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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain