Tony Hart and I hear the tones of a lovingly polished xylophone reverberating smokily within my mind. Similarly I’m also presented with the mental image of a rather debonair, slightly effeminate uncle type figure smiling above a well turned cravat, waving a chisel shaped marker pen around nonchalantly in the air. That same marker pen would then be directed, both carelessly and lovingly, around a humongous sheet of coloured paper, conjuring out of nowhere the fabulous outline of a ballet dancing elephant in swimming trunks.
Forget Paul Daniels and The Great Soprendo – this was magic for me as a kid.
Tony Hart had a quality that few kid’s presenters these days even know exists. Johnny Ball had it. Even, dare I say it, Keith Chegwin had it. A genuine enthusiasm for the TV task in hand – for having fun – for engaging with children and extracting as much positivity from them as possible. There was never anything patronizing about Tony Hart. His “Gallery” was just as likely to feature a finger-painting by a kid with ADHD as a work of genuine art by a child genius.
There was never any pressure with Tony, either. Art was fun, to be enjoyed. Just give it a go. It doesn’t matter if you mess it up. Each week he’d roll out ideas for creating art work out of the most basic of household detritus. Yogurt pots, newspaper, plastic bottles – all the things that any kid could lay their hands on without much effort. Art wasn’t an elitist activity. It was for everybody.
I can recall my A level art teacher being rather scathing of Tony’s credentials one lesson – his contempt no doubt had it roots in the way Tony had attempted to popularize art and make it accessible for the masses. This wouldn’t do at all. Art was for the brave, for the special, for the tortured and for the worthy.
Not for kids with bottle top glasses and snotty noses.
Tony died over the weekend. 83 years old. Not a bad innings as it goes. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it today has responded with genuine sadness. It really is like losing a favourite uncle. When I think of Tony Hart I think of Morph (in the pic above), that defiantly hackneyed cravat, glorious summer holidays and that all too brief very childish belief that I could do absolutely anything at all – provided, of course, it required the use of a sheet of a A4 paper and a Stabilo Boss marker pen.
Thank you, Tony. You were a true gent.