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Last on

Fri 18 Feb 2011 11:00 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 18 February 2011

Johnny Morris became a household name thanks to the much-loved children's TV programme Animal Magic.

From 1962 to 1983 he created comic voices for the creatures which appeared on the show. In the 1970s he was joined by the then unknown Terry Nutkins, who'd been discovered working at a safari park and offered the role as Johnny's side-kick. Johnny became Terry's mentor and close friend; a friendship which lasted until Johnny's death in 1999.

Now, for this programme, Terry explores Johnny's life and work, and explains that what made him unique was 'Not Just Funny Animals Voices' but a colourful life and broadcasting career stretching back to 1946.

Terry revisits the Animal Magic studio for the first time in years and recalls how Johnny would offer him a small measure of gin from a flask he kept in his dressing room. It was Johnny's ways of calming his nerves.

Of course, one of the major events in Johnny's life was when Animal Magic ended in 1983. For the first time the man who axed that programme - the former head of the BBC Natural History Unit, John Sparks - speaks about making that decision and how he broke the news to Johnny.

Johnny was discovered by Desmond Hawkins (who founded the Natural History Unit). They met in their local pub where Johnny would hold court, spinning characterful yarns. Hawkins spotted his talent and asked him to write short stories for the Home Service.

One of his producers was Tony Soper, who tells Terry Nutkins about working with Johnny on radio programmes like Pass the Salt, and one-offs like a short film about a cormorant called Plapp. Johnny wasn't keen on Plapp because, according to Tony, Johnny only liked 'soppy animals'. Nevertheless they made the film, despite shooting it on a 'toy' camera which only recorded for 30 seconds at a time.

Tony also recalls working with Johnny on Animal Magic when it first began, and describes the tension between them - Tony wanted to make 'straight nat-hist' films and wasn't keen on Johnny's anthropomorphic approach. Of course it was this idiosyncratic style which led to Animal Magic being taken off air in 1983.

Also on the programme, Mirielle Farrow - a close friend of Johnny's - discusses his marriage to a much older woman and wonders whether his passion for cats was a substitute for never having children of his own.

Presenter: Terry Nutkins. Producer: Karen Gregor.

  • Terry in the old Animal Magic studio (now the home of a BBC local news prog)

    Terry in the old Animal Magic studio (now the home of a BBC local news prog)

  • Johnny & Tony Soper in the very early days of Animal Magic

    Johnny & Tony Soper in the very early days of Animal Magic


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