For a generation of children Jean Morton was simply ‘Auntie Jean’ of the popular ITV children’s programme Tingha and Tucker. Jean also hosted many other programmes from ATV in Birmingham before taking on an executive role behind the scenes in the mid-1970s.Jean, born in 1921, began her ITV career at its very beginning joining ATV from its inception working primarily in the Midlands region as one of the original four continuity announcers alongside Shaw Taylor, Arthur Adair and Peter Cockburn. She also worked in the news department reporting and anchoring ATV Midlands Newsday. The launch of Tingha and Tucker, which eventually brought her national fame among children happened quite by chance.
While in her role as one of the Midland stations continuity announcers she had been sent in by a viewer two toy koalas in 1962 which appeared on screen as part of a time-filler between programmes and the instant response from viewers saw Australian producer Reg Watson – who went onto create soap opera Neighbours – suggest a short children’s programme based around the koalas and Jean.
After seeking approval from the schedulers Tingha and Tucker hit initally the Midlands ITV schedules five days a week later airing across the whole of the network and a more religious based version on Sundays. The theme tune, Over the Ricketty Bridge, was composed by Tony Hatch of Crossroads, Emmerdale and Neighbours fame. The show also involved a special magical boomarang which Jean would rub to make ‘things happen’ along with the words “Woomerang, Boomerang”.
Auntie Jean and her furry friends proved so successful ATV Network set up a fan club for the show, within its first few days 750,000 members had signed up for their badge and boomerang. The club ultimately proved too much of an administration nightmare as limited staff were unable to cope with the volume of mail the club received on a daily basis. The show ended shortly after in 1970, but not before it had expanded to have a wide range of puppets, including characters such as Willie Wombat and Kiki the Kangaroo, to compliment specially re-made for TV Tingha and Tucker puppets. Some puppeteers from the show would later work on The Muppet Show and take the likes of Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy to worldwide stardom.
Jean continued to work on-screen for several years in the 1970s hosting a number of lifestyle and features series such as Women Today. She later moved behind the screens with ATV working in an executive role. Jean retired to Ibiza, but returned to Birmingham a couple of years ago where she would often attend ATV staff reunions. Sadly her famous koala co-stars have never made it to such events as they were stolen not long after production on the show ended. One former ATV staff member recalled the puppets from the show didn’t have a proper storage area and were always left in a unlocked metal cupboard in the hallway outside the studio door.
Below its back to the early days of Tingha and Tucker as Auntie Jean take an away day to Blackpool.
Jean Morton died aged 91 in Lichfield on May 26th 2012 and her funeral took place today in Sutton Coldfield.