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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK


Naturalist who brought Animal Magic to millions

Johnny Morris: Delighted generations of children

Johnny Morris, man of many voices, reporter, entertainer, was probably best known as the star of the television programme Animal Magic, which ran for 21 years and more than 400 editions.

The BBC's Nick Higham looks back at the life of Johnny Morris
Two generations of children were captivated by Johnny Morris's rapport with the show's animal stars including, most memorably, Dottie the ring-tailed lemur.

As the presenter he adopted the persona of a keeper at Bristol Zoo and created a startling range of voices for each of the zoo's animals.

[ image: The Hot Chestnut Man]
The Hot Chestnut Man
He was also known for his many travel programmes, including Johnny's Jaunts on radio and television, Around the World in 25 Years on radio, and a television series, Oh To Be in England, in which he joined parties of tourists.

Johnny Morris was born in Newport, Gwent, in 1916. His first job was in a solicitor's office with a pay of 10 shillings a week. After spells as a timekeeper on a building site and a salesman, he eventually became the manager of a farm in Wiltshire, where his interest in animals developed further.

His first broadcast was in 1946, and before long he had a regular radio show, Pass the Salt, broadcast from the BBC's West Region.

Later he presented various travel programmes on radio and television. The television ones were always filmed without sound. Johnny Morris gave a perky, crisp commentary, and provided the supposed voices of the people shown.

His faithful companion was Tubby Foster - actually his producer Brian Patten. Together they went all over the world - to the Pacific, South America and, nearer home, down the Rhine and to France.

As the Hot Chestnut Man in the 1950s he brought to television the considerable narrative skills he had honed in radio. When he turned them to zoology, he transformed what had been a remote subject into one of TV's most popular genres.

[ image: He was always at ease with animals]
He was always at ease with animals
Other series followed, and he was soon in great demand for his narration skills too, on shows like Tales of the Riverbank. Morris said he learned as much from animals as about them.

Morris practised what he preached. Even in his eighties he was to be found demonstrating against the building of the Newbury by-pass near his home.

Animal Magic was dropped in 1984, when the idea of giving animals human qualities fell out of favour. Afterwards, Morris said that he was not really sad about it.

But he did not like the way the "whizzkids" were now running things and the fact that everyone was expected to have official qualifications.

He had none, indeed he claimed to have a mental age of seven, which was why, he believed, he could relate to children so well.

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