Peggy Hetherington once amusingly characterised her role in puppetry as “self-effacing back-up”, and while there is no denying the major part played by her brilliant husband in the TV series Mr Squiggle and Friends, as the script-writer she was invaluable. Peggy died peacefully in September, at the grand age of 99, having spent the last year in a retirement home, but until there she had managed to cope with the 39 steps that led up to the Hetherington family home in Mosman, not far from where her daughter Rebecca now lives.
Margaret Purnell was born in Sydney in 1923, and as an art student in 1943 she accompanied a friend to drop off some paints at the New Theatre League during a rehearsal of Oriel Gray’s play Lawson, and ended up playing a part in the play. She then became involved in other productions as stage-manager, costume-maker or actor. [Someone she remembered from the New Theatre in her time there was a U.S. soldier then stationed in Sydney, Corporal Will Lee Lubovsky. Some of us will remember him as the Will Lee who played the grocer, Mr Hooper, in Sesame Street from its beginning in 1969 until his death in 1982.] One of Peggy’s surprising achievements was travelling from England to Sydney in 1952 on a small sailing ship as one of a crew of three!
In 1958 she married cartoonist/puppeteer Norman Hetherington and Norman’s puppet of Mr Squiggle, destined for fame, began appearing on ABC TV in 1959, with scripts written by Peggy. Edith Murray, secretary of the Puppetry Guild, was delighted by the marriage because Peggy was a distant cousin! And at one time Peggy herself was secretary of the Guild.
In 1974 she assisted Norman when he compiled Puppets in Australia, a booklet richly illustrated with photos, funded by the Australian Council for the Arts [now known as the Australia Council] and issued free, ahead of a puppet festival in Melbourne in January 1975. She wrote Mr Squiggle and the Great Moon Robbery , Mr Squiggle and the Preposterous Purple Crocodile , both of which Norman illustrated, and Mr Squiggle to the Rescue , an audiobook of three stories, narrated by Rebecca. Of special interest to puppeteers is the delightful book Hand Shadows [ 1988] by Norman and Margaret Hetherington. [Until Norman had a nasty accident in the 1950s, with a chisel cutting into a tendon to a thumb, he used to do a charming shadow show using his hands and “add-ons”.]
I have many happy personal memories, but especially of 1968-9, my last years of teaching, when my grandmother was in a retirement home just around the corner from the Hetheringtons. Several times I was able to combine a visit to Grandma in the afternoon with a meal in their home to follow…and lots of laughter. Sadly I haven’t seen Peggy since Norman’s funeral in 2010, but Murray Raine made a point of visiting when up from Melbourne.
The attached photo was taken at the Hetherington home in Mosman one Sunday in early 1975, when the great German marionettist, Albrecht Roser, was in Sydney to perform. (Roser had earlier seen a performance by Norman at the puppet festival in Melbourne that January.) Left to right are Albrecht Roser (crouching!), me, Stephen (now Prof. Stephen Hetherington), Rebecca (peeking around), Norman and, in front, Peggy. The photo was taken by Albrecht’s assistant, Ingrid Höfer.
Footnote: In November, Peggy’s grandson Tom Hetherington-Welch, Rebecca’s younger son, used puppets he made in a well-received show he co-wrote for the Sydney University Drama Society [SUDS].