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Desmond Morris 

Swindon's celebrated zoologist, artist and broadcaster
 
Desmond Morris, Swindon's famous author and animal behaviourist
Desmond Morris D Phil is Swindon's most famous son. Actually born just outside the town, in the village of Purton, on 24th January, 1928, he is world renowned as an author of books on animal and human behaviour, but is also a highly-respected broadcaster, a celebrated artist and a revered academic.
 
His book, The Naked Ape, first published in 1967, was a worldwide bestseller and at the last count had been translated into 23 languages, selling upwards of 10 million.

Writing and books are in Desmond Morris's blood. His father, Harry Morris, was an author of children's fiction, but the literary link goes back several more generations. Desmond's great grandfather was William Morris, a pioneering publisher who founded the Swindon Advertiser (now the Evening Advertiser) in 1854, Britain's first penny paper.

William Morris was an important influence on Desmond's life. The family moved to Swindon when Desmond was five-years-old and he inherited from his great grandfather not only a microscope and strange scientific specimens he found in the family attic, but also the curiosity of a naturalist.
 
As a schoolboy, Desmond spent days observing the wildlife in and around the lake in Swindon's Queen's Park, which was then owned by his grandmother.

"It seemed amazing to me," he wrote in his autobiographical book, Animal Days, "that people who raved about the Wiltshire countryside were unaware of this other, equally fascinating landscape of microscopic shapes and organisms."
 
Desmond's interest was encouraged and developed at Dauntsey's School at West Lavington and an article for the school's Natural History Magazine, called Toad in the Hole, became the first of many published works.

Back at the family home in Victoria Road, Desmond knew the young Diana Dors - "my teenage crush" the future film star later called it - but soon he found himself doing national service at Tidworth before moving on to an army college in Chiseldon where he taught another of his passions, art.
 
"At nineteen," he later recalled, "there are so many directions to take." His dilemma was which road to take.

Despite a growing reputation as a surrealist artist and his first one-man show - at Swindon Library - Desmond Morris renewed his love affair with the natural world by becoming a student of zoology at Birmingham University. A decision to channel his energies into his studies led to a first class degree and then a research post at Oxford, where he was to obtain a doctorate following his studies of the ten-spined stickleback.
 
His published paper on his findings was to be the first of (so far) 47 scientific works.
 
A piece of art created by Swindon-born Desmond Morris
But his art had not been abandoned and a shared exhibition with the renowned surrealist painter Joan Miro in London in 1950 confirmed his place as a noted modern artist. (See his picture, left, entitled "The Parade of Memories").

The Fifties were a happy time for Desmond who married Ramona Baulch, a girl originally from Marlborough (they celebrated their 45th anniversary in 1997).

By 1956 Desmond had established himself as one of the country's foremost zoologists, but his career was about to take a new direction. Granada TV set up a film unit at London Zoo with the plan of making natural history films to compete with the BBC and Desmond was chosen to head the project. He was about to become a TV star.

Desmond appeared in around 500 episodes of Zootime for Granada and 100 Life in the Animal World programmes for the BBC, but his new-found fame as a broadcaster was, true-to-form, only one aspect of his career.

For eight years he was Curator of Mammals for the Zoological Society, was a regular reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and co-edited the International Zoo Yearbook. But, as the Sixties dawned, it was his own books that were taking precedence.

By 1967, Desmond Morris had become one of the world's leading authorities on animal behaviour, but even by his standards, the impact made by his new book, The Naked Ape, was to be spectacular.

For the first time, he switched his attentions to the human animal with a frank and highly readable book that was as controversial as it was successful. Some copies were bought by Christians so that they could burn them in protest at Desmond's outrageous book which reduced the human species to the status of just another animal and spoke of sexuality without inhibition.
 
Its success may have surprised even the author, but The Naked Ape was an almost immediate bestseller.

Still he found it impossible to neglect his art, becoming an executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, but removing to Malta to write the sequel to the Naked Ape, called The Human Zoo.

Now firmly established in four fields - broadcaster, artist, author and academic - Desmond may have appeared to have reached the peak of his career - but his international reputation was to be enhanced still further in the following twenty years.

