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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK


Friends mourn 'magic' Johnny Morris

Johnny Morris was an extremely popular television figure

Friends and colleagues of Johnny Morris have been paying tribute to his work as a naturalist and broadcaster.

The BBC's Nick Higham: "He capitvated generations of children"
Morris, who was 82, died in a nursing home where he was being cared for after collapsing with a mysterious illness in March.

He was probably best known as the star of the BBC's Animal Magic programme, which ran for 21 years and more than 400 editions.

Two generations of children were captivated by his rapport with the show's animal stars, including Dottie the ring-tailed lemur.

Before that, he had been the Hot Chestnut Man, telling children's stories on television for eight years. He was also known for his many travel programmes, including Johnny's Jaunts on radio and television.

TV comeback

TV naturalist Terry Nutkins, who worked with Morris on Animal Magic, said: "He was just, for want of a better word, a magic person.

[ image: Johnny Morris demonstrated against the building of the Newbury by-pass]
Johnny Morris demonstrated against the building of the Newbury by-pass
"He was very sensitive. He watched people very carefully and that was why he became so successful with the animals, because he watched people and he related people to animals and animals to people.''

Zoologist and fellow TV presenter Desmond Morris - who was not related to Johnny - said: "His humour was infectious and you simply couldn't help but enjoy yourself in his company.''

Peter Salmon, Controller of BBC One, said: "Johnny Morris was a TV pioneer.

"He created a style all of his own - a distinctive and unique voice which combined humour, humanity and insight. Generations of children simply enjoyed learning from him."

Former Animal Magic director Robin Hellier, now production director of the BBC's Natural History Unit, praised Morris as a "remarkable broadcaster".

"He had an intuitive understanding of animals and he managed to communicate his fascination for them and their behaviour in a unique style that will long be remembered and captivated generations of viewers, both adults and children," he said.


Johnny Morris, who was diabetic, was taken ill in March when he was about to star in a new animal series, Wild Thing, on ITV.

Filming for the new series was postponed when he collapsed at his home in Hungerford, Berks.

Morris, who lost his wife Eileen 10 years ago, was admitted to the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon for tests.

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

Animal Magic was dropped in 1984, when the idea of giving animals human qualities fell out of favour.

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