Johnny Morris, who spoke for the animals, dies at 82

JOHNNY MORRIS, presenter of television's Animal Magic programme, died last night at the age of 82.

After more than a decade of retirement, Morris was on the verge of a comeback when he fell ill in March. Two days after ITV announced that he would be co-presenting the series Wild Things, Morris collapsed at his home in Hungerford, Berkshire. The children's star, who was rarely afraid of voicing scathing opinions about modern children's programmes, had declared himself "delighted" at the chance to get back in front of the cameras.

"I always knew it would all come round again. It has," he said at the time. But filming for the new series had to be postponed when Morris, a diabetic, was admitted to Swindon's Princess Margaret Hospital for tests. He never fully recovered and had been in a nursing home up to his death.

Last night he was fondly remembered as a children's broadcaster from a different, more gentle age, a favourite uncle whose gift for narration had delighted youngsters for decades. The naturalist Terry Nutkins, who worked with Morris on Animal Magic, and remained a close friend, said last night: "He was, for want of a better word, a magic person. He was very sensitive, he watched people very carefully and that was why he became so successful with the animals, because he watched people and he related people to animals and animals to people. He will be a great loss."

Fellow presenter Desmond Morris added: "He had warmth which got across to children, and he used a technique which was rather like Disney in seeming to make animals talk." Peter Salmon, the BBC1 controller, described him as a "pioneer" who created a "style all of his own".

Animal Magic ran for 21 years and the BBC's decision to end it in 1983, when it still had seven million viewers, was like a "thunderbolt" to Morris. His fame revolved around his animal voices but his talents stretched much further, into music and story-telling.

He kept working right until the end, but his later years were occasionally blighted by bitterness at the broadcasting world he believed had passed him by.

A family wrangle over money and the loss of his devoted wife Eileen 10 years ago, after 45 years of marriage, had also brought extra sadness to his later years.

Born Ernest John Morris on 20 June 1916, in Newport, south Wales, he came from a family of story-tellers and, being the youngest of three, he found that if he wanted to be heard, laughter was a way of capturing an audience. He soon became involved with the local repertory company. "I was not so much stage-struck as wanting to show off," he said later.

At 17 he left Newport and headed for London but his first efforts ended in failure and he settled for a job as a Wiltshire farm manager, where he remained for 13 years. During these Second World War years he met Eileen, an elegant couture model, who was separated from her husband, and had been evacuated with her two small children to the country.

He wooed her with a string of onions, the only present he could find in those austere times, declaring himself entranced by her easy laugh. They remained devoted until her death in 1989 and, at her own request, he buried her beneath the shrubbery of their country barn.

Morris's first break came in 1946 when BBC Bristol asked him to use his talent for mimicry for funny stories at the end of news bulletins. During his career he entranced children in a variety of children's programmes but it was for Animal Magic that he will be best remembered. It was Morris's idea to present the programme as a zoo-keeper, complete with peaked cap. He used his gift to speak for zoo animals, finding an uncannily suitable voice for every beast from a llama to a chameleon. He was appointed OBE in 1983.

In his later years he became an outspoken critic of the new BBC regime, which he called "bonkers". Similarly, he hardly needed prodding into scathing dismissals of many other modern animal programmes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...