Koko Speaks No More

Koko, the western lowland gorilla best known to the public for mastering sign language, has passed away. According to the Gorilla Foundation, the 46-year-old Koko died in her sleep Tuesday morning.

Born at the San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day in 1971, Koko, originally called Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “fireworks child”), amazed and delighted caretakers, scientists, celebrities and the world at large through her ability to communicate via a modified form of American Sign Language (she was taught at an early age by Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson) and her empathy for people and animals alike.

The Gorilla Foundation said of their late charge, “Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.”

The incredible gorilla has been featured in print and on TV – including several PBS shows and documentaries. KOKO: THE GORILLA WHO TALKS aired in 2016 and I recall both KOKO’S KITTEN and A CONVERSATION WITH KOKO as titles from years past.

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A Brilliant Mind

He was born 300 years to the day after the death of astronomer Galileo and died on the birthday of Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking, one of the great minds of our time, passed away yesterday. He was 76.

While it may not seem Hawking was what one might call a PBS Personality, he was certainly a presence on our airwaves over the years in documentaries and biographies. His legacy is exceptional and PBS NEWSHOUR has a very nice obituary on this amazing theoretical physicist who was arguably one of the most famous and appreciated scientists of all time.

Former NOVA SCIENCENOW host Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted: His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.

[Note: UNC-TV will be airing the series GENIUS BY STEPHEN HAWKING starting April 17.]

Remembering Siegfried

I have just heard news of the death of Robert Hardy. Sadly, this is not current news as the beloved English actor passed away in early August. However, for whatever reason, I missed the notice. Still, I wanted to mention it because Hardy has had a long presence on UNC-TV.

Robert Hardy was born Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy in 1925 and he enjoyed a long career in theatre, film and television. The veteran performer may be best known to international audiences for his role as Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter film series but public broadcasting viewers will perhaps remember him most fondly as veterinarian Siegfried Farnon on the series All Creatures Great And Small, adapted from the books by James Herriot.

Aside from memorable guest appearances on many familiar programs (Lewis, Foyle’s War, MI-5, Inspector Morse, The Duchess of Duke Street), Hardy has also played roles on several series seen on Masterpiece including Elizabeth R (Robert Dudley), Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (Winston Churchill), Northanger Abbey (General Tilney), Middlemarch (Mr. Brooke) and Little Dorrit (Tite Barnacle [Sr]). He was also appointed a Commander of the British Empire in the 1981 Birthday Honours.

Robert Hardy died on August 3 at the age of 91.

RIP Peter Sallis (1921-2017)

It is with a heavy heart that I pass along the sad news of the death of Peter Sallis. The beloved actor will be best known to UNC-TV viewers as Cleggy on Last of The Summer Wine and to the world at large as the voice of the cheese-loving Yorkshireman Wallace in the Academy Award-winning Wallace and Gromit series. Continue reading

John Clarke (1948 – 2017)

Longtime UNC-TV viewers may recall a gem of a series called The Games which ran during the summer of 2000. The Australian import was a mockumentary about the planning committee for the Olympic Games in Sydney.

The series starred and was co-created and co-written by a man named John Clarke. I can guarantee that no matter how big a comedy fan you are, if you aren’t overly familiar with Australian television and pop culture, the name most likely doesn’t ring a bell. This is not to say the New Zealand-born Australian satirist/writer/comedian wasn’t a massive talent and much beloved in the land of the kangaroo and koala.

Check out this scene from The Games where an incredulous Clarke tries to comprehend why the 100-meter track isn’t exactly 100 meters…

John Clarke died of natural causes on Sunday while hiking in the Grampians National Park in Victoria, Australia. Since his passing, there’s been a massive outpouring of love, remembrance and appreciation from fans in his adopted land.

I just wanted to let you know in case you were a fan. If you weren’t a fan, there’s no reason you can’t (or shouldn’t) become one.

RIP Andrew Sachs (1930 – 2016)

He may be known for only one role – but oh, what a role!

Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel the waiter on Fawlty Towers, has died after a battle with dementia that left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak. Sachs, who was 86, passed away last week. His wife Melody, who cared for him throughout his long illness, said, “My heart has been broken every day for a long time.”

For fans of British comedy, there are few shows that evoke such fond memories as Fawlty Towers and the core cast of John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Polly Booth and Andrews Sachs was absolute perfection. Sachs’ befuddled Barcelonan even earned him a British Academy of Film and Television Arts nomination. The sad news of his illness and passing should not overshadow his fantastic legacy in the world of comedy and beyond.

RIP Gwen Ifill (1955-2016)

Sad news for the PBS family today. Journalist Gwen Ifill passed away from cancer Monday in hospice care. She was 61.

Gwen Ifill is well-familiar to PBS viewers, having been Washington Week moderator for over a decade and co-anchor of PBS Newshour since 2013.

In a statement on Ifill’s passing, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, President said, “Gwen was one of America’s leading lights in journalism and a fundamental reason public media is considered a trusted window on the world by audiences across the nation. Her contributions to thoughtful reporting and civic discourse simply cannot be overstated.”

UPDATE: The bulk of Monday night’s Newshour was devoted to Gwen Ifill. Very moving and very informative.