The Worst Witch author Jill Murphy has died at the age of 72.
The writer and illustrator, best known for her series of children’s books about witch Mildred Hubble and her classmates, as well as the Large Family series starting with Five Minutes’ Peace, died from cancer on August 18 with her son and niece at her side in hospital in Cornwall, her publisher confirmed.
Her son Charlie Murphy said in a statement: ‘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.’
Pamela Todd, who was 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.’
Murphy wrote and illustrated The Worst Witch when she was just 18, and the books have been adapted for television multiple times, including a beloved CITV series in the late 1990s starring Georgina Sherrington, Felicity Jones and the late Una Stubbs, who died earlier this month.
She went on to create the award-winning Large Family series in 1986 about a group of elephant relatives, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide and was also adapted for television.
Murphy also won fans with her picture books centred around the Bear Family, which was introduced in Peace At Last in 1980, with the series selling more than a million copies.
Her last picture book, Just One Of Those Days was published by Macmillan Children’s Books in September 2020 and welcomed a new generation of fans.
Belinda Ioni Rasmussen, managing director of Macmillan Children’s Books said: ‘It has been a privilege to publish Jill at Macmillan Children’s Books for more than 40 years.
‘She had an unparalleled talent for story-telling through words and pictures and, without doubt, her picture books have become timeless children’s classics.
‘When she drew the Bear Family again for her latest book last year, it was as though they had never left her.
‘The characters were the same, but undeniably contemporary and relevant, and ready to enchant new readers.
‘Jill was funny, warm and kind and she was friends with many of us. She leaves a big hole in our hearts at Macmillan Children’s Books and will be missed very much, not least by me.’
Murphy won The Smarties Prize for her book The Last Noo Noo, while Peace At Last and All In One Piece were both commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal and A Quiet Night In was shortlisted for the same award.
In 2017, Murphy underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer, which she said ‘clobbered’ the disease, having fought cancer 20 years earlier.
She told the Guardian: ‘The most fascinating bit for me was that all my hair fell out, as it does when you have chemotherapy, and now instead of poker straight dark shiny hair I’ve got a cloud of curls, like a cross between a terrier and Queen Mary. It is so strange after years of being dark.’
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