Desmond Morris, the Naked Ape, biography
[Desmond Morris]
the Human Zoo, Niko Tinbergen, Oxford

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Desmond Morris
The Naked Ape : The Human Zoo

Desmond Morris (Desmond John Morris) author of The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo was born in the village of Purton, near Swindon, Wiltshire, England on January 24th, 1928 as the son of an author of children's fiction and as the great-grandson of William Morris, the pioneering founder of the Swindon Advertiser - Britain's first penny paper - who was also a keen amateur naturalist. During his younger childhood Desmond Morris developed a strong interests in writing and in natural history.

As a teenager his interest in natural history developed towards being an interest in Zoology whilst he also became more interested in art. In 1946 he was obliged to put in two years National Service as a military trainee but also functioned as a lecturer in Fine Arts at the Chisledon Army College. He developed sufficient expertise as an artist to warrant his holding a one-man exhibition in Swindon Library.

In the autumn of 1948 he enrolled as an undergraduate at the Zoology Department of Birmingham University following his release from National Service. During his undergraduate course he continued to be involved in painting and became involved in film-making as a writer and director. His paintings were exhibited in London and in Belgium. In 1951 he graduated from Birmingham with first class honours and moved to Oxford to persue doctoral studies in animal behavior. Here he was placed under the tutorship of Dr. Niko Tinbergen.

In 1952 he married Ramona Baulch. His studies on the Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback (a small freshwater fish) led to his being awarded a doctorate in 1954 and then to post-doctoral research at Oxford Oxford on the reproductive behaviour of birds.

From 1956 he became seriously involved in the making of films and television programmes about animal behaviour and began studying the artistic abilities of apes. This was followed by the authorship of a number of natural history books and by the hosting of a popular TV program "Zootime" over several years. In 1959 he was appointed Curator of Mammals at London Zoo. Between 1959 and 1967 he was responsible for the authorship of quite a few natural history books sometimes in co-authorship with his