Norman Antony Hart
15 October 1925
Maidstone, Kent, England
|Died||18 January 2009 (aged 83)|
Shamley Green, Surrey, England
|Occupation||Artist, television presenter|
|Service/||British Indian Army|
|Years of service||1943-47|
|Unit||1st Gurkha Rifles|
Norman Antony Hart (15 October 1925 – 18 January 2009) was an English artist, best known for his work in educating children in art through his role as a children's television presenter. Hart initially worked as an officer in a Gurkha regiment until the start of Indian independence, whereupon he became involved in children's television from the 1950s, working on Blue Peter for a few years before fronting a series of children's art programmes, including Take Hart and Hartbeat.
His contributions to children's television include the design of the ship logo used by Blue Peter and the show's badges, and the animated character of Morph, who appeared beside him on his programmes following his introduction in the 1970s.
Hart left school in 1943 and wanted to join the Royal Air Force, but as he would have been unable to fly owing to slightly deficient eyesight, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the British Indian Army instead where he gained an officers' commission in the 1st Gurkha Rifles. However, when he was told that lower-ranked British officers would be replaced by Indian officers following Indian independence, he decided to return to civilian life. The outbreak of the Korean War (25 June 1950) saw him being re-commissioned in the Territorial Army, attached to the Royal Artillery, from 23 November 1948 to 1 July 1950.
After being demobilised, Hart decided to become a professional artist and studied art at Maidstone College of Art, which later became Kent Institute of Art & Design (and is now the Maidstone campus of the University for the Creative Arts). He graduated in 1950 and, after working as a display artist in a London store, became a freelance artist.
Hart's break into broadcast television work came in 1952, after his brother persuaded him to attend a party where he met a BBC children's TV producer. After an interview, in which Hart drew a fish on a napkin while the producer was looking for paper, Hart became resident artist on the Saturday Special programme. Subsequent TV shows included Playbox (1954–59), Tich and Quackers, Vision On (1964–76) Take Hart (1977–83), Hartbeat (1984–93), Artbox Bunch (1995–96) and Smart Hart (1999–2000). From the 1970s, he often appeared alongside the animated Plasticine stop-motion character Morph, created by Peter Lord of Aardman Animations.
Hart was a regular face on the BBC children's programme Blue Peter in the 1950s and presented a number of programmes in 1959. Richard Marson's book Blue Peter: Inside the Archives lists Hart as a presenter in November 1959 but he is not officially listed as a host. As well as demonstrating small-scale projects (the type that viewers might be able to do), Hart also created large-scale artworks on the TV studio floor, and even used beaches and other open spaces as 'canvases'.
A regular feature of Hart's TV shows was The Gallery, which displayed artworks (paintings, drawings and collages) sent in by young viewers. One of the pieces of easy-listening vibraphone music accompanying this feature—"Left Bank Two", composed by Wayne Hill and performed by The Noveltones—has passed into British TV theme lore. This was first introduced in the show Vision On. Hart also created the original design for the Blue Peter badge, also used as the programme's logo. He originally asked for his fee to be paid as a royalty of 1d (one pre-decimalisation penny) for each badge made, but was offered a flat fee of £100 (equivalent to around £1,600 at 2006 rates). The badges are famous throughout the UK and have been coveted by successive generations of Blue Peter viewers.
Hart received two BAFTA awards. His first, for Best Children's Educational Programme, came in 1984 for Take Hart, and he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. He retired from regular TV work in 2001.
Hart met his wife, Jean Skingle, while working in television; they married in 1953. They were married for 50 years until she died in 2003. They had a daughter, Carolyn, and two grandchildren.
On 28 December 2006, it was announced during the reunion programme It Started with Swap Shop that Hart was in poor health, though this was not elaborated upon until an interview with The Times published on 30 September 2008, revealing that two strokes had robbed him of the use of his hands and left him unable to draw. He described this as "the greatest cross I have to bear". Hart died peacefully on 18 January 2009 at the age of 83.
On 1 March 2009 a flash mob, organised through Facebook, paid tribute to Hart with around two hundred Morph figures displayed outside the Tate Modern art gallery. Hart's daughter, Carolyn Ross, attended and judged the "Best Morph in Show".
A memorial plaque is displayed in Hart's birthplace, the town of Maidstone, where he studied art at the town's art college. The plaque was unveiled by his daughter in May 2009 at the Hazlitt Arts Centre.
In February 2015 a wave of tributes (followed by corrections) appeared on social media sites over a period of two days, when an individual mistakenly read a 2009 report of Hart's death and, missing the dateline, published it as news on Facebook, from which it was later transferred to Twitter. Many social media posters hyperlinked to an article in The Guardian. The newspaper published a graph of the number of readers referred to its article for the period. Aardman Animations used its Twitter account, in the name of Morph, to point to a tribute to Tony Hart (a portrait of him being hung on a wall) that was included in the last episode of its forthcoming new set of episodes for the Morph television series.
- Debrett's People of Today 2008, Debrett's Peerage Ltd, 2007.
- "Tony Hart". The Daily Telegraph. London. 18 January 2008. Retrieved 18 January 2008.
- "Tony Hart reveals his drawing secrets". The Times. London. 30 September 2008.
- "All you ever wanted to know about Tony Hart". Tony Hart official website. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
- "No. 38543". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 February 1949. pp. 940–941.
"No. 39036". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 October 1950. p. 5017.
- "Television career at a glance". Tony Hart official website. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
- Hayward, Anthony (20 January 2009). "Tony Hart: Inspirational artist and television presenter". The Independent.
- "UK | A bit of vibraphone nostalgia". BBC News. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
- "The Noveltones". De Wolfe Music. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
- "All you ever wanted to know about Tony Hart (page 2)". Tony Hart official website. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
- "TV presenter Tony Hart dies at 83". BBC News. 18 January 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
- "Funeral for TV artist Tony Hart". BBC News. 29 January 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- "Army of Morphs remember Tony Hart". BBC News. 1 March 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- "Tony Hart memorial gets approval". BBC News. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- "Memorial unveiled for TV artist". BBC News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 31 May 2009.
- Ross, Carolyn (2 September 2011). "Tony Hart, the tortured genius". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- Rawlinson, Kevin (16 February 2015). "Reports of Tony Hart's second death are greatly exaggerated". The Guardian.
- "How Tony Hart was mourned twice on Twitter". BBC News. 16 February 2015.
- Wells, David (16 February 2015). "How tributes to the late TV artist #TonyHart – six years after his death – reveal the short-term memory of social media". Western Morning News.
- Official site
- Obituary, The Times, 18 January 2009
- Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2009
- Obituary, The Guardian, 19 January 2009
- Interviews: Tony Hart at B3TA
- "A fond farewell to Morph" at The Guardian
- Tony Hart on IMDb