Web Page 2088
14th September 2014
Top Picture: Johnny Morris
Second Picture: Terry Nutkins
Third Picture: The Hot Chestnut Man
This was a programme that ran not only through our childhood but continued on to run through our childrens childhood as well. This BBC children's television series ran from 1962 to 1983 and was broadcast from BBC Bristol. Originally it was a fortnightly programme but was so popular that from 1964 it was transmitted every week.
The presenter was and his charismatic style and genuine fondness for animals made the show an instant hit with children and adults alike. The show combined jovial voiceovers applied to various animals from Bristol Zoo with some basic educational features. Animal Magic was intended to teach children all about animals and their care in a fun and amusing way and to this end Johnny Morris always appeared dressed as a zoo keeper.
He had many co-presenters over the years including Gerald Durrell, Tony Soper, Keith Shackleton, Roger Tabor, Sheila Young, David Taylor and Terry Nutkins. When Terry Nutkins joined the show in the early 1980s, the producers tried to update it, using new video effects technology. This allowed them to do such things as "shrink" the presenters to allow them to see life from an ant's viewpoint, or to swim in a riverbed for example. Dottie the ring-tailed lemur appeared as a regular guest for eight years in the 1970’s. Much to Johnny Morris' anger, the show was discontinued in 1983 when it was thought the programme's treatment of animals was less than dignified.
The 100th edition was transmitted on 4 January 1967, eventually it ran for 21 years and for more than 400 editions.
Many editions of the show were junked by the BBC in the early 1990s when they were assumed to be of no further use making recent documentaries resort to using clips from off-air recordings of some shows.
The signature tune, "Las Vegas", performed by Group Forty Orchestra, was written by Laurie Johnson in 1962
Johnny Morris was born in 1916 and was a farm manager when he was talent spotted. BBC Radio Bristol producer Desmond Hawkins found Johnny one evening in a pub telling stories to the customers. He was quickly signed up as a storyteller and to cover local events. One of the many radio shows that Johnny presented in the 50's was Pass the Salt in which he tried out different jobs for a day, including that of a zookeeper.
In 1953 Johnny became the Hot Chestnut Man, reading stories on children's television. That job ended in 1961, just as the BBC was setting up its Natural History Unit. Remembering Johnny, Pat Beech, former News Editor of BBC West, hired him to present a new show called Animal Magic. She thought of the name because she thought children love both animals and magic.
Contrary to popular belief, Johnny Morris' Animal Magic outside broadcasts weren't always from Bristol Zoo Gardens. A number of zoos were used.
Johnny also narrated the Watch With Mother animal series Tales of the Riverbank.
During his career, Johnny presented various travel shows for the BBC, including Ticket to Turkey, Johnny Morris in Mexico, Johnny Morris North from Lion City and Oh, to be in England.
BBC bosses eventually axed the programme in 1982 because they considered it not educational enough. It was replaced with The Really Wild Show presented by, amongst others, Terry Nutkins.
Johnny Morris was an awarded an OBE in 1984.
Johnny returned as his zookeeper character one last time for the short silent film The Magic Keeper (broadcast on Channel 4, Christmas Eve 1998).
Johnny Morris died on 6th May 1999: Just before he was taken ill, Johnny Morris was hired to present Wild Thing for ITV. He had even completed some footage at Hampshire's Marwell Zoo. He was greatly looking forward to his return to TV but this was not to be.
Stay in touch
News and Views:
On this Day 14th September 1960-1965
On 14/09/1960 the number one single was Apache - The Shadows and the number one album was Down Drury Lane to Memory Lane - A Hundred and One Strings. The top rated TV show was No Hiding Place (AR) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 14/09/1961 the number one single was Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was First Mothercare shop opens in Surrey.
On 14/09/1962 the number one single was She's Not You - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Pot Luck - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 14/09/1963 the number one single was She Loves You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 14/09/1964 the number one single was You Really Got Me - Kinks and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 14/09/1965 the number one single was (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Rolling Stones and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.