Aug 22, 2021

Jill Murphy - creator of Worst Witch, dies

Children's author and illustrator Jill Murphy, who created the beloved Worst Witch books, has died at the age of 72.
Murphy also published picture books including the Large family series, Peace at Last and The Last Noo-Noo.

Belinda Ioni Rasmussen, managing director of Macmillan Children's Books, said: "She had an unparalleled talent for storytelling through words and pictures.

"Without doubt, her picture books have become timeless children's classics."

Murphy came up with the idea for the first Worst Witch novel, which followed the exploits of Mildred Hubble at witch school, at the age of 14 and based it on her own experiences at a strict convent school.

She had finished writing it by 18 and it was published when she was 24. The eighth and most recent instalment came out in 2018.

The books were adapted for a TV film in 1986, and two TV series, in the 1990s and 2010s. There has also been a hit stage show.

Disney even wanted to adapt them in the 1990s. Murphy later said: "They wanted complete control over everything, which I just could not bear."

'A life force like no other'

In a statement announcing her death on Friday, her son Charlie said: "I feel beyond lucky to have had a mum like mine, and it's impossible to summarise the ways her absence will be felt.

"She had a depth of character, a warmth and a life force like no other. I miss her so much already."

Murphy died of cancer on Wednesday, according to her publisher. The author had first been diagnosed with breast cancer more than 25 years ago, at the age of 46.

Pamela Todd, Murphy's friend and agent for more than 30 years, added: "It's a sad day for children's books. Jill was so creative, beautiful and funny.

"Her genius lay in the way both the child and the adult could identify with her stories, which she wrote and illustrated herself.

"Children who grew up on Peace At Last, Whatever Next! and The Large Family are now buying the books for their children's children.

"The little girls who created playground games around Mildred Hubble and her classmates are now directing, producing and acting in the television series of The Worst Witch and the stage show, which last year took the Olivier award.

"Jill was just coming into her prime and had so much more to offer. This is a great loss, not least to me personally, but we are comforted that she leaves an amazing legacy of books for generations to come."

Fans of Murphy's work paid tribute on social media.

The author never hid the personal inspiration for Mildred Hubble. "Mildred is completely me, at the convent school where I didn't do very well and I was absolutely desperate to be like everybody else," she once said.

"She looks like I did, I was tall and thin, with long dark hair. Virgin Mary was always blonde, so I fancied doing a story about a heroine with dark hair, who was tall and scrawny."

After the success of The Worst Witch, she embarked on the Large family series, about a family of elephants. The first instalment was 1986's Five Minutes Peace and the series has sold more than five million copies around the world and been adapted for TV.

Peace At Last and All In One Piece were both commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal, while The Last Noo-Noo won the Smarties Prize for ages 0-5 in 1995.

Murphy told The Telegraph in 2016 that a children's writer has to keep in touch with their inner child.

"I was listening to a programme about Roald Dahl the other day and he was saying there has to be a bit of you, as a children's author, that remembers much more clearly than anyone else what it is like to be a child, and reacts to things in a child-like way," she said at the time.