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Tony Hart

Tony Hart, artist, graphic designer and presenter of numerous children’s television programmes on art, died on 18 January 2009. He was 83.

The Daily Telegraph notes his parents’ influence on the young Hart:

His father was a local government official whose own artistic leanings were actively discouraged by his parents; his mother was an amateur singer. Their mutual devotion to the arts meant that they adopted a liberal attitude to their children’s careers. “My father always said to me, ‘Don’t work in an office,’” Hart once recalled. “So not working in an office became very important to me.”

The Times records how his wish was granted, though initially in an unexpected way, as the Second World War intervened:

In 1944, at 17, having completed his education at Clayesmore in Dorset, Hart went to India to train for a commission with the 1st Gurkha Rifles. Here he learnt to decapitate a goat. He also took advantage of his base being near a Madras art school, and spent much of his free time honing his drawing skills there. The varied colours and sights of the country appealed to him enormously. When India was granted independence in 1948 [sic] he returned to London.

His big break came in 1952, described here by The Independent:

Then, in 1952, he accompanied his drama student brother, Michael – who later became a television producer and director – to a party, where he met a producer of BBC children’s programmes. Invited to an interview, Hart was asked to show his ability to draw quickly by doing an illustration of a fish blowing bubbles. When a secretary had difficulty finding a sheet of paper, Hart drew it on a BBC paper napkin, impressing the producer, who hired him as the resident artist on Saturday Special (1952-54). He took on the same role in a subsequent children’s series, Playbox (1954-59), and worked as a graphic artist for the nightly news magazine Tonight, which began in 1957.

A less well known claim to fame was that he designed the original Blue Peter badge logo. However, he lost out, as The Times tells us:

As payment he asked for a penny for each badge that was produced. He was advised against this deal on the ground that a flat fee would be more lucrative. In the event he accepted £100 and surrendered his right to future claim on the copyright.

Vision On, a programme aimed initially at deaf children but which soon came to appeal to children generally, enabled Hart to give his talents sometimes astonishingly free rein. The Guardian tells us of one of his more ambitious exploits:

One of his exploits was to create an 80-foot picture of a tractor on a Sussex hill, for which he used 144 roller towels. Ingenious animation techniques made the tractor appear to be moving.

This inventiveness and his enthusiasm for encouraging children to draw led him to be given his own series, Take Hart, in 1977:

When Take Hart was being broadcast on Tuesday afternoons in 1978, children would rush home from school to see it. It was estimated that no less than half those in Britain aged between five and 14 were glued to the TV set. They sent in up to 8,000 items each week, often displaying originality and humour, as with gold-painted macaroni. By 1979, Take Hart was being screened every morning.

The Daily Telegraph has this to say about the BAFTA he won for Take Hart:

Tony Hart was awarded his first BAFTA for the series in 1984. Unaware that he had won, he did not attend the ceremony because his wife, Jean, had not been invited to it with him. It was only as he sat at home watching the BAFTAs on television that he realised he should have been there, a fact that always amused him.

Further television shows, and accolades, followed in the years up to his retirement in 2001, as described by The Independent:

“The Gallery” continued, but a major new element was Morph, the animated character created by Peter Lord and David Sproxton (a one-off, one-hour episode was subsequently screened in 1989). Morph was later given his own series, Morph TV with Tony Hart (1997), wherein the character and his friend Chas formed their own television station, and then The Amazing Adventures of Morph (1998), narrated by Hart, who himself continued entertaining children with his creative art – and theirs – in Hartbeat (1984-93) and Smart Hart (1999-2000). Take Hart won a BAFTA Award for Best Children’s Educational Programme in 1984 and Hart was honoured with the academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

The final word goes to The Times:

In 2003, after the death of his wife, he suffered a series of strokes which changed his life: he lost the use of his hands and was no longer able to draw or even write. He said: “Not being able to draw is the greatest cross that I have to bear, for it has been my lifetime passion.” However, he never lost the ability to inspire people with his love of art and his belief that, with a little bit of practice, anyone could draw.

(Norman Antony Hart, born 15 October 1925 in Maidstone; died 18 January 2009 in Guildford)