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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tony Hart (1925-2009)

TV present and artist Tony Hart died on 18 January at the age of 83. He had been in bad health for some time and suffered two strokes in 2003 which had robbed him of the ability to write or draw, something he described in 2006 as "the greatest cross I have to bear".

Norman Anthony Hart was born in Maidstone on 15 October 1925, his father a local government official and his mother an amateur singer. They encouraged their son in his interest in the arts (his father's own artistic leanings had been strongly discouraged by his parents but he continued to paint). He attended All Saints Resident Choir School, Westminster, and Clayesmore in Dorset. At the age of 17 he applied to become an air gunner in the RAF but a minor eye defect prevented him from taking up any flying duties. Instead, he trained for a commission with the 1st Gurkha Rifles and spent four years in India. It was here that he began to consider art as a career, spending his off-duty time training at a local school in Madras.

When India gained its independence in 1947, Hart returned to England and began attending the Maidstone College of Art. Graduating in 1950, he moved to London where he worked as a window display artist at the Peter Robinson department store in Oxford Street before turning freelance, producing graphics for newspapers, cinema and television. When times were hard, he would paint murals on restaurant walls in exchange for meals. A chance meeting with a television producer in 1952, when he accompanied his brother Michae (a drama student) to a party, led to an interview with the BBC and his ability to sketch quickly (as a test, he was asked to draw a fish, which he did on a handy napkin) earned him a job immediately.

At the BBC he worked on the Eamonn Andrews show, the Tonight programme and then as resident artist on the children's shows Saturday Special and Playbox. In the early days of Blue Peter, he told and illustrated stories about a little elephant called Packi; Hart also designed the famous Blue Peter ship logo.

In the 1950s, Hart was a regular artist for TV Comic, drawing the weekly adventures of Sooty, Runaway Band, Billy Bean and Packi. Packi later appeared in TV Land.

After working on Ask Your Dad, Disney Wonderland, Stories in Pictures and Tich and Quackers, a puppet show featuring ventriloquist Ray Alan in which Hart operated Quackers the duck.

In 1964, the BBC launched Vision On, a programme aimed at deaf children, for which Hart would deftly draw an array of illustrations using everything from everyday household objects to a tractor on a Sussex hillside. The show encouraged children to send in pictures and a major feature each week was the Gallery, a feature that continued when, after 12 years, Vision On gave way to Take Hart. The new show utilised the talents of Peter Lord and David Sproxton and their plasticine creation Morph became a huge hit, starring in his own show.

Hart Beat followed between 1985 and 1994—continuing to feature both The Gallery (which, at its peak, attracted 20,000 submissions a week) and Morph but introducing a number of other young artists and characters. Later shows were Artbox Bunch and Smart Hart, the latter coming to an end in 2000.

Hart was awarded the BAFTA in 1984 and 1998, the latter a lifetime achievement award. He lived in Shamley Green, near Guildford, Surrey, with his wife, Jean (nee Skingle), whom he married in 1953. She predeceased him and he is survived by a daughter, Carolyn, and two grandchildren.



Obituaries: BBC News (18 January); Daily Telegraph (19 January); The Times (19 January); The Guardian (18 January); The Independent (20 January).

(* Photo © BBC.)

5 comments:

jon haward said...

one of my childhood tv heroes , a true genius who made everything look so simple but of course he was a master craftsman in all the art materials he used ,a true giant in childrens tv .

thanks tony for the many many happy hours watching your wonderful programmes.

it would be nice if the bbc brought out a tribute dvd of tony hart with the best of his programmes i'd be in the cue to buy one.

ARCHAVIST said...

For people of my age group Tony Hart was a vital part of childhood. Didn't Morph come from his show?

Steve said...

Hi Archavist,

I'm pretty sure Morph started with Tony Hart and was then spun off into his own show rather than the other way around. Morph, of course, was an early work of Peter Lord and David Sproxton, now better known as Aardman Animations. Wikipedia says he first appeared in Vision On but my (usually faulty) memory is telling me he didn't appear until Take Hart and only later appeared in The Amazing Adventures of Morph.

Peter Gray said...

Hi love to know more about these other strips..

Runaway Band, Billy Bean..

Also what did Tony do for Disney in these programs...were they UK programs?

I met Tony has I live in Guildford and had a great time. He was drawing cartoons and teaching art for free for special needs children at Gosden House school my sister at the time worked there and got me in:)....I helped as his assistant being a cartoonist myself to be honest I watched mostly:) I got a lovely drawn cartoon giraffe..I drew Tony a cartoon penguin and showed him my cartoons..he was impressed with the computer colouring..
Everyone in the class got a large cartoon animal..a lovely guy..
Hopefully the BBC 4 will do a whole night on Tony Hart showing lots of old programs...or release a dvd..heres hoping..

Felt sad he has gone..though he can now draw again..
in heaven..

Steve said...

Peter,

I don't have any copies of TV Comic from the right era, but Runaway Band appeared in 1954 and Billy Bean in 1956. Billy Bean and His Funny Machine was a puppet show about a boy and his friend, a cuckoo named Yoo Hoo, who had a machine that could make anything that was drawn on its screen.

I've no idea what Tony's contribution to Disney Wonderland was, but I found this description of the show:

"It was a magazine and quiz, and ran for two seasons, presented once by actress Francesca Annis and the second series by Jennifer Clulow."

The show is listed on his website as something Tony contributed to in 1960-63.