Obituary: Jill Murphy, author and children’s illustrator behind the hugely popular “Worst Witch” series
Jill Murphy, the children’s writer, who died of cancer at the age of 72, was the author and illustrator of the phenomenally successful Worst Witch story series for young children, chronicling the misadventures of the kind Mildred Hubble, an accident-prone trainee witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches who always botches her spells.
The first opus was released in 1974 and it took Jill Murphy over 40 years to write the next seven, completing the series in 2018 with First prize for the The worst witch. Her clean, clean style and charming illustrations have proven successful and the books have never been out of print.
The stories of the disastrous magic of Mildred Hubble inspired a 40-part ITV series in the late 1990s, starring Felicity Jones as Mildred, as well as a series on CBBC (2017-20). In 2019 a musical staging, The worst witch, opened in the West End and won an Olivier Award.
In recent years, Mildred Hubble’s fame has been eclipsed by that of JK Rowling Harry potter, though critics have often noticed similarities between the two series, both of which feature young characters who go to boarding schools to learn potions, spells, and broomstick prowess.
However, Jill Murphy’s crisp prose generally allowed an action-packed storyline to unfold in under 200 pages. And there was no Lord Voldemort to give young children sleepless nights.
JK Rowling did not recognize Jill Murphy’s work as an inspiration and Jill Murphy was generally reluctant to comment, although pressed by The daily telegraph in 2019, she admitted: “It would be nice, I guess, if people said thank you. But you have to be courteous. “
Jill Murphy was born in London on July 5, 1949, the daughter of an Irish aeronautical engineer and librarian whom he met during the war. A gifted but quirky child, she read newspapers before starting school and was good at drawing.
She won a place at Ursuline High School at Wimbledon, but struggled to fit in.
Her teachers, she recalls, found her too content with herself and, although she was good at writing and drawing, they took pleasure in pointing out her “desperation in all other areas of the program and her total lack of common sense ”.
The school became the model for Miss Cackle’s Academy, as she based her chaotic heroine partly on herself. She was 14 when she wrote the first draft of The worst witch illustrate it with your own drawings.
She left school at 16 and went to art schools in Chelsea and Croydon, followed by Camberwell, but didn’t find it easier to fit in and was kicked out of Camberwell after just six months.
She worked as a housekeeper and nanny, spent time in a village in Togo, West Africa, with her first husband, and received rejection letters from several publishers before a small imprint named Allison & Busby did take over. The worst witch and printed in 5,000 copies.
In two months he was exhausted.
Jill Murphy continued to work as a nanny until the publication of The worst witch strikes again in 1980, when she decided to write full time. She has written and illustrated many other children’s books, including Peace at last, on poor Mr. Bear and his efforts to get a good night’s sleep; Five minutes of peace (1986), the first in a series of 11 picture books on Larges, a family of elephants; The last Noo Noo (1995), about a monster named Marlan and his love for models; Dear dog (2009), about a lost dog; and Merger (2016), about a rabbit named Ruby having a temper tantrum in a supermarket.
Jill Murphy, who lived in North Cornwall, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-1990s. In 2015, she was told the cancer had returned.
She has been married twice. Both marriages have been dissolved and she is survived by a son of her ssecond marriage to Roger Michell.