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Johnny Morris: Animal Magic

Think of Johnny Morris and instantly the BBC children's television series, Animal Magic, springs to mind, where this Welsh man famously worked as a presenter from 1962 until 1983.

Despite Johnny's natural ability to interact with animals in a way that captivated young audiences, his career extended beyond hosting Animal Magic.

Born in Newport on 20 June 1916, Johnny had a number of jobs before his big break came in 1946. While telling stories in a pub in Wiltshire, a radio producer, Desmond Morris, noted the natural talents of this raconteur and signed Johnny up for a BBC radio show.

After several years as a radio commentator and narrator, Johnny moved into television in 1953, where he told children's stories in The Hot Chestnut Man. Despite being Welsh, his natural ability to impersonate accents allowed Johnny to retell stories in a mainly west country accent.

Johnny's first association with animals came about in 1960 when he narrated a children's series entitled Tales of the Riverbank. This featured a group of animal chums, including Hammy the Hamster and Roderick the Rat. Around the same time, Johnny also narrated The Railway Stories by Thomas the Tank Engine creator, Rev. W. Awdry.

Animal Magic was arguably Johnny's career highlight, and for more than 400 episodes spanning over 20 years, he served as narrator and zookeeper to a range of animals, with scenes shot at Bristol Zoo. What made Johnny so unique as a presenter was the way he communicated and bonded with the animals, giving them their own human-like voice.

Some of the best episodes involved Dottie the ring-tailed lemur, Brolly and Cocky the cockatoos, and a sea lion called Gemini. Standout episodes include Johnny attempting to build a giraffe house with the aid of an unhelpful chimp, and his encounters with a boisterous gorilla. Many people will also fondly remember the show's theme tune 'Las Vegas'.

Although impressing human characteristics on animals was hugely appealing to youngsters, it became an unfashionable concept over time, leading to the eventual demise of the series. Despite this, Johnny resumed the role of zookeeper for a one-off special, The Magic Keeper, broadcast in 1998.

Many people regard Johnny Morris as the person who introduced a generation of children to the natural world and ignited Britain's love affair with animals. Fellow TV naturalist, Terry Nutkins, believed that it was Johnny's ability to understand humans and how they related to animals, and vice versa, that made him so successful in his role.

As well as his passion for animals, Johnny was a keen traveller and hosted his own travel series. He was also an active environmentalist and author and was awarded an OBE in 1984. Johnny also voiced animals that featured in the Creature Comforts electricity advertisements.

Shortly before his death in 1999, Johnny had been planning to star in a new ITV animal series, Wild Thing.

If you have a natural rapport with animals, like Johnny Morris, you'll appreciate that caring for their welfare is crucial. With the high-quality range of animal matting from Coruba, you can enjoy peace of mind that the animals you look after experience the highest levels of comfort.

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