Cheryl Tipp pays tribute to Terry Nutkins.
It was during a casual, mid-afternoon trawl through Twitter that I heard about the untimely death of Terry Nutkins at the age of 66. That one tweet instantly transported me back to my parents’ living room where I used to sit glued to the TV after school, watching Terry along with his co-hosts introduce the wonders of wildlife to me. And I’m sure I’m not alone. ‘The Really Wild Show’ was an absolute gift to any young schoolchild interested in the natural world. Terry had such a natural enthusiasm for the subject and, combined with his obvious warmth, cheeky grin and extensive knowledge, made this programme a huge success and inspiration. It comes as no surprise that during his seven year involvement with the show, it scooped no more than three BAFTA awards for best children’s programme.
‘Animal Magic’ was a bit before my time, but it was this show that introduced Terry to broadcasting and the viewing public. The show’s presenter, Johnny Morris, first met Terry at Woburn Zoo, where he was working at the time, and impressed by his natural affinity with animals, invited him to work on the show. Terry already had a longstanding relationship with zoos, having regularly skipped school as a child to help out the keepers at London Zoo. Skipping school can mean a one way ticket to the dole line for some, but in Terry’s case this obviously wasn’t going to be an issue.
As a teenager he was based in the Scottish village of Sandaig with ‘Ring of Bright Water’ author Gavin Maxwell, who later became his legal guardian. Losing the tops of two fingers to one of Maxwell’s otters did nothing to dispel his fascination with animals. His love of wildlife was so deep routed and firmly integrated into his person that nothing could ever change this.
Terry last appeared on our screens earlier this year, when he appeared in the BBC’s ‘Winterwatch’ programme. Though already diagnosed with acute Leukaemia, Terry refused to let that stand in his way, determined to carry on his career and fight his way through. Despite his bravery, Terry finally succumbed to his illness on Thursday 6th September.
For me, Terry will forever remain a memorable and inspirational figure from my childhood. ‘The Really Wild Show’ showed children around the country that wildlife was cool, amazing, fun, and endlessly fascinating. He helped nurture my love of wildlife, even through the TV screen, and without people like him, I wonder whether I would have gone on to study Zoology at university? Perhaps not.
As well as his family and friends, Terry leaves behind a whole generation of thirtysomethings who loved him and are really sad to see him go.
Terence Paul Nutkins, television presenter and naturalist, 12 August 1946 – 6 September 2012