Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Man Who Put The Heart Into Art

I hadn't intended to write another posting on the theme of TV nostalgia so soon, but I couldn't let this week pass without paying homage to the late, great TV presenter Tony Hart - a fixture of my childhood and the childhoods of just about every Briton under 60. The man was a giant of children's television for an unbelieveable 50 years, only retiring when ill health prevented him from carrying on in 2001. The favourite uncle that every child dreamed of - kind, patient, encouraging, and with utter belief that you could create anything that he could, given practice and a few mistakes along the way. He also had a sense of fun, with various assistants, characters and animations popping up over the years, but never at the expense of the art. Unusually for TV presenters, Tony Hart displayed no ego - nor did he try and pretend he was seven himself - it was all about the art and that's why we children loved him and found him such a comforting and constant staple in our lives. Like Blue Peter, Tony Hart strove to be all-inclusive so that even children from the poorest families could join in and he would often utilise items that most families had in their cupboards, creating pictures using materials such as dried macaroni and lentils.
At the end of each programme Tony would introduce The Gallery, where viewers' pictures were displayed to the soothing tones of 'Leftbank' (and at the height of his programmes' popularity, 20,000 pictures a week would be submitted!) Needless to say my pathetic rocket ship never made it, but the programme remained compulsory viewing every afternoon when I got in from school.
As if Tony Hart wasn't impressive enough, I now find that he served as a Gurkha in WWII and devised nearly all the ideas himself for each show. He even designed the famous Blue Peter Badge! The one innovation he didn't come up with was his clay friend 'Morph' who lived in a pencil box in his studio and got up to mischief every time Tony's back was turned, eventually to be joined by sparring partner Chas who was even naughtier! Tony Hart received two Bafta's and a Lifetime Achievement award for his services to television, but shamefully, no knighthood, though I see there is a rather touching Facebook campaign to award him a posthumous one! Occasionally you come across someone who seems as if they have been born to do what they do and Tony Hart was a prime example of the perfect person in the perfect career - even down to his neat surname! Certainly when he lost his ability to draw through a stroke four years ago he described it as 'the greatest cross I have had to bear.' RIP Tony - we shall not see your like again.


Jock Coats said...

His other honour, of course, and closer to home, is that the main SU bar at Brookes is named for him - "Hart's Bar".

Steve said...

SIR Tony Hart - yes, I like that and it would be well deserved. It's criminal he wasn't given a knighthood when he was alive. Shame on you, your Maj!

Rol said...

Hear hear!

Although, being from stout farming stock, you'd never have found dried macaroni in my cupboards as a child. I didn't know what pasta was till I was 16.

Nota Bene said...

What a lovely trbute...he was truly a talented man, gentle and generous. And he deserved official recognition. How sad that some people get overlooked, whilst the less deserving (mentioning no bankers names) get rewarded for their follies.

Didn't know he was in the Gurkhas.

Anonymous said...

I am sure he was a very great man but I was frightened of him as a child. I have never watched him as an adult. I probably should as I clearly wouldn't be scared now and I might actually then understand why he is so dear to everyone.

Brother Tobias said...

He did seem unassuming and tirelessly pleasant. I didn't know he was a Gurkha, or had forgotten. Must have been very young. A loss.

KAZ said...

He didn't invent Morph?
I'm sure I saw a programme where he did a whole Morph episode single handed frame by laborious frame with much patience and creativity.

teeni said...

Aww. I could watch him all day. I've never seen or heard of him, but I love watching him work. I was hoping to see some of Morph but maybe if I search youtube I can find some of the little creature. ;)

Steerforth said...

So soon after Oliver Postgate as well.

I was surprised to learn that he was a heterosexual, ex-army man. This didn't really tally with the image he projected on television.

I have to admit, I never really liked 'Vision On' and during my early childhood, harboured an irrational hatred of sign language.

Children can be horrible.

Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks for the intro to this wonderful man, Laura. Reminds me of the show "Art Attack" over here on public television where ordinary implements are transformed into high art.

Lucy Fishwife said...

I loved "Vision On" - and actually preferred Morph's silver-paper girlfriend and the barking scrubbing brush to Morph himself.. Ah Laura like you I watched the Gallery avidly but my picture of a horse never got on there...who knows if that might have been the spur I needed to become an artist? Although it's unlikely I could have found a career that pays LESS than bookselling...

Henry North London said...

I remember the wheel pasta collages

That dates me doesnt it

I used to watch Vision on and take Hart a lot

The Sagittarian said...

