Muffett lived a life full of cannibals and councils

Muffett lived a life full of cannibals and councils

Dr David Muffett, centre, spent 16 years in the Colonial Administrative Service in Nigeria, from 1947 to 1963.

Dr David Muffett, centre, spent 16 years in the Colonial Administrative Service in Nigeria, from 1947 to 1963.

First published in Mike Pryce by

IT'S my considerable regret that I never got round to sitting down with Dr David Muffett. It's too late now, because he's dead.

He died last week in hospital aged 88 and Worcestershire has lost another of its most colourful characters.

No doubt St Peter has already been advised on the Muffett way of doing things. Certainly, the custodian of the gates would have no trouble hearing him, because the doctor was blessed with a voice that was difficult to ignore.

He was a former colonial administrator who boomed his way through more than a decade of service on the former Hereford and Worcester County Council, mostly as chairman of its education committee.

There's no disrespect in calling him Muffett', because that's how he referred to himself when, several years ago and in the interests of accuracy, he compiled his own obituary. It's on my desk as I write and only serves to emphasise what a chance I missed.

That he reached such an advanced age was something of a surprise.

After the Second World War - which he spent on continuous active service, rising to the rank of major - he joined the Colonial Administrative Service and sailed out to Nigeria, where life was no less dangerous than Anzio, Monte Grande or Palestine.

"I was shot at with poisoned arrows and went down with hepatitis 80 miles from the nearest white man," he once explained.

It was a miracle the arrows missed, for Muffett was an easy target, 6ft 2ins tall and about as wide.

He spent 16 years in colonial administration in Nigeria, from 1947 to 1963, and proudly laid claim to being one of only two Britons, ever, whose surname passed into the native Hausa language. "Aka yi masa mafed" (literal translation "One did to him Muffett") coming to mean "Justice caught up with him".

The problems he faced were not those of the average magistrate in England.

For example there was the case of Tigwe of Vwuip, a tribal chief from the mountains of northern Nigeria, who was, by tradition and inclination, a cannibal.

Tigwe was so impressed by the visiting taxman's ability to acquire money on demand that he killed the poor fellow and ate him.

Reasoning that by so doing, he would inherit his powers.

"Tigwe saw the ability of the taxman to get money as a most laudable and desirable characteristic," Muffett explained.

"So he ate him. He had the shock of his life when he found out we disapproved. At the time we were due to have a United Nations mission visit the area, designated by the Secretary-General to oversee an election and I wasn't about to have one of them eaten. I considered it would have been a highly retrograde step.

"So I put Tigwe in jail until the delegation had departed beyond the reach of his culinary aspirations."

In a changing political landscape, Muffett was acclaimed remarkable for his ability to forge close bonds of trust and friendship not only with the traditional, but also the emerging Nigerian political elite.

In his own words: "I liked to regard myself merely as a hard riding Bush DO (district officer) of the old school, with a bent for attention to detail."

However, his powers appeared more dramatic than that. Famously, Muffett was once cursed by an ill-disposed witchdoctor, who next morning fell down dead himself as he got out of bed. This increased the Englishman's stock with the local population no end.

He also rode 56 miles in seven and a half hours with only one change of horse and later - completely alone and seriously ill with hepatitis, having left his baggage train to follow on foot - rode more than 80 miles in under 50 hours on his favourite horse Argosy to a Canadian mission where he could receive treatment.

Fluent in the Hausa language, Muffett was made an OBE in 1960 for his administrative work in Nigeria.

Although not fashionable these days to praise the Empire, he had no hesitation: "I don't suffer from the British guilt complex."

Yet he condemned the imposition of apartheid and was contemptuous of Britain's policy in Africa throughout the 50s and 60s: "All the Foreign Office cared about were the white settlers. They never gave a damn for the indigenous population."

Worcestershire and Herefordshire saw administration Muffett-style when he was chairman of the county education committee from 1982 until 1993.

An article in The Times Educational Supplement observed: "Depending on your taste, he runs the most cost-effective/mean education authority in the country."

But by 1992, the man who once described himself as "a high Tory, I fear God and honour the King" had had enough. Disillusioned by what he saw as Conservative betrayal of local government, he declared himself an Independent and was re-elected as such at the next election. He never stood again.

David Joseph Mead Muffett was educated at Sebright School, Wolverley, near Kidderminster, and commissioned into the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) SR in 1939 as a second lieutenant.

"When I joined the forces at the age of 19, the major said to me; Muffett you are born to be a leader'. By God he was right," he declared.

Muffett was a major himself by the time he was 22.

Later he became a doctor of philosophy, author of several definitive books on Africa, big game hunter and university professor of African studies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He leaves a widow Kathleen, daughters Elizabeth and Amanda, a son Alec and families.

When Dr Muffett, who lived at Tower Hill, Droitwich, produced his self-written obituary back in 2001, he did so with the addendum... "although I have no intention of shuffling off yetawhile."

Sadly he has now and the world's a duller place for it.

* The funeral service for Dr David Muffett will be held at 11.30am tomorrow at St Mary's church, Dilwyn, near Leominster, followed by cremation in Hereford. A reception will follow at the Talbot Hotel, Knightwick, near Worcester, one of Dr Muffett's favourite watering holes.

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