In television, The Animals Roadshow - a total of 41 35-minute programmes for the BBC which he co-presented with Sarah Kennedy - is perhaps the best-remembered of a continuing string of credits for channels both at home and abroad.
 
At the same time, exhibitions in London, Oxford, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, Sydney, Valencia and even Swindon maintained his status as a painter.

And he remained a virtual ever-present in the bestseller lists whether he chose to write about human behaviour or returned to his first love to chronicle the world of animals.

Desmond Morris is rapidly approaching his 70th birthday, but is fortunately showing no signs of retiring. His latest book, Illustrated Horsewatching, will be published in 1998.

Although he now lives in Oxford, the natural habitat of the academic zoologist, Desmond seems genuinely proud of his Swindon roots, as we are genuinely proud of him.

A man of remarkable success in so many fields, Desmond Morris has, nevertheless, retained an accessibility and affability that many other lesser people have long since lost.

Perhaps there you will find the secret of his success.

Bibliography and TV credits
 
The World of Animals (1956)
Zootime [Granada, approximately 500 episodes] (1956-67)
The Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-Spined Stickleback (1958)
The Story of Congo (1958)
Introducing Curious Creatures (1961)
The Biology of Art (1962)
The Animal Story [Granada] (1962)
Apes and Monkeys (1964)
The Big Cats (1965)
The Mammals: A guide to the Living Species (1965)
Series on animal behavious [BBC Schools Television] (1965)
Zoo Challenge [BBC] (1965)
Life in the Animal World [BBC, 52 episodes] (1965)
Men and Snakes (with Ramona Morris) (1965)
Men and Apes (with Ramona Morris) (1966)
Men and Pandas (with Ramona Morris) (1962)
Zootime (1966)
Primate Ethology [Editor] (1967)
The Naked Ape (1967)
Man of the Decade [ATV] (1969)
The Human Zoo (1969)
Patterns of Reproductive Behaviour (1970)
Intimate Behaviour (1971)
Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour (1977)
Manwatching [BBC] (1977)
Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution [with Peter Collett, Peter Marsh and Marie O'Shaughnessy] (1979)
Animals Days (1979)
Friday Night and Saturday Morning [BBC] (1980 and 1981)
The Soccer Tribe (1981)
The Giant Panda [with Ramona Morris and Jonathan Barzdo] (1981)
The Human Race [Thames] (1982)
The Manwatcher in Japan [for Japenese TV] (1982)
Inrock (1983)
The [BOOK] of Ages (1983)
The Art of Ancient Cyprus (1985)
Bodywatching: A Field Guide to the Human Species (1985)
The Illustrated Naked Ape (1986)
TV and Natural History [BBC] (1986)
Catwatching (1986)
The Soccer Tribe [Danish TV] (1986)
Dogwatching (1986)
The Secret Surrealist (1987)
The Animals Roadshow [BBC] (1987-89)
Catlore (1987)
Wolf in Your Living Room [BBC] (1987)
The Animals Roadshow (1988)
Bodywatching [CBS] (1988)
The Human Nestbuilders (1988)
Horsewatching (1988)
Tiger on the Tiles [BBC] (1988)
Beasts of the Field [BBC] (1989)
The Animal Contract (1990)
Animal Watching (1990)
Art World [Independent Image TV] (1990)
The Animal Contract [Lifetime Pictures/Garner-MacLellan] (1990)
Babywatching (1991)
The Zebra in Your Stable [BBC] (1991)
Animal Country [Mike Mansfield TV for ITV] (1991-96)
Christmas Watching (1992)
The World of Animals (1993)
The Naked Ape Trilogy (1994)
The Human Animal [BBC] (1994)
The Human Animal (1994)
Illustrated Catwatching (1994)
Bodytalk: A World Guide to Gestures (1994)
Illustrated Babywatching (1995)
Illustrated Dogwatching (1996)
Catworld: A Feline Encyclopedia (1996)
The Human Sexes [The Learning Channel] (1997)
The Human Sexes: A Natural History of Man and Woman (1997)
Illustrated Horsewatching [in print] (1998)
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