Norman Hetherington, rememberedJune 04, 2014

If not for Norman Hetherington, there would be no Mr. Squiggle to lit up the small screen.

"The creative force and genius behind Mr. Squiggle is a humble, quietly spoken and self-effacing man, who lives life through his imagination and wit. With his acute powers of observation and drawing skills to match, Norman Hetherington’s world has been an integral part of Australian culture for the past sixty seven years. For this achievement alone, Norman Hetherington is a national treasure, together with his alter-ego, Mr Squiggle."

- Tony Gedes, Director of the Mosman Art Gallery, which hosted an exhibition called "Mr Squiggle, Who’s Pulling the Strings"

Hetherington was born in Lilyfield, New South Wales on May 29, 1921. He studied arts at the East Sydney Technical College, now known as the Art School, and then worked for Lever International Advertising (LINTAS), one of Sydney's largest advertising agencies. He married Margaret Purnell, who would play an important part behind the success of "Mr. Squibble".

"What I love is the fact that Mr Squiggle was born before his children, and one of them ended up hosting the show 40 years down the track," cartoonist Steve Panozzo said.

A marionette with a pencil for a nose, a very heavy head, and voiced and manipulated by Hetherington himself, Mr. Squiggle would make his first appearance in Children's TV Club on ABC TV in 1958. Pinocchio would come to mind, as Hetherington's creation was a Sicilian style of marionette. But there was novelty behind it, the buzz becoming louder months after its debut. Mr. Squiggle would have his own show one year later. Margaret would write the script for the show, which she would be doing for four decades. Rebecca, their daughter, would be a co-host later.

"It was so out and out simple that it was innovative," Mr Panozzo said.

"The puppets - the way they were made, the different functions they had, they were all so innovative and creative."

Mr Squiggle and his cohorts - Blackboard, Gus the Snail and Bill the Steam Shovel - became so popular, bringing imagination across Australia's tele-scape. But Hetherington was aware that his marionette wasn't universally adored by kids.

"I used to hear they were scared of Rocket and the rocket noise - and of Blackboard being cranky," he said.

"They used the rocket sound effect to start with and then they decided a musical effect of some sort would be less menacing."

In spite of its success, the show aired its last episode on July 9, 1999, ending one of the longest series on Australian television. Hetherington looked back, noting the difference in the small screen then and now.

"He came into the program without even an audition … that wouldn't happen today," he said.

"He was given a six-week trial and he stayed for the six weeks, six months, then six years and so on.

"And we didn't always stick to the script. There was a lot of adlibbing, particularly in the drawing segment."

Hetherington passed away on December 6, 2010.

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