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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 14:49 GMT


More animal magic from Johnny

Animal Magic: Johnny Morris in his BBC days

Children's television veteran Johnny Morris is making his small screen comeback at the age of 82.

He was best known for his long-running Animal Magic series on BBC One, in which he gave personalities to animals at Bristol Zoo and had conversations with them.

Now his characters are being revived for a new ITV show Wild Thing. He will have his own segment in the programme, putting voices to the animals he finds at Marwell Zoo, Winchester.

But he will not be presenting the programme - auditions to find a host are continuing.

He said he was looking forward to his return.

"It will be very nice. My sort of stuff is dead and buried, but they have found a lot of children like that sort of thing," he said.

"Many mothers who were children when I was presenting come up to me and ask why they don't get more of my sort of programme, which was non-violent, amusing, informative and gentle."

'An animal legend'

[ image: One man and his dog: John Noakes and Shep]
One man and his dog: John Noakes and Shep
Lesley Oakden, head of children's programming for Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television, said: "He was chosen because he's an animal legend and he's been doing a lot of animal magic to promote the well-being and awareness of animals."

Morris last appeared on TV at Christmas in a completely silent role - in a Channel 4 film called The Magic Keeper, playing a zoo keeper.

He also has an active musical career, and has continued working in radio. He added it was not as if he was coming out of retirement.

"I don't know what it means to be retired," he said.

Meanwhile, former Blue Peter presenter John Noakes is also lined up for a comeback on ITV.

Now 65, he will host Mad About Pets, an animal roadshow which will find unusual pets from around Britain, from the most talented to the most pampered.

He is still best remembered for his partnership with the show's Border Collie, Shep. He became so attached to the dog he was allowed to keep him when he left the show.

A spokeswoman for producers London Weekend Television said: "He was the first person who came to mind for the job. Everyone knows him from having Shep and how much he loves animals."

Noakes rarely on TV

[ image: Animal shows like Rolf's Amazing World Of Animals have become huge hits]
Animal shows like Rolf's Amazing World Of Animals have become huge hits
The shows were filmed last summer, and Noakes has now returned to his home in Spain, the subject of his last TV show seven years ago, Coast To Coast.

Although he was seen on the BBC during Blue Peter's 40th anniversary celebrations last year, his TV appearances since then have been rare. His voice has been used in commercials for Andrex toilet tissues featuring the famous puppy.

His former Blue Peter colleague Peter Purves has already made his name in animal-themed broadcasting, presenting the BBC's coverage of Crufts dog show and hosting a show on satellite and digital channel Discovery Animal Planet.

ITV is planning a raft of animal-themed shows in coming months, following the success of shows such as the BBC's Animal Hospital and Channel 4's Pet Rescue.

It includes a RSPCA-backed campaign to find homes for stray dogs from Battersea Dogs' Home and animal shelters around the country.

But Johnny Morris criticised current animal shows last year - dubbing Animal Hospital and Pet Rescue "exploitative", and BBC game show Pets Win Prizes "disgusting".

"It is enough to make you vomit. They are purely exploitative, money-making things which provide vehicles for people to watch animals who have suffered and are in distress," he said.

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