Remembering Tony Hart – Our Farewell

by Lynn Connolly

As you probably know, Tony Hart, one of Britain’s best loved artists and children’s TV presenters died in the early hours of Sunday morning so as a tribute to Tony, here’s a look back at his life and career.

Tony graduated from Maidstone Art College in 1950 and went on to his first job as a display artist for a West End store. However, his creativity didn’t have any real outlet there so he became a freelance artist and, in the tradition of struggling artists, Tony lived in a grotty basement flat and in exchange for meals, he painted murals on restaurant walls.

His luck was to change though when in 1952 he met a TV producer at a party and, after demonstrating his artistic abilities by drawing a fish on a BBC paper napkin, he was taken on as the resident artist on the BBC Children’s TV show Saturday Special.

Tony’s popularity and amazing skill – in using almost every medium as ‘ingredients’ in his artwork – was to ensure that his career in TV was firmly established. In 1954, he went on to present the Playbox series followed by Ask Your Dad in 1959.

In 1960, Tony’s talent was noticed by Walt Disney and he worked for the legendary company for three years before appearing on a show called Titch and Quackers. Tony then became a household name by joining the crew of Vision On, where he stayed from 1964 – 1977.

Vision On was a groundbreaking show which bridged the gap between hearing children and those with limited hearing. There was very little dialogue in the show and it relied upon a combination of quirky animation, art and performance. Tony produced arguably some of his most stunning artwork for Vision On and the show inspired millions. Here’s a clip from the show…

However, what most of us will probably remember Tony best for is the children’s show, Take Hart which ran from 1978 – 1984. It was this show that introduced Morph, who I recall vividly; as a child, I was enthralled and amused by Morph, as were my kids later. Tony was awarded a well deserved BAFTA for Take Hart.

I used to regularly send in paintings and drawings for The Gallery and although my submissions never did make it onto the screen, a friend of mine did have her picture on the show, which was even celebrated at school during assembly!

Tony then went on to star in Hartbeat from 1985 – 1994 then Tony Hart’s Artbox Bunch and Morph TV were to follow. From 1998 until Tony’s retirement from our screens in 2001, he carried on his tradition of innovative and motivational art in On Your Marks and Smart Hart.

Here’s Tony in an interview with Ricky Gervais in 2000 which demonstrated his great sense of humour too… this clip contains some swearing and at least one – nearly – pornographic image.

After fifty years of demonstrating his art and inspiring millions of children, ill health forced Tony to start taking things easier. Sadly, Tony suffered two strokes in the latter years of his life which meant that he could no longer manage to work on his first love, the creation of art.

In an interview last year with The Times, Tony said: “Today my studio lies abandoned, and I spend most of my day confined to my chair.

“Not being able to draw is the greatest cross that I have to bear, for it has been my lifetime passion. But, I endeavour to stay cheerful, as there is nothing to be done about my condition.”

What a loss he is for being not only a wonderful artist but a pioneering campaigner for children of all abilities to have the right to self-expression and value through art, regardless of their skill. Tony also contributed to yearly auctions which raised money for charities all over the world.

He’ll be much missed too as one of Britain’s last true gentlemen. God bless Tony.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.