Monday, 12 September 2016

Theme Time : David Owen Smith - Hartbeat

As a kid who loved drawing, one of my television heroes was Tony Hart (another was Rolf Harris, but the least said about him the better these days, obviously!) the artist and children's TV presenter. I just found him utterly fascinating to watch and extremely talented, and his series Hartbeat which ran for ten seasons from 1984 to 1993 was required viewing. 


Hart - and his plasticine pal Morph - had become famous for his previous series such as Vision On and Take Hart. Hartbeat was the 1980s incarnation and taught the children watching at home how to create works of art from everyday objects, as well as encourage their creative streaks. Broadcast on Fridays and later Wednesdays on CBBC, Hartbeat was incredibly popular, regularly garnering over 5 million viewers, which were some of the highest viewing figures for a children's programme.

Though the series continued with several of the features from previous Hart series, such as Morph and The Gallery, which saw viewers own artwork on display, Hartbeat was a conscious effort to update Hart's previous TV programmes for a 1980s audience. This is especially clear in the more modern (and still impressively striking) opening titles, which used rudimentary CGI and  was accompanied by David Owen Smith's energetic synthesised theme tune.



Accompanying Tony Hart in the series were several young female co-presenters, initially alternating between Margot Wilson, Joanna Kirk, Gabrielle Bradshaw, Alison Miller and Liza Brown. Each episode was set in what was meant to be Tony's studio and apartment and a narrative storyline structure was also introduced, generally revolving around a topic such as a broken computer, or Tony's birthday etc, with the bumbling caretaker of Take Hart Mr Bennett (Colin Bennett) usually creating havoc which Tony would later have to deal with during the closing credits. This comedic character was later replaced in the 1989 series by Amanda Swift's eccentric tealady Elvira Muckett, who called Tony and his female assistant "Mr and Mrs Hartbeat"



Hartbeat was the last major, long running TV series to feature Tony Hart, though he did continue to present projects such as Artbox Bunch in 1995 and 1996, and two series of Smart Hart in 1999 and 2000 (pictured below, with Kirsten O'Brien, this was something of a spin-off of the CBBC art series SMart that took over from Hartbeat in 1994 and was regularly hosted by O'Brien and the late Mark Speight) before retiring from TV in 2001. He died aged 83 in 2009.  



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