Thursday 2 October 2008

Tony Hart

Believe it or not, dedicated readers, but there was a time when presenters on children's television were all demonstrably adults. Nowadays, children are plucked straight from truanting down Shepherds Bush market, given an even worse haircut and some achingly trendy t-shirt, and stuck in front of TV cameras. The programmes they present treat children like idiots because the people who present them are idiots, and the overall effect is one great morass of old tits.

It was not always thus, which brings us on to Tony Hart. In the glorious days before society in general and TV companies in particular decided to make a virtue of being stupid and useless, Tony Hart presented a series of long-running art shows for children on the BBC. In fact, his career always spans much further back than I think it does - he is now 83 years old - principally because he never came across as being "that old bloke on the telly". Enthusiastic and encouraging without being patronising, adroit and authoritative without ever being patrician or preachy, Hart bestrode arts programming for children for thirty years.

Eventually, of course, he began to look like an anachronism as the schedules around him filled up with dismal, dreary, one-dimensional tossers whose entire personality was contained within their wardrobe. His last programme - Hart Beat - was cancelled to make way for SMart, a programme with no ostensible differences in format to its forbear, other than the fact the presenters now boasted the combined artistic talent of a shoe. But this was the brave new world of the 1990s, where being more or less incapable of the thing you were supposed to do was the new trend, and no-one noticed. On ITV, Art Attack was breezy, colourful and full of invention, but you could never get past the fact that, in Neil Buchanan, it too had a presenter who was entirely inadequate next to the shining example of Tony Hart.

Tony Hart made the news this week, as he revealed that, after a series of strokes, he has lost the necessary control in his hands to draw any more. In an article in The Times, however, he refused to gripe on in oh-woe-is-me fashion, choosing to use the forum to get people excited and enthused about giving art a try. Such greatness of spirit is very much the mark of the man. Most children of my generation - and several before - grew up watching Tony Hart's programmes. Many of them owe people like him and his great contemporary, Rolf Harris, a huge debt of gratitude for opening doors to them. People like me, who still plug on with drawing despite the fact our short trousers barely fit any more, probably more so than anybody.

So, thank you, Tony Hart.


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