Terry Nutkins, the broadcaster and naturalist whose unruly hair and exuberant manner helped inspire a love of animals in generations of children, has died at the age of 66.
Nutkins, co-presenter of the BBC wildlife series The Really Wild Show and Animal Magic, died months after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
Colleagues and viewers paid tribute to Nutkins, whose childhood passion for the animal kingdom survived the loss of his two middle fingers which were bitten off by an otter when he was 15.
Nutkins became a household name after spending seven years on Animal Magic, working with the veteran wildlife presenter Johnny Morris, who controversially left most of his estate to his television protégé upon his death.
From 1986, Nutkins co-presented The Really Wild Show, alongside Chris Packham and Nicola Davies. The show, which sent presenters around the world to uncover rare natural phenomena, won three Bafta awards, but was axed by the BBC after 20 years.
Nutkins, a father-of-eight who was later seen on Growing Up Wild and Pets Win Prizes, went on to play a major role in the restoration of the historic Fort Augustus Abbey on the shores of Loch Ness.
John Miles, his agent, said Nutkins died at home in Scotland, adding: “He had fought for about nine months or so with acute leukaemia.” Nutkins had “fought many causes to make sure animals were looked after, and the environment in general,” Miles said.
The presenter Phillip Schofield tweeted: “So sad to hear of the death of Terry Nutkins. I worked with him often in my ‘broom cupboard’ days. A delightful man & passionate naturalist.”
Chris Rogers, the BBC News anchor and former Newsround presenter, said: “Terry was like a brother to me, and the public loved him unconditionally.” Ben Fogle, who presents nature programmes, said: “He was one of my childhood inspirations.”
Simon King, the wildlife film-maker, said: “Terry was a fun, ebullient and enthusiastic naturalist. He had a great love of animals and will always be remembered for that.”
Nutkins’ death was also marked by hundreds of tweets from nostalgic viewers, thanking him for inspiring a love of wildlife when they were children.
The Marylebone-born Nutkins’ fascination with animals began when he played truant from school and jumped into the elephants’ enclosure at London Zoo. He was able to befriend the mammals and impressed the surprised keepers.
The Ring Of Bright Water author Gavin Maxwell became his legal guardian when he was 11 and it was whilst under the care of the Scottish naturalist that Nutkins suffered the mauling by one of his otters.
A cult figure, who once required assistance when a giant tortoise snapped its legs around his hands whilst filming The Really Wild Show, Nutkins inspired a tribute from Tim Burgess, The Charlatans’ singer. He tweeted: “He kind of talked to the animals and rocked quite a hairdo too.” Ricky Gervais said Nutkins was a “thoroughly nice chap”.
In his later years Nutkins, who hoped Denis Waterman would portray him in a film about his life, proved unafraid to criticise his former BBC colleagues.
Sir David Attenborough was “a brilliant naturalist and he loves the planet, but I've always found his voice rather boring.” Bill Oddie was “a birdie man. He's not an all-rounder, bless him, but he does try.”
Steve Irwin, the Australian conservationist and “Crocodile Hunter”, who died in 2006 after being pierced in the chest by a stingray, made “animals display violence all the time” in order to produce “dreadful television.” Chris Packham, the BBC wildlife presenter, was however “a brilliant naturalist who can deliver with an authority which is very gentle.”