio producer before the war working out of Manchester. I found some odd book somewhere which if I remember correctly said he was extremely talented and innovative and he left, disappeared, never to be heard of again.

Left BBC Manchester certainly but disappeared? Not true.
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Postby lesclarke » 25 Feb 2009, 23:11

I've been 'playing around' this afternoon, with the 'various positions', style 2 seems to best suit me and what I'm after achieving.

As far as backcloth to back of playboard distance, I had been advised in a phone call this morning to try 10" and that seemed about right, but I'll do extensive trials lifting my sausage machine and suitcase into position ...at least it's a dimension that can easily be changed with trial and error.

I've realised that my headset mic mounted on baseball cap will need changing, as the peak will hit the backcloth, might have to change to a 'syrup!' Yes I could wear the baseball cap backwards, but I have my standards.

As I have a real fear of colliding with the backcloth, Im considering having a stout dowel at the base, and having it fixed in place on each size.

John, just for complete(ish) clarity you forgot to mention that in your big booth, working hands in front - you stand on a platform. It was briefly trying your set up out at Huddersfield that made me think I could adapt to hands in front, there seemed plenty of space.
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Postby Chris » 26 Feb 2009, 00:04

No Les, don't put a dowel across the backcloth if using method 2 - believe me you want the backcloth flexible, since with your upper arm horizontal it will lift the cloth when you lift the puppets (eg when raising the chef behind the sausage machine, or flicking Punch's legs over the playboard.) Don't worry about it. The audience don't. Either use a length of curtain wire through bottom hem, on very slight tension, or use a chain in the hem and anchor each side with an elastic loop. A third way which I have used is a length of white flexible plastic rod used for hanging net curtains. Use this in place of the curtain spring. You might feel more secure with this.

As for distance from playboard to backcloth - You don't have a choice. With a puppet upright against the playboard and your arm horizontal the only place for the backcloth is in front of your face. It is a position fixed by the length of your upper arm not by a phone call! If you increase the distance too much then the puppets cannot stand upright at the playboard.

Because of the site lines of a seated audience the backcloth doesn't really need to hang to playboard level - but because there are always situations were people stand quite close to the booth you really need the backcloth hanging lower than playboard level. But the longer the cloth, the more restricting it is, and the more it moves.

Two ways I have used to help are, if using black then use a very thin velveteen which is adequately see-through even when hung in small folds. If well weighted with chain in the hem this allows you to to move quite freely, and the black effectively disguises movement from the front.
The other way I have used with a painted cloth is to have this hang only to playboard level, and then to stitch along the bottom of this a length of black deep silky fringe. This serves to block the view of standing adults while offering no resistance to arms or props.

I find by far the best position for the microphone is to have it hanging from the bar which carries the backcloth. If it is attached to you then it restricts you. This probably means a second mike if you also use one outside the booth - but they're cheap enough.
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Postby Chris » 26 Feb 2009, 10:19

<img src="images/hffslant.gif" align="left" hspace="10">I forgot to mention that on two of my booths I hook the bottom of the backcloth further back than the top. This isn't really apparent from the front but does seem to give me a bit more space where it is needed.<br>
And now for the most valuable tip of all: Behind your painted scene hang a lining of very thin totally see-through net. Why? As a gunge collector.<br>
Because you are speaking and squawking so close to the backdrop it catches a surprising amount of spittle and mucous that we are normally totally unaware that we are spraying. In a very short time you find that the area in front of your mouth becomes unpleasantly sticky, and discolours a light cloth. By having a separate filter lining you can take this off and regularly sling it in the washing machine whereas it is not as easy to keep a painted cloth clean.<br>
Finally I have also just remembered that we haven't mentioned blackout. I have seen more than one hands-in-front performance where I could clearly see the operator through the gauze.<br>
The see-through material must act as a one way mirror, and this works if there is much more light in front of the backcloth than in the front. This means blocking all light from top, back and sides behind the backcloth and probably means a double lining of your booth cover at those points.<br>
If you are using front lighting - clip on spots for example - then this is not so critical.
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Postby Tony James » 26 Feb 2009, 11:41

Les, forgive me if you have already covered this elsewhere (though I can't see it on this thread) but what are you hoping to gain by building this frame?

I take it that you have worked hands above for some time and you are obviously used to this. And presumably, like me, you work the same way indoors.

Some time ago I considered bridging the gap between my large outdoor and small indoor frames, In the end I decided the small one was sufficiently flexible to cover indoor domestic events. The large one was fine for the rest and there was insufficient work for a midway size to justify the space another frame and another cover would occupy in my little cottage,

Just occasionally there's a premises - school/retail/commercial - where the ceiling height is extra low and that's something I cover at the time of booking. But it's so infrequent.

I also shared your concerns and reservations about my established performing style and the limitations which the hands in front style frame would impose.

This is developing into an excellent and informative thread. Chris, would you consider transferring some of this into the Tips on the main site?
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Postby lesclarke » 26 Feb 2009, 12:46

Right Chris, no fixed bottom batten, I find curtain wire useful and its tension is easily fine-tunable. The angled backcloth sounds worth trying, and I hadn't thought about the spittle factor! As you ay it can add up, especially if you get excited.

Tony, I forgot to say at the beginning that this will be an indoor booth. My present one copes reasonably well, and working hands above I am used to sneaking a regular peek from below the playboard, but when it is a very low ceiling I fit a lower top frame, and this means that it's very hard to access under the playboard - as my booth fabric gets in the way.

I find doing the whole show with hardly a peep outside can make me feel just a bit apart from the kids. These parties are usually for the smaller kids, and outside with a mixed audience I can easily see them sat at the front and get visual feedback, which gives encouragement.

But mainly it feels cramped..
When I made my current indoor booth I tried reducing the depth of the booth, to give more space in very small rooms. It's 36" wide, but only 22" deep. It loses bit of stability, but has enabled shows in quite small rooms, but since making it my show has acquired several large props, so they must be stored 'out back' so this defeats the whole idea of a reduced depth, and getting them in and out can be awkward.
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Postby Chris » 26 Feb 2009, 13:06

Harking back Tony's posting about the evolution of the Hands-in-front. Just because it isn't in your books doesn't mean it wasn't covered in the puppet literature - it is just that you didn't read the right books.

Jan Bussle was a BBC radio producer before the war working out of Manchester. I found some odd book somewhere which if I remember correctly said he was extremely talented and innovative and he left, disappeared, never to be heard of again.


Also Jan Bussell wasn't a radio producer in Manchester who disappeared. Jan was one of the most influential puppeteers Britain has produced. He was a TV producer in London in the very early days of Television, before the Second World War, and introduced puppetry to television. After serving in the Navy he returned to the BBC for a short time before launching forth for a brilliant career in puppetry. He created Muffin the Mule, the first puppet series and one the most commercial puppet series ever - second only to Sooty. He toured a full evening show with his Hogarth Puppet Theatre throughout the major theatres of Britain and introduced me to puppetry, among many others. Bob Pelham was inspired and advised by Jan when founding Pelham Puppets. Jan wrote two technical books on puppetry, and several books about his adventures with puppets written for the general public. Through Wooden Eyes was one such.

The Hogarth Puppet Theatre toured Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Czechoslavakia, India, Java, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada

In 1968 he was made the first British president of UNIMA, the International puppetry organisation.

Let me finish with a quick note on Muffin. In 1933 Jan wanted a mule for his puppet circus, a kicking mule to partner his clown Hoopo. Jan commissioned Fred Tickner (of Punch and Judy fame) to carve a mule for him, and the puppet which eventually became Muffin was the result<p>
In 1946 Annette Mills wanted some puppets for a slot on children's television. She came up with the name Muffin for the mule character which Jan suggested. But the programmes had limited viewing until 1953 when there was a more general TV coverage. Sadly the series only ran for two years for the presenter, Annette Mills, died in 1955.
Muffin transferred from the BBC to ITV where the presenter was Sally, Jan and Anne's daughter. Anne Hogarth, Jan's wife, was always the one who manipulated Muffin.
In 1957 Muffin returned to the BBC for a final series (26 episodes) with Anne manipulating and Jan himself appearing as presenter.<p>
That was the last time Muffin was on television, but they did several theatre tours with Jan appearing alongside Muffin, singing and playing the guitar. A larger duplicate Muffin was used for these shows and this was carved by Jack Whitehead I believe.<p>
The last time I saw Muffin was in Harrogate in the late 60s. Jan died in 1984 aged 75.

