Tuesday, 2 December 2014
25 Animal Magic
First watched : Uncertain
Animal Magic came back for its latest run on Tuesday 25th November 1969. It had been going since 1962.
There's a popular misconception that presenter Johnny Morris was the real life keeper at Bristol Zoo who became a TV star through force of personality but that's not true at all. He had a varied career as a child musician, solicitor's clerk , building inspector and salesman before settling on a farm in Wiltshire. He made his debut as a humorous raconteur on BBC Radio just after the war and enjoyed a parallel career to his farming on regional radio in the 1950s. In 1960 he was engaged to narrate Tales of the Riverbank and Animal Magic followed two years later. Despite being 46 when it started and looking somewhat like a leathery old gnu, Morris immediately connected with TV audiences and the show was a success. His onscreen role might have been a fiction but he was confident in handling animals through his farming and the trick worked
I found it the most aggravating of programmes. Natural history was another early interest of mine and the paucity of factual content on the show ( at least during the period I was watching ) while Johnny did his Dr Dolittle thing was a constant source of frustration. The comedy was feeble and all the animals spoke with an undifferentiated West Country accent. I don't know exactly when I gave up on it but it was probably early on.
The series ran until 1983 when, in an early example of what you might call political correctness , it was axed because anthromorphism ( attributing human qualities to animals ) was deemed unethical. Morris didn't take it very well and never worked with the BBC again. An OBE in 1984 was little consolation. He busied himself with environmental work, did the odd voiceover for commercials and briefly re-surfaced to oppose the Newbury By-Pass but was generally out of the public eye. In the mid-90s he appeared on Mariella Frostrup's video review show to talk about a highlights tape ( although most editions of Animal Magic had been wiped ) and was still narky about the demise of the show. He was on the verge of a comeback with ITV in Wild Thing at the age of 82 when he died of diabetic complications in 1999.