Hampstead has gained another Blue Plaque, this time for the Muppets creator, Jim Henson, who lived in the area from 1979 while working on The Muppet Show.
It’s time to play the music
It’s time to light the lights
It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight
It’s time to put on make up
It’s time to dress up right
It’s time to raise the curtain on the Muppet Show tonight
Although born in the USA, and already relatively successful with puppet shows, Henson had problems with US networks securing his own show. After a deal with Lew Grade, Henson and his creative team moved to the UK in 1976 to produce the Muppet Show for ITV, and overseas sales.
In the early years, they struggled to get celebrity guests to travel to the UK to appear in the show, but the reaction after ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev appeared on the show dancing with Miss Piggy gained so much favourable publicity that celebrities were very keen to appear next to a load of performing puppets.
For a few years, the family rented houses around North London, but in 1979 Henson’s bought a house in Hampstead, on Downshire Hill, a road littered with literary greats. At the same time, they were able to buy the old postal sorting office that was directly opposite their new home, to become the Henson Creature Shop.
In addition to the Muppet Show, the Hampstead site was where the creatures of Henson’s many other fantasy classics including The Dark Crystal, The Storyteller and Labyrinth were also created.
After a short illness, Henson unexpectedly died in New York on 16th May 1990. A colourful service was held on 2nd July at St Paul’s Cathedral for Henson’s British friends and colleagues. The plaque has been unveiled by English Heritage on what would have been his 85th birthday.
Brian Henson, Jim’s son and chairman of the board at The Jim Henson Company, commented, “My father moved to London to make The Muppet Show, and then chose to stay because he was so impressed by the UK’s many gifted artists and performers. It was with this amazing creative community that he produced ambitious projects including The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and so many more. It’s an honor to have Jim Henson’s British home recognized with a blue plaque, knowing that he so admired and respected the talent in London, and that this is the place he called home when creating some of his most memorable productions.”