Monday, 19 January 2009

Tony Hart (1925 - 2009)

There was a time when presenters on children's television were all demonstrably adults. Nowadays, children are plucked straight from truanting down Shepherds Bush market, given an even worse haircut and some achingly trendy t-shirt, and stuck in front of TV cameras. The programmes they present treat children like idiots because the people who present them are idiots, and the overall effect is of one great morass.

It was not always thus, which brings us on to Tony Hart. In the glorious days before society in general and TV companies in particular decided to make a virtue of being stupid and useless, Tony Hart presented a series of long-running art shows for children on the BBC. In fact, his career spanned much further back than I thought it did, a testament to the fact that he never came across as being "that old bloke on the telly". Enthusiastic and encouraging without being patronising, adroit and authoritative without ever being patrician or preachy, Hart bestrode arts programming for children for thirty years.

Eventually, of course, he began to look like an anachronism as the schedules around him filled up with identikit presenters a quarter of his age, whose entire personality was contained within their wardrobe. His last programme - Hart Beat - was cancelled to make way for SMart, a programme with no ostensible differences in format to its forbear - and, indeed, that Hart himself contributed to in part until 2001 - other than the fact the presenters now boasted the combined artistic talent of a shoe. But this was the brave new world of the 1990s, where being more or less incapable of the thing you were supposed to be able to do was the new trend, and no-one noticed. Meanwhile, on ITV, Art Attack was breezy, colourful and full of invention, but it was never able to strike the same blend of enthusiasm and ability as any of Hart's groundbreaking shows.

Tony Hart made the news last autumn, revealing that after a series of strokes, he had lost the necessary control in his hands to draw any more. In an article in The Times, however, he refused to gripe on in oh-woe-is-me fashion, choosing to use the forum to get people excited and enthused about giving art a try. Such greatness of spirit was very much the mark of the man. Most children of my generation - and several before - grew up watching Tony Hart's programmes. Many of them owe people like him and his great contemporary, Rolf Harris, a huge debt of gratitude for opening doors to them. People like me, who still plug on with drawing despite the fact our short trousers barely fit any more, probably more so than anybody.

Thank you, Tony Hart.


Chris O 19 January 2009 at 19:57  

Amen to all that.

What I loved about Tony Hart's programmes (of which 'Take Hart' was my favourite) was that he'd formulate a picture or collage without uttering barely a word. They'd just play some pleasant music in the background and that was all that was required. He didn't see the need to babble on about what he was doing at every stage, and when he did talk, he was engaging and informative.

There'll be many a person of a certain age like us who feel considerably sadder for the passing of Tony Hart, and with good reason. He knew his subject well, he conveyed that succinctly on TV and he demanded everyone's love and admiration. Truly a great combination.

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