And finally, finally, the hands-in-front topic is already covered in the Tips section.
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hands in front \ overhead

Postby PROFESSOR BAGGS » 26 Feb 2009, 13:17

I would be interested to know how you get on Les, with hands in front style. I have been toying with the idea of changing from the hands in front method of operation, (that i have used for 20 years) to an overhead booth.
I am impressed with the added attraction of the more versatile manipulation that comes from working overhead, this to me far out ways the weight, size and construction hassles.
Surely all that's needed is another bottom section with an extra canvas,and viola! an interchangeable booth for both methods of performance.

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Postby lesclarke » 26 Feb 2009, 13:38

Yes Bryan, a different bottom section, or middle section as in Glynn Edwards' 'universal' style of frame gives adjustable sizes, and different covers or adaptable covers. I mainly need two booths as my main outdoor booth is too big for indoor household use, and built to weather storms and brew a cup of tea.
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Postby Tony James » 26 Feb 2009, 13:44

I see what you mean Les. My indoor is only 31 inches wide though the playboard overhangs either side to give me 36 inches, most of which I can use. There is no doubt that it is a trifle tight inside.

Also, sitting down utilises some different muscles in the lumber region. It is more tiring sitting than standing specially after a season layoff working outside.

Young children, indoors and amongst familiar friends, can gain a boldness I don't experience outside at public events. They can and will move forward and sometimes I have to come out and resettle them. There is also something quite powerful about Punch going down and not wanting to come back up and it usually is quite effective in settling down the children.

I've never managed to find a practical way of seeing the audience during the show. The position of a squint has to be below the pelmet hanging from the playboard and to bend down that low without lowering my arms noticeably isn't really practical.

I could but I can only see the first few at the front and if they sit back a little they are out of sight anyway. It's good for an early look before the start.

Am I missing something here?

I must confess that, recent seasons excepted, in the summer it's hot and at least part of my show is done eyes shut. Either the sun's in them or the sweat is falling, especially towards the end. The towel to hand is fine but only when the hand is free to grab it!

And I can see your problem with props. At 22 inches depth you must be a lot slimmer than I. Whilst I use a few hand props I've never gone in for props which need standing on the playboard. It's where to keep them before and after use without them being in the way. Hand held can hold in one of the hung figures and drop into the bag afterwards. Boxy shaped things can be less easy.

I'm looking forward to hearing how you settle down to the different style of working. And whether you find you're using different muscles.
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Postby Tony James » 26 Feb 2009, 15:07

I missed this earlier post from Chris. I appreciate the background but I think you're being just a little bit selective in your choice of quote about my reference to Jan Bussell. I followed that quote by saying:

"Left BBC Manchester certainly but disappeared? Not true."


I've gone to my bookshelf and the book is missing. Can't remember who I lent it to. However another also talks about him, confirming his early Manchester radio roots.

"2ZY to NBH" is "An informal history of the BBC in Manchester and the North West"

Radio stations had call signs and Manchester's was 2ZY although in fact it was based outside of Manchester in a rather attractive private, Art Deco house called Highclere which is still there in Hale, Cheshire.

This book talks of Jan Bussell describing him in the 1930s as the Head of the North Region Radio Drama Department. It was he who auditioned Wilfred Pickles who came to Manchester from his home in Southport. Bussell engaged Pickles and several others establishing some of the highest quality drama in radio. Bussell gave his actors 'much encouragement' and actors were keen to come from all over to work with him and he 'went on to form the famous puppet theatre with Ann Hogarth.'

There was quite a crew of names in Manchester at that time: Jan Bussell, Kenneth Adam who went on to be the Director of Television, Edgar Lustgarten and Joan Littlewood who had an illustrious theatrical career. This was clearly before Bussell's move to London and into TV. I was aware of his later career in puppetry.

The reason behind Muffin is also interesting. Annette Mills was the older, much older sister of the late Sir John Mills, actor. In the 1930s Annette was a society entertainer, individual in her range but of the same genre as Joyce Grenfill. Stories, wit, monologues, impressions - of types and situation characters rather than taking off known people and witty songs. Joyce had an accompanist at the piano whilst Annette played piano herself. Acts like these worked material they only used privately - there was a lot of private society work then - and better known material they used publicly in revues, a type of theatre which has really vanished nowadays. And they were well known for their recordings.

After the war Annette had a bad car accident which made it difficult for her to stand and move so sitting at the piano became her style. She needed work, knew the right people and got work with the newly reopened BBC TV. There was no TV during the war. It simply closed down entirely for the duration.

It was felt Annette at the piano talking and singing was not sufficiently visual for a children's programme. Hence the introduction of the puppets. Various possibilities, different puppets were considered drawn from the Hogarth stock and the final selection came to the table at one of the inevitable BBC meetings. All went well till the donkey was produced. That's how the executives interpreted the marionette.

Now the story goes........................

"You can't have that."

"Why not?"

"It's a donkey. Not allowed. It's in the Green Book. No donkeys"

The Green Book, originally established for radio, was the BBC bible of hundreds of 'not allowed' subjects which included innuendo and lodgers, underwear as in 'Winter drawers on' and rabbits and donkeys among many.

It was Annette who saved the day. With a look like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth - all an essential part of her old society act which was quite risqué - she looked around the table and said:

"Oh! But he isn't a donkey. He's a mule." (Mules are hybrids and infertile).

"Oh! A mule? Oh well, yes. That's perfectly alright."

"Yes" said Anette, very sweetly and added "And his name is Muffin - Muffin the Mule."

And they didn't understand what she was implying.

So he was stuck being called Muffin.

Lots of people DID understand and wondered not only why but how they had got away with it.



"
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Postby johnstoate » 26 Feb 2009, 15:27

Just to pick up on the 'hermaphrodite' booth, (Changes type to suit the situation :wink: ) Mine works at two sizes. As Les quite rightly points out, at full outdoor height I have a 'floor' some 24" up to allow for the working position, But the base section of the booth, (The bit in red & cream with the 'S' on it) is detachable. For indoor use there is a 5" version which then allows one to stand on the floor. Also the Topboard can be folded flat across the roof to accommodate lower ceilings. But it is built in ply with a canvas outer cover since it was originally a 1980's Pelham 'Road safety' booth, and still has the original paintwork behind the tilt!
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Postby Chris » 26 Feb 2009, 15:40

S'funny if you knew all about his puppet career why you should write:
Jan Bussle was a BBC radio producer before the war working out of Manchester. I found some odd book somewhere which if I remember correctly said he was extremely talented and innovative and he left, disappeared, never to be heard of again.
Left BBC Manchester certainly but disappeared? Not true.


...and nothing else.

I wasn't saying he never was at Manchester. It was the "never to be heard again" that I was contradicting.

Your description of the Muffin origins seem very much at odds with Sally's version:
"A five-minute slot was allocated for younger viewers and was aptly named "For the Children". This was hosted by Annette Mills, the sister of Sir John Mills, who sang along to her self-accompaniment on the piano. After a while, she sensed that her act needed livening up, so she hit on the idea of having a string puppet performer on the lid of her piano to enhance the presentation. As a leading authority on the subject, the Hogarth Puppet Theatre was an obvious source of advice.

Annette duly went along to talk over her ideas with Ann Hogarth and Jan Bussell and to enquire whether they would be willing to provide and operate a puppet for her show. After discussing various options, Annette chose two puppets from the several hundred marionettes not working at the time: the clown and the mule who were by now in their early teens. The clown she called Crumpet, and the mule was christened Muffin. As Sally McNally recalled: "Annette came to our house and met my mother, Ann Hogarth, and she asked if they could make puppets to illustrate her songs - no, they replied, but perhaps you could write songs to illustrate our puppets!"

So this is how it was arranged. Ann Hogarth had to decide how she was going to present Muffin; what kind of character he was going to be. She thought of him as she would a kindly, helpful, mischievous but loveable small boy with oodles of charm, who got into harmless scrapes that always ended fine in the end. In her mind she then conjured up and developed his personality and, in so doing, she created Muffin the Mule for posterity. Muffin the Mule - born 1946."

I have reproduced this from an article by Barry Taylor written with the assistance and approval of Sally McNally, daughter of Jan and Ann.
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