I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
Unless specified, all text, images and files are © by School of Puppetry, 2007 onwards. This means you can not use any of the text, images or files without my permission, unless specified.
Today, 6 Dec 2010, the creator of the longest running children’s TV show has died. As a way to commemorate his life and work, I continue my series of articles on the greats of Australian puppetry. Norman Hetherington was 89, and is best known for his work on Mr Squiggle. There is a short video at the end of the post. (This article cited on Wikipedia; thanks anonymous tipster for letting me know)
In his school days, Norman was already playing with puppets, delighting students and teachers with paper cut-outs. He desired to be a cartoonist, and attended the East Sydney National Art School, but later joined the army and went into the entertainment unit. The beginnings of Mr Squiggle was born in the Pacific war, where he became known for "lightning sketches", making rapid caricatures of those in the audience. After the war he became a political cartoonist. Norman attended Edith Murray’s Clovelly Theatre in 1952, where he developed more interest in puppetry (similar to Richard Bradshaw). In 1955, he performed children’s theatre using puppets with Annette McArthur Onslow. One of these performances was seen by a producer from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Nine months before TV actually started broadcasting in Australia, Norman Hetherington was asked to present his work on the ABC. Mr Squiggle was not the show: his and Onslow’s Nicky and Noodle was presented. Other shows were programmed for Channel Seven, which included a short segment using a glove puppet to draw. This gave the idea for Mr Squiggle.
This children’s show included a marionette, Mr Squiggle, who looked much like Noddy but will a long pencil for a nose. Mr Squiggle was a visitor from outer space, and would arrive to the show in his spaceship. Mr Squiggle would interact with a female host, and make drawings from images sent in by children. As the sketches included nothing more than a few random lines, the alien would often turn them into drawings of people, animals and so forth - using his pencil nose. The images would rest on Blackboard, a grumpy character who shouted "Hurry up". "Upside down" was often heard from Mr Squiggle, and to the audience’s delight, the drawing would be incomprehensible until the host turned it upside-down. Hetherington was operating the puppet from above, so saw the drawing upside-down himself.
The Mr Squiggle puppet is a Sicilian style of marionette, with a rod running through its head. This allows him to provide enough force to be able to draw with its nose - and presumably why the character has such a tall hat.
Norman Hetherington first presented Mr Squiggle on the ABC’s Children’s TV Club in the 1950s, and was then given his own show in 1959. It was purely by accident: the last show for Nicky and Noodle, but the shows’ director suggested presenting this new character. It was a hit. Hetherington’s wife, Margaret, wrote the scripts, whilst Norman voiced all of the puppets. The last episode of Mr Squiggle was shown on 9 July 1999. During that time, there were a number of female hosts, including the Hetherington’s daughter, Rebecca.
As well as the three characters named above, there was Gus the snail and Bill the steam shovel. Gus wore a TV for a shell, or a flower pot in later years. All of the puppets are (were?) owned by Norman, although they have been on loan to various museums and archives for exhibitions, including the UNIMA 2008 festival in Perth, Australia. The puppets were featured on Collectors, an ABC show about collectibles, in July 2010. You can download the segment here.
Norman’s work has been featured as one of the important Australian puppeteers in The Space Between, one of the few books on Australian puppetry that exists. He worked on many shows after retiring Mr Squiggle, being commissioned by many notable groups, however none has reached the notoriety of the quirky character from outer space. Indeed, even in his 80s, Norman was still performing. He was the founding president of UNIMA Australia, the president of the NSW Puppetry Guild, co-authored Puppets in Australia, a book for the Australia Council, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1990.
2010 would be the 51st anniversary of Mr Squiggle. I extend my sympathies to his family and friends. I have great memories of watching Mr Squiggle - one of the few puppet shows I ever watched in childhood - and it’s a sad day indeed when one of the biggest names in Australian puppetry and TV dies.
Title image by ctudball.send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.