Classic TV Revisited: Animal Magic

Animal Magic, hosted by Johnny Morris ran on BBC One from 1962 to 1983. Also involved were Terry Nutkins, Tony Soper and Gerald Durrell.

Quintessential kids’ animal show featuring the unique talents of Johnny Morris.

Why was it golden?
Johnny was a marvellous kind of Dr Dolittle who not only talked to the animals but for them with his distinctive burr. There was always a humorous flavour but he got a serious educational message across too. And who can forget the cha cha theme?

How did it begin?
BBC Bristol’s fledgling natural history unit decided to make a new kids’ show.

Why was Johnny Morris hired?
The ex-farm manager was already well known for presenting The Hot Chestnut Man in the ’50s and Tales Of The River Bank. In River Bank Johnny voiced the floating adventures of Hammy Hamster, Roderick Rat and their rodent pals.

What was it all about?
Each week Johnny Morris featured various animals, many of which were resident at Bristol Zoo.

How did it work?
Johnny gave the creatures human characteristics with a selection of voices.

Such as?
With a squirrel scampering around he would come over all breathy and say something like: “What’s this? Ooh, I’ll just have this nut.” Voices included timid spinsters, belligerent colonels and a tongue-tied suitor.

Who else was in it?
Apart from the animals, early shows featured naturalists Gerald Durrell and Tony Soper.

Anyone else?
Terry Nutkins who went on to make The Really Wild Show and Brilliant Creatures.

Was Terry all gold?
Yes, he was its wildlife expert. He once showed how to record insect noises with the immortal line: “I’m using a parabolic reflector, and that’s not a dirty word.”

Who were the animal stars?
Johnny Morris usually in zoo keeper’s uniform often had Dotty the ringtailed lemur crawling all over him?

Were there any whoopsies?
Not as far as I know. Johnny led an unblemished life with no stains on his character. Or uniform.

Was Dotty toilet trained?
No, Johnny kept him in check with the help of a pocketful of sweets with which she was rewarded for good behaviour.

What other creatures featured?
Do you remember Salty the seal, Wendy the elephant and Gemini the sea lion? No? Well, you must have been born too late.

Was it popular?
It ran for 21 years and 400 programmes.

Did something beastly happen?
Yes, BBC bosses decided it was too unscientific and axed it in 1983. Johnny Morris was devastated and condemned other animal shows such as Pets Win Prizes and Animal Hospital.

What happened to Johnny Morris?
Johnny died aged 82 in 1999, ironically just before ITV was due to revive his career in a new show Wild Things.

Distinguishing features?
Camp voiced animals; an educational show with laughs; that theme tune.

Do say:
“Johnny Morris was a TV legend loved by generations of children they don’t make them like that anymore.”

Do not say:
“Wasn’t Dale Winton great as the host of Pets Win Prizes?”

Not to be confused with:
Dr Dolittle, Animal Hospital, Black Magic, Brass Eye’s Chris Morris.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.