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.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable