||THE STORY BEHIND ZOO TIME
Children's natural history series presented by Desmond Morris.
331 episodes of 30 minute duration. B&W. Granada Television 1956-1968.
Granada Television chief Sidney Bernstein had already pioneered a great many activities relating to films, cinema and television when, in the mid 1950s, he approached the Zoological Society with view to making a wildlife TV series aimed at children.
As far back as 1927 Bernstein had introduced Saturday morning film shows for children at the ten London cinemas he then owned. During the war, as advisor on films for the Ministry of Information, Bernstein was responsible for supplying films to European countries as soon as they were liberated by the Allies. He also built the first-ever television studios, in Manchester. Until then TV studios had been adapted from other premises.
Realizing the abiding interest in films about animal life, he instituted Zoo Time and other similar programmes and helped establish a unit at London Zoo to work for scientific as well as entertainment purposes. The film Table Manners, in the series Animal Story, won first prize at a Venice film festival. The narrator of that film, as well as many other programmes of a similar nature was Desmond Morris.
Desmond Morris had been interested in animals since childhood. At his Wiltshire home his parents allowed him to keep all the pets he liked without considering the 'nuisance value' to the rest of the household.
'Guinea Pigs especially intrigued me,' he said. 'I had nineteen when I was only seven and by my next birthday I was supplying a zoo at Oxford with specimens.'
He also kept fox cubs, lizards and toads, and even built himself a canoe so he could spend his holidays mooching around a nearby lake watching swans and fish breeding. In order to study them without disturbing the creatures he built a special apparatus for the job.
As he grew older he began to study medicine with the idea of becoming a doctor. But the Army intervened and by the time he had completed his National Service he had decided to go in for zoology instead, and took a degree at Birmingham, with animal behaviour being the subject of his thesis.
After spending two years studying birds at Oxford he applied for a job at the London Zoo. This just so happened to coincide with Sidney Bernstein's idea of a zoo based television show, and Morris was appointed the zoo's man in charge. His only assistant in those early days was his wife. Two years later the unit had grown to eighteen full-time staff members.
After presenting 'Zoo Time' for three years Desmond Morris gave up hosting the series to concentrate on other aspects of his career. He had recently been appointed the Zoological Society's Curator of Mammals, (a post he held for eight years) and was now looking forward to writing the first of a series of books on animal behaviour which were destined to become international best sellers. During this time he continued to script and present a number of television programmes both for Granada and the BBC.
He also became co-editor of the International Zoo Yearbook for its first four volumes (1959-1962). But it was as author of 'The Naked Ape' a frank study of human behaviour from a Zoologist's perspective that made Morris internationally renowned. Today it is estimated that 'The Naked Ape' has been translated into 23 languages and sold upwards of 10 million copies.
Desmond Morris has continued his career with great enthusiasm maintaining his interests in animal behaviour research, television programme and film-making. His other significant publications have included 'Manwatching, a Field-Guide to Human Behaviour' (1977), 'Babywatching' (1991), 'The Human Animal' (1994) and 'Peoplewatching' (2002). Notably significant television and film productions have also included 'The Human Race' (1982), and 'The Animals Roadshow' - which proved to be widely popular over a three-year run in the 1980s.
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