ATV Icon: Jean Morton

As we approach the 10th anniversary of her death we celebrate one of ATV’s best-loved personalities…

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. She joined ATV, which operated London weekends and Midland weekday services on ITV, 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 hosted 15 epsiodes of Lunch Box alongside Jerry Allen and his TV Trio when regular host Noele Gordon was away, in the summer of 1959, and also co-hosted with Pat Astley the entertainment series Rainbow Rooms. (1957-58)

Jean 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.

Jean with Tingha and Tucker, the third and final set of puppets.

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 initially 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 boomerang which Jean would rub to make ‘things happen’ along with the words “Woomerang, Boomerang”.

With Pat Astley on Tingha and Tucker.

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 administrative nightmare as limited staff were unable to cope with the volume of mail the club received on a daily basis. Other puppets were added as the series went on including Willie Wombat and  Kiki the Kangaroo, to complement specially re-made, for television, Tingha and Tucker puppets.

There were, as well as the Sunday more religious offering of T&T, a couple of spin-off programmes including in 1964 For Teenagers Only which saw Jean and her gang host a music show with live acts, a ‘Top of the Pops with puppets‘ as one internal memo once called it. In 1967 ATV launched The Tree House Family which Jean invited young viewers to join Willie Wombat at his home in the trees where each week the Wombat family gathered to help her tell a story and, a year later, All Creatures Great and Small, which Jean was also noted as being a producer, again told stories connected to animals.

Jean’s children’s output wound up in 1970 and some puppeteers from the programmes would later work on The Muppet Show and take the likes of Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy to worldwide stardom.

Jean on the set of All Creatures Great and Small.

In the same year, Jean devised Friends and Neighbours, which was aimed at teenagers, and in 1972 launched Women Today as presenter and producer. This spin-off from the main news show ATV Today took a look at the world from a female perspective. Other producer credits included the 1967 Christmas special Village of Peace and religious series Women of the Bible, launched in 1974, which featured different performers acting out a story and Christmas special Somen of the Bible featuring Jane Seymour. (1974)

Between 1976 and 1978 she was the producer of Nurse of the Year series, hosted by Leslie Crowther.

Jean in the mid-1970s moved behind the screens, virtually full-time, with ATV working in an executive role. However, she did make occasional television appearances including one last return to children’s religious presenting with the 1976 series Children of the Bible.

Jean retired to Ibiza in the 1990s, 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, a few years after T&T ended staff noticed the puppets had ‘gone’ when they went to make an anniversary special.

Jean as host of Women Today.

Having been stored in a hallways cupboard at the ATV Centre the official line put out was ‘they must have been stolen’, however, scenery workers from the time revealed to us in 2016 that actually they’d been ordered to ‘clear’ the cupboards and Tinga and Tucker were destined for the skip – thankfully, some staff saved the lead puppets, if sadly not the rest of the gang. Tucker now resides in the ATV Network archive once more, Tinger remains with one of the former maintanence ATV crew.

Jean Morton died aged 91 in Lichfield on May 26th 2012 and her funeral took place on July 4th in Sutton Coldfield. In 2016 a DVD release containing the best of what survives of Tingha And Tucker was released by Network.

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