Monday, March 16, 2009

The Seventies Tribute to Tony Hart

I was born long ago, in the Year of the Unsuitable Panda, or 1971 as it's known by more humdrum but accepted calendars.

This means that, as a nipper, I was subjected to things that would be unacceptable for contemporary children. Amongst others, these things included going out unsupervised, eating bright blue things, playing with knives and buying your own fireworks with the sole (discretionary) warning of "Do NOT let off indoors!" which amused us for hours, as this was a euphemism for flatulence.

'Health' and 'Safety' were two separate, unrelated terms when I was being dragged up. The first described what you would get by staying outside for nine hours at a time, in the winter, with a jumper and mismatching woolly gloves you'd inherited from Auntie Gladys, who must have had two fingers and three thumbs judging by their fit.

"You've been playing Pong all day! Get some fresh air in your lungs." a concerned adult would say through clouds of cigarette smoke "It's healthy is that." And then they would slink back into the dark, orange-linoed recesses of a seventies abode, probably to make a drink and get ice out of a plastic container shaped like a pineapple.

The term 'safety' was typified by the act of not falling off the Witch's Hat in the playground. For those of you who don't remember, the Witch's Hat was a large conical frame that spun (span? spinned?) irregularly around a central greased spindle of wrought pig-iron:

The lowest point was about 15 feet off the ground, and the highest, which was the aim of every seventies child to get to, was somewhere in the ionosphere, just above the Golden Eagle eyries. You could see it in the clouds as solar winds caused aurorae to flicker around it's summit. Around the bottom were the broken and maimed bodies of friends and classmates who had failed to hold on as the speed got up, their cries drowned out by the ethereal metallic groan of the ill-maintained equipment.

At least, that's how I remember it. And Wagon Wheels were the size of real wagon wheels then.

Anyway, I digress. As a seventies child I was also influenced by the relatively new phenomenon of children's television. Admittedly, a lot of it was abject shite, and involved plummy voiced women telling stories about how children should just do what they were told, when they were told and life would be far more pleasant for everyone involved. Except, of course, the children.

Now and then though, there were shows which were universally lauded for their high standards, and one of these was 'Take Hart'. For the very young or those that are Britishly Challenged, this was a kind, gentle, genuinely pleasant show where an avuncular artist called Tony Hart showed kids how to draw, and then got them to send in their paintings where they were displayed in a segment cryptically entitled "Gallery".

That was it. And we all loved it. Just about everyone I knew sent in the odd piece to him, and then hoped it would be one of the eight hundred scrawlings that were shown as if they were valuable Constables. I never got on it, nor in fact did anyone I knew, but I think this was because I was from a mining town where crayons were in short supply and we had to make do with coal and dried dog shit.

And in the seventies, dog shit was white! You just don't see that anymore.

Take hart also introduced us all to the long-standing animated character of Morph, a shape-shifting plasticine man who lived in Tony's paint box.

Sadly, Tony Hart died in January, aged 83, and the level of tributes in the UK was touching, including this, where people made their own Morphs in remembrance of him.

Now, you can imagine my pleasure when I turned up to work the other day and found another seventies child wanted to remember Mr Hart, and had set up a Gallery of his own on the canteen wall. He had left a number of coloured pencils and some sheets of paper, and asked people to contribute in memory of the great man.

I thought this was a commendable idea as, not only did it honour an influential (sort of) character from our childhoods, but also allowed those of us that missed out on having a picture displayed on national telly in front of literally dozens of viewers, to momentarily correct that oversight. So, when my half-hour break came up, I diligently got scribbling, in an effort to represent the feelings of seventies children everywhere upon learning of Tony Hart's demise.

So, for your viewing pleasure, I present my effort. It's entitled "Morph's Scream" and is entirely uninfluenced by any other painting whatsoever:

RIP Mr Hart.


  1. I was born in that same iconic year, where making it to teen-age was more like a challenge than a goal. Regrettably, I am unfamiliar with Mr. Hart. Cool Picture of Morph though.

  2. One thing about which I am continually fascinated is the different phrases coined from the same language. "The Witches' Hat." Uhhmmpphh.

  3. A superbly penned look back at yester-year. I identified with so much of the things I had locked away in my mind.

    "..slink back into the dark, orange-linoed recesses of a seventies abode, probably to make a drink and get ice out of a plastic container shaped like a pineapple."

    Spookily real!

  4. Morph reminds me of a skit on Saturday Night Live called Mr Bill

  5. I am truly dumbfounded by your skill. I was useless at arty stuff at school so watched Vision On with ill-disguised grumpiness, knowing that my efforts would never grace their walls. Harrumph.

  6. we had the us version of the witches' hat where we played king of the mountain on the 'monkey bars'.

    nothing like getting pushed to the gravel off a twelve foot high steel structure....

    back in our day kids were allowed to (hell, even encourgaged to) play hard and get hurt....

    now at work they wont even let kids on the monkey bars 'just in case' someone might fall and sue, therefore rendering us all jobless and homeless...


  7. Yeah, it's true, playground equipment is entirely too safe these days. What happened to the little metal merry-go-round with maybe 3 bars to hang on to, that could get up to speeds of 60mph and cause you to either fly off into the abyss (shrubs) never to be seen again, or hold on for dear life as the g-force took your body and turned it horizontally as you held on to a bar for dear life??

    Kids today. They are entirely too safe.

  8. Kurt - It was an iconic year, wasn't it? We're icons, we are!

    Logistician - Is it a Euphemism in your neck of the woods? Like a Wizard's sleeve, maybe?

    Jimmy - Everyone had 'em, and now they're treated like antiques in posh shops.

    Neo - Can Mr Bill change shape to become whatever he wants, as long as it's brown?

    Mdme DeF - I presume you're using the term 'skill' in it's loosest possible sense.

    Miss A - In twenty years, the world will be populated by soft jessies whose first aid kits will have plasters and the numbers of lawyers in them, mark my words.

    Steamy Up Kid - G-force! That's what we spent every day trying to experience!

  9. I'm trying to remember if there was a children's program in the US similar to what you describe, but I can't recall one.

    Like you we were encouraged to go outside and play. "Don't you stray from home" was the stern warning we received but continually ignored. Sadly, that time is no more today as innocent childhod play is threatened with many dangerous hazards.


  10. U - Are times more dangerous though, or is it just that negative things are more reported by a hysteria-hungry media?

    Mind you, I'm sure I won't let my kid do half the things I did at the same age, unnattended, and I had pretty decent parents.

  11. I have a growing and worrying suspicion that Tony was keeping the pictures as a pension. Do you remember how they were "sorry that original pictures could not be returned"? Realistically, there's a Banksy, a Prince William and a Mick Jagger's daughter in that little lot. Now Hart's bought the farm, I think Morph's laughing all the way to the bank. But then I have been drinking all week.


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