Tributes to Britain's favourite art teacher

Tony Hart, whose work on TV made art accessible to children, has died aged 83
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Tony Hart, the illustrator who inspired generations of children to draw and then to share their efforts with the nation on his legendary television "Gallery", died yesterday after a lengthy illness.

The television presenter had spent 50 years fronting arts programmes including perhaps his most famous, Take Hart, which was accompanied by the animated Plasticine character, Morph. He had suffered two strokes in recent years and retired in 2001 due to illness.

Hart's agent, Roc Renals, said he died in the early hours of the morning. In a tribute to the artist, he said: "I was for many years his best friend, agent, manager and publicist. He suffered two strokes many years ago and his health declined since then."

Last year, Hart spoke about his sadness at not being able to continue drawing after the strokes left him unable to use his hands and virtually confined to a chair.

He admitted: "Not being able to draw is the greatest cross that I have to bear, for it has been my lifetime passion. But I endeavour to stay cheerful, as there is nothing to be done about my condition." Hart, who was 83, had been a Gurkha in the Army during the Second World War before enrolling at an art school in Maidstone, Kent.

He arrived in television arts programmes in 1952 almost by accident when, after an interview with a BBC executive, he happened to draw a fish on a napkin. The doodle sealed his fate and Hart became a resident artist on the Saturday Special programme.

Subsequent shows included Playbox, Vision On, and perhaps most famously, Take Hart, which he presented from 1978 to 1984, as well as Hartbeat.

He earned a place in the nation's affections with his infectious enthusiasm for drawing and painting. Children around the country were inspired to send in their pictures to his gallery wall in Take Hart, in the hope their work would be displayed. At the show's popularity peak, he received between 6,000 and 8,000 pieces of artwork per week.

When a fire ravaged Aardman Animations' warehouse in Bristol in 2005, destroying Morph, along with many other models, Hart wrote an obituary of his friend, saying: "He will clearly be sadly missed by his multitude of fans – and by me."

Hart also designed the original Blue Peter badge. In 1998, he won two Baftas, including a lifetime achievement award.

As well as demonstrating small-scale projects, Hart would make large-scale artworks on the TV studio floor and at times, use beaches and other open spaces as "canvases".

Rolf Harris, fellow artist and television presenter, described him as "a very gentle and talented guy", adding: "He brought huge creativity to his TV programmes Vision On and Take Hart, particularly using unexpected sources and materials.

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

Such was his popularlity among viewers of a certain age that tributes were yesterday being paid by his fans on the social networking website, Facebook.

One, Claire Thomas, wrote: "I am so sad! Watched Tony all of my life and a great inspiration for me to want to be an artist. Let's hope we get to see lots of the shows repeated – brilliant man."

Another, Gina Jackson, wrote: "You made mine (and many others') childhoods a happy one ... Thank you Mr Hart for that is something I'll always remember you by. RIP xxxxx."

Hart had served with the 1st Gurkha Rifles before his television career took off. Colonel William Shuttlewood, director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, of which Hart was a long-time supporter, said he regularly donated pictures to the Trust which were auctioned to raise substantial amounts for the charity.

"I am sorry he has gone. He was a lovely chap and was very keen to make sure we were supported properly," Colonel Shuttlewood said.