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Obituary: Tony Hart

Obituary by Jack Foley

MUCH-loved artist and children’s TV presenter Tony Hart has died peacefully at the age of 83, according to his family.

Hart, who inspired generations of children to paint and draw, had suffered from health problems for a number of years, including two strokes.

His legacy will live on, however, courtesy of his work on popular shows such as Vision On, Take Hart and Hartbeat – not to mention for one of his favourite creations, the animated clay character Morph, who lived in a pencil box.

He also received two Bafta awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1998.

Born in Maidstone, Kent, Hart developed a passion for drawing at an early age and excelled at art at his independent school, Clayesmore in Dorset.

However, upon leaving school in 1944 his ambition was to join the RAF, but this was thwarted by a slight eye deficiency, which prompted him to join the Gurkhas instead for the latter stages of World War II.

After the war, however, he decided to pursue his school-time passion for art and studied at Maidstone College of Art, graduating in 1950 and quicky becoming a freelance artist.

His career didn’t take off immediately, though, and at one point he was forced to draw murals on restaurant walls in exchange for meals.

Hart’s big break came when he got into television, following a meeting with a BBC children’s TV producer at a party in 1952. It was during the interview that he demonstrated his talents by drawing a fish on a napkin and was invited to become a resident artist on Saturday Special.

From there, he went on to appear on Playbox and Titch and Quackers, and eventually fronted Vision On in 1964, which was intended for deaf children.

By the time Take Hart arrived in 1978, colour television had properly taken over and his work could fully be appreciated by the countless numbers of children – and adults – who tuned in.

The show which followed, Hartbeat (1985-1994), regularly attracted 5.4 million viewers, with Hart receiving between 6,000 and 8,000 drawings and paintings through the post every week. He would pin the best of them to the walls of his studio for other viewers to enjoy.

His final series, Smart Hart, saw him sharing the limelight (and studio) with a young Kirsten O’Brien, and he remained on the show until his retirement in 2001.

After his wife, Jean, passed away, he spent his final years in a cottage deep in the Surrey countryside, in the village of Shamley Green.

He is survived by his daughter, Carolyn, and two grandchildren.

Among the many people to pay tribute to Hart’s memory was fellow artist Rolf Harris, who described him as “a very gentle and talented guy”.

He added: “He enthused and inspired a whole generation of kids into creating their own works of art, simple or complex.”

Hart’s agent, Roc Renals, who confirmed that his client had passed away peacefully in the early hours of Sunday morning (January 18, 2009), added: “Thousands and thousands of young people who are now grown up will thank him for inspiring them to take up art.”

It is a comment that’s sure to resonate with the millions of people who were either inspired to pick up a pen, pencil, or piece of chalk… who loved watching the adventures of Morph, or who simply marvelled at the many beautiful images he created (and inspired) during his impressive career.

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