Broadcaster and wildlife expert Terry Nutkins, who was familiar to millions of TV viewers as a presenter on Animal Magic and The Really Wild Show, has died aged 66.
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The father of eight, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, died on Thursday.
Nutkins spent seven years as one of Johnny Morris’s co-presenters on teatime children’s favourite Animal Magic, which ran on BBC1 from 1962 to 1983.
When Animal Magic ended, Nutkins became one of the founding co-presenters of The Really Wild Show, along with Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, staying with the show from 1986 until 1993. It remained on Children’s BBC until 2006.
Nutkins’ agent, John Miles, said he died at home in Scotland on Thursday, adding: “He had fought for about nine months or so with acute leukaemia.”
Instantly recognisable by his bald pate and unruly long hair, Nutkins had the top joints of two of his fingers bitten off by an otter when he was 14.
He told the Guardian in 2006: “I had gangrene quite badly. I can remember the smell now.” He reportedly told doctors: “Chop ‘em off, doctor. That ruddy lot’s no good to anyone.”
He returned to television in 2009 on BBC3 show My Life as an Animal, in which he helped volunteers who wanted to get close to animals by living and rolling around in the mud with them.
But it was his time on Animal Magic, and later The Really Wild Show, which he also devised, for which viewers of a certain age will remember him.
Morris, who died in 1999 and left virtually his entire state to Nutkins, was the second big mentor in his life after naturalist Gavin Maxwell, with whom he went to live aged 12 in the Scottish Highlands.
Before that he had a Saturday job at the elephant enclosure at London Zoo, helping to put the animals to bed at night.
He recalled last year: “It all came about after one day I decided I didn’t want to go to school, so instead I crossed Regent’s Park, climbed over the fence of the zoo and ended up near the elephant enclosure. That’s when my love of animals was completely confirmed.
“The keepers … liked my enthusiasm and cheek, and so I learned all I could from them, about some of the most dangerous animals in the world.”
“I had this instinctive bond with these animals,” he told the Guardian. “I used to go home at night and when I went to bed, I didn’t wash my hands because I liked to smell the elephants on them.”
Of The Really Wild Show, he said: “Children watch other children. If you could see the joy on their faces when I was holding a lion cub up to the child’s face, it was just magic. I felt that warmth going out to the audience and coming back. I’m still classed as the ‘Really Wild man’ by 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds.”
Nutkins also tried his hand at running a hotel and was instrumental in the restoration of the historic Fort Augustus Abbey on the shores of Loch Ness.
There were no shortage of tributes to Nutkins on Twitter. Former Children’s BBC presenter, Phillip Schofield, said: “So sad to hear of the death of Terry Nutkins. I worked with him often in my ‘broom cupboard’ days. A delightful man & passionate naturalist.”
Radio 1 DJ Greg James said: “So sad to hear about Terry Nutkins. What an absolute icon. Him on TV was my childhood.” Ricky Gervais wrote: “RIP Terry Nutkins. Animal lover and thoroughly nice chap.”
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