Nosheen Iqbal: The agony and the ecstasy of Tony Hart's Gallery

Submitting your finest childhood artworks to the mystifying quality control of the Hartbeat Gallery was a painful process. But nothing could compete with the joy of finally making the cut

I don't think anyone making it to the hallowed Gallery of Hartbeat ever managed to have their artwork displayed on first attempt. At least, it's what I (and my mum) told myself, aged seven, desperate to win a space on Tony Hart's wall and have my artistic genius televised to the nation. I say genius: it might more accurately be described as sheer bloody-mindedness.

Week in, week out, I'd be sprawled over newspapers on the dining room floor, channelling my inner Hart, watercolours and colouring pencils scattered everywhere, screwing up my nose as often as I did my drawings. And oh, the drawings. I made dozens. There was my Greenpeace phase – all rainforests and jungles and sad-looking portraits of endangered animals. Then there was the classic fruit in a bowl, flowers in a vase period; and, later, multiple scenes of domestic bliss: mum cooking, my birthday party, Eid celebrations with my family (the last featuring plenty of glitter and sequins filched from my party-clothes).

Maturing as an artist (now eight), I made tentative steps towards creating watercolour landscapes. I confess I wasn't so much inspired by Constable or Turner, more by what was getting picked up on the programme itself. At any rate, I began creating elaborately boring scenes from my bedroom window. An old people's home and a patch of manicured green? Just not good enough. But with Tony's gentle how-to demonstrations and advice, I persisted. I developed something of a flair for painting tiny people with ice cream, tiny people with dogs and tiny people generally being tiny against a backdrop of Peterborough's most dull suburbs. Still no Gallery appearance, however.

I eventually cracked it with a scene of sports day on the school playing field. Using a photograph from the school brochure – I made it more interesting by making up most of the detail – I spent at least a week recreating, rubbing out and perfecting the picture to Hartbeat standards. The tiny, painstaking details of hockey, football and hula hoops against splodges of green and an optimistically blue sky provoked a smile from my mum and bored disdain from my brother. After another long queue in the post office it was sent off. We waited. Then, finally, it happened: a letter from the BBC confirming the picture would appear (my mum remembers this bit; I'd forgotten it), then my very own moment of glory on live TV. My main memory is of endlessly rewinding the tape we recorded, wearing the picture down to fuzzy lines in the process.

Hart was a hero for me, and for countless children who discovered through his TV series that they too could be creative. There weren't enough gold stars in the world to compete with the giddy sense of achievement his seal of approval won.


Nosheen Iqbal

The GuardianTramp

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