Hi Laura, thought I'd call in. Am doing the rounds of visiting now that I'm back from the holiday and chained to my desk until the credit card is paid off!!

It's a sad thing that people often don't get the recognition they deserve while they are still alive to enjoy it.

MarkF said...

What always amazed, impressed and frustrated me was the shear simplicity of what he did.

I can still remember him doing a picture of a river and the wharf cranes along it using several sheets of tracing paper to make the effect of fog.

I think my Mum ran out of greaseproof paper that day...

Old Fogey said...

Good tribute. I always got the impression that adults rather looked down on him - though children lapped him up. I remember, when I was young and he had just started - in black and white - how children's interest always picked up when he came on.

Dan said...

Enough already about my uncle.

No, I agree, v much an inspiration but Blue Peter got me going (and getting a badge) for my innovative advertising campaign for the Royal Mail.

V Fond of all those art presenters - but more than Tony Hart - I think the Mark Speight story is truly sad.

Daniel Hart said...

I didn't mean to be morose in my last comment, by the way. I just don't feel quite so sad for people who have lived a long and happy life!

He certainly was a lovely gentle man - and I second the commenter (Steerforth?) who was surprised he was straight. That clearly says more about our society than his!

RIP Tony Hart (no relation although I think I once pretended when I was a child.)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Jock, that makes a change from 'Mandela Bar' in every other Student Union in England!

Steve - yes indeed - if an a-hole like Jeffrey Archer can get one who's never done anything for anyone and been to prison to boot, without getting stripped of his own, this country is a sorry place!

Rol, I'm sure Tony Hart did potato prints for you too if you think back.

Nota Bene. Thank you. As I said to Steve above, if they can hand knighthoods out like sweeties to the far-less deserving, they can afford to give the true greats a few as well.

RB, are you sure you were watching the same man? Tony Hart, scary? Well only for his inferrance that I too could achieve what he did when I had no artistic talent whatsoever!

Yes BT, I believe he was a Gurkha in his late teens towards the end of the war (his eyesight was too bad to get into his first choice, the RAF) and he went to Art School after he came back (as so many returning servicemen went to College and University late when/if they came back from the war - a helluva a gap year really!)

Kaz, I too was surprised that Morph was the one innovation he didn't come up with, but who became such an integral feature of the shows.

Teeni, I'd love to know who the Tony Harts of US TV were - perhaps you could come up with a tribute to one with a little clip!

Steerforth - Yes, a shame so soon after Oliver Postgate and the chap who devised the Ladybird books. Re artistic feyness, since I didn't really know what a homosexual was until I was about 18 (very sheltered childhood!) - well ok, they were called Larry Grayson or John Inman and they spoke and walked funny - well I assumed Tony H was just artistic with his use of cravats. Turned out I was right!

Thanks WWW - so Art Attack was your Canadian equivalent?

Lucy who knows indeed what artistic career might have sprung forth? Wow, your memory for all the animations is better than mine!

Henry North London - I'm sure the pasta wheel was possibly recycled a bit from series to series as I'm sure I remember it from the early 80s. Perhaps he waited until each generation of children had grown up and recycled his ideas a bit!

Sagittarian - welcome back! Yes I think there's much mileage to be had out of a campaign to appreciate people while they are still alive.

MarkF - tell me about it. So frustrating how he made everything so easy when it was actually so hard! Loved the pastel picture he once did of a welder in a safety hood welding.

OF - perhaps adults did look down on him, or more specifically the Art World did. But then his shows weren't for them, but to spark the young minds of children into creativity which may or may not lead to artistic greatness later.

Cheers Dan. Must say Mark Speight was after my time as a child, thus his career as a TV artist passed me by.

I realise this will sound harsh but Mr Speight's way of life (and death) strikes me as pretty irresponsible considering he was a children's TV presenter to an impressionable young audience. Perhaps his story is a cautionary tale of what can happen when adult presenters on children's TV assume that being childish and self-indulgent - even spilling over into real life - will put them on the same footing as their child viewers, only it doesn't, just makes youngsters feel that if the grown-ups are not going to act grown up, who can they trust and turn to? Particularly if their lives are already chaotic or dysfunctional and then their favourite TV presenter goes and hangs himself after accidentally overdosing his girlfriend with street drugs.

John Noakes may have clowned around a bit, but you wouldn't have caught him doing anything to bring either himself or Blue Peter into disrepute - ditto most other children's TV presenters until recent times.