The blogosphere has noted the passing of a number of film and television stars recently, especially Patrick “The Prisoner” McGoohan and Ricardo “Khan” Montalb√°n. Also passed away recently are John Mortimer, the author of the Rumpole series of novels, and the man who played the Robot in the Lost in Space series.
One other television star passed away this week, and some bloggers may be forgiven for not hearing about it. However, I’m pretty certain that the bloggers I know — especially the ones who blogged about the passing of McGoohan and Montalban, will recognize the name: Tony Hart.
Tony Hart was a British artist who brought a love of art to children’s television, especially in the groundbreaking series Vision ON. This series, which was produced by the BBC but appeared on the CBC and TV Ontario through the 1970s, was tailored for deaf and hearing children alike, and was an ecclectic combination of art, mime and general fooling around while at the same time having an educational experience. The presenters would use sign language while speaking. Each show would have themes, and segments would jump about, drawing pictures or building sculptures one moment, to photo montages about the word or the letter or the theme of the day.
Hart’s specialty, although he was talented on all fronts, was to design big art pieces that could only be fully appreciated looked down at from above. He’d draw these using pavement paints, or rakes on a sandy beach. This approach has been mimicked in shows since, like Art Attack, now showing on TV Ontario.
I managed to land a copy of a few of these episodes, and one thing that impressed me most was the definite modernist style of Hart’s works. Whereas children’s art shows today like Finger Tips are interested in creating useful art, Hart’s pieces were often surreal, sometimes just shapes, sometimes fun little cartoons, and once a sweeping sculpture of woven string. Art didn’t have to be anything, it didn’t have to do anything, it just was.
Tony Hart appeared in other shows straight into the 1990s, and he continued to draw until a series of strokes robbed him of the use of his hands in 2006. He greatly appreciated hearing from his fans, including a number of professional artists, who told him that he was the reason they became artists. For me, Hart’s artistic endeavours didn’t take, but Vision ON was an important part of my childhood. It made learning fun, and some of the surreal imagery stayed with me, and I think may have infected my writing.
Tony Hart died peacefully on the morning of January 18, 2009 at the age of 83. He is survived by his daughter Carolyn and two grandchildren.
Hat tip to Nyder’s Takeaways.
P.S.: Does anybody know the name of the trumpet piece that they always closed the show with? Anybody?