Tony Hart, inspiration for generations of children, dies aged 83

THE artist Tony Hart – who through his television programmes inspired generations of children to paint and draw – died yesterday at the age of 83. He presented shows including Take Hart and Hartbeat for 50 years before he retired in 2001.

Fellow artist and TV presenter Rolf Harris described him as "a very gentle and talented guy".

He said: "Tony brought huge creativity to his TV programmes, particularly using unexpected sources and materials.

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"He enthused and inspired a whole generation of kids into creating their own works of art, simple or complex."

In recent years, Hart had suffered health problems including two strokes. His family said he died peacefully.

His agent and friend, Roc Renals, said Hart had recently been taken to a hospital in Surrey with a chest infection.

"Thousands and thousands of young people who are now grown up will thank him for inspiring them to take up art," he said.

"His genius was that for all those many years, every programme had some sort of new technique. He worked tirelessly."

Hart served in the army and painted murals on restaurant walls for free meals before moving into television. His big break came in 1952 when he met a BBC children's TV producer at a party.

Invited to an interview for a job as a television illustrator, he was asked if he could quickly draw a fish blowing bubbles.

"His secretary took too long finding a piece of paper, so I drew the fish on a serviette. The producer was impressed, and I was hired as a freelance," he recalled in an interview.

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He was given a job on Saturday Special and then worked on Playbox, Titch and Quackers and Vision On.

He won a Bafta in 1984 for perhaps his best known programme, Take Hart, in which he would create small and large artworks from scratch and display the best viewers' contributions in a feature called The Gallery.

He was joined on screen by a Plasticine character, called Morph, and Mr Bennett, a janitor played by the actor Colin Bennett.

Through Morph, Hart was also instrumental in the early success of Aardman Animations, creators of the Oscar-winning adventures of Wallace and Gromit.

The company was set up by students David Sproxton and Peter Lord, but only went full-time when they created the character of Morph for Take Hart.

A spokesman for the company said last night: "It's a very, very sad day. Without that programme and without Morph, there would be no Aardman."

Born in Maidstone, Kent, in October 1925, Hart began drawing as a young boy. He would sketch clocks on the backs of envelopes saved for him by his mother.

After leaving Clayesmore School in Dorset, he joined the 1st Gurkha Rifles before deciding to leave the army after the war to become a professional artist.

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Illness forced his retirement in 2001 and a subsequent series of strokes robbed him of his ability to draw.

Hart, who lived near Guildford, Surrey, recently said he continued to receive many messages from people all over the world.

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