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A Hart full of passion for children's art.

Byline: Carolyn hitt

SO farewell to Tony Hart, the man who made our generation believe we could be proper artists with our masterpieces displayed in that most prestigious of places - Vision On's Gallery.

As iconic achievements of the '70s go, exhibiting in Vision On exceeded a Blue Peter badge or a successful swap with Noel. At its peak, 12,000 hopeful children a week were sending in their artistic efforts to The Gallery. Even if we weren't fortunate enough to get our fibre-tipped magnum opus on the telly with Tony, it still fired our ambition.

We would sit on the settee when the gallery sequence began - accompanied by its rather surreal jazz soundtrack - and squawk uncharitable remarks about those who had made the grade. "I could do better than that," we pouted. Or a gleeful: "That's rubbish for an eight-year-old." And occasionally a reluctant admission that we were in the presence of a 13-year-old pen-and-ink genius: "Fair play, that's good mind, innit..."

This was the pre-Timmy Mallett era, before children's television presenters believed the only qualities necessary were being loud in word and clothing for they were surely just preaching to an audience with attention deficit disorder.

But even in our quainter times, there was something wonderfully old-fashioned about middle-aged Tony, with his gentle voice and kindly manner.

He was more like a much-loved teacher than a television star.

Indeed, his only concession to showbiz was the odd jaunty scarf or colourful cravat.

His sidekick was a small naked man made of Plasticine, yet despite the occasionally irritating presence of Morph he never patronised his audience. He had an approach which has defined the best broadcasters over the years - an infectious delight in his subject and a respect for the intelligence of his viewers.

His winning style was honed through a long career - Hart was a stalwart of children's art programmes for almost 50 years.

During World War II, he had been an officer of the 1st Gurkha Rifles before starting a course at the Maidstone College of Art.

His television break came after a chance meeting with a BBC producer in 1952, in which he impressed with a quick sketch on a paper napkin.

He started out as an illustrator on Saturday Special before the shows that were built around his own talents, Vision On, Take Hart and Hart Beat.

It was sad to hear that the strokes he suffered in his later years left him unable to use his hands and confined him most days to his chair.

In an interview in 2008 he said: "Not being able to draw is the greatest cross that I have to bear, for it has been my lifetime passion.

But I endeavour to stay cheerful, as there is nothing to be done about my condition."

Right until the end, fans continued to leave messages on his website describing how he had inspired their own creativity.

There was even an online gallery, for those of us who did not get our pictures on the telly first time round.

Given the tough times he endured in recent years it would be nice to think Hart knew the impact of his legacy.

We loved drawing for him, let's hope he drew some comfort from the knowledge he has passed his "lifetime passion" on to thousands of children.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 19, 2009
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