The much-loved presenter of Animal Magic, Johnny Morris began a long and successful broadcasting career after being discovered by renowned BBC producer, Desmond Hawkins, as he regaled customers in a local pub with his stories. After his radio debut in 1946, Johnny became a regular voice on BBC West Country radio throughout the 1950s, commentating on local events and presenting his regular show, Pass The Salt.
His first appearance on television was as The Hot Chestnut Man (1953-61), a short children's slot where, from behind his chestnut barrow, he told a humorous yarn in a thick West Country accent. In Tales of the Riverbank (1960) his talent for animal mimicry became apparent and in 1962 he was approached to present the new BBC children's show Animal Magic.
An instant hit, Animal Magic was a lively, action-packed animal spectacular. Combining knockabout clowning with a gentle knack for storytelling Johnny adopted the role of 'Zookeeper Morris'. Including inserts of him in character in Bristol Zoo and later in other zoos around the country, Johnny helped to feed, bathe and look after a whole host of animals, adding voices to the soundtrack to mimic their reactions. Johnny's appealing manner made a star not only out of himself but many of his creature companions, with Wendy the elephant, Congo the chimpanzee and Dotty the ring-tailed lemur shooting to fame alongside him.
Hugely popular, Animal Magic ran for over twenty years, and was credited with providing a whole generation with a keener understanding of animals, their needs and personalities. However it was finally abandoned in 1983, when its anthropomorphic approach was deemed out-dated.
In addition to Animal Magic Johnny also presented a variety of BBC travel programmes including Ticket to Turkey (1960), Johnny Morris in Mexico (1968) and Oh, to be in England (1976). In 1984 he was appointed OBE, but in the 1980s and 1990s his television appearances became less frequent.
In The Magic Keeper (1998), a short silent film shown on Channel 4, Johnny's zookeeper character appeared for the final time. He died in 1999 while working on a new animal series, ITV's Wild Thing, and was buried along with his zookeeper's cap.