Doug Coutts: Our Zoo

1203544_Our-Zoo-2TV Preview: Our Zoo | TV1, 8.45 Thursday


By Doug Coutts

Our Zoo is a BBC drama series based on the true story of the Mottershead family who, in the face of staunch opposition and huge personal sacrifice, founded Chester Zoo in the 1930s. (Thanks BBC website.)  

If you liked All Creatures Great and Small, My Family and Other Animals and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, you’re going to love this. (I know I did, despite not really enjoying the adventures of Skippy – years later I found out that there were no stunt doubles, just a cageful of Skippies in a truck out the back on standby, and they used a pair of taxidermied paws for close ups.)

It all starts with a shell-shocked George living with his wife and daughters in a flat above his dad’s grocery shop, three streets away from Coronation St. (A young Ena Sharples can be seen in the background of one shot, bludging fags off a policeman.)

To take his mind off the horrors of war, or off his mother in law (played by Anne Reid, later to electrocute herself as Val Barlow just round the corner), he takes in an abandoned parrot and monkey and then a camel, which lives in the back yard.

The neighbours are starting to complain so there’s only one thing for it – move to where the neighbours will be slower to catch on, like an empty old stately home in the country.

And so they do, although the move is fraught with compromise, misgivings and outright bickering. But at least the parrot has his own room, the camel and Grandma live at opposite ends of the property, and the monkey endears itself to the townspeople as only a primate with a soft spot for eggs and wanton destruction can.

It’s a recipe for good family viewing in front of the fire on a wintry Sunday evening, except it’s on Thursday and it’s still autumn. That aside, and given it’s a true story, Our Zoo is a must-see.

What other critics said:

“What with a menagerie of cute monkeys and nasty bank managers it could have been a bit too sweet but Matt Charman’s script is instead full of unexpected delights.” — Daily Express.

“While Our Zoo had all the period sentimentality you’d perhaps expect, it was still enjoyable.” — The Independent.

Sentimental, childish, low on tension, this drama is lacking in animal magic.” — The Times.

“It was winningly warm, with heaps of charm, lump-in-throat moments and adorable wildlife.” — The Telegraph.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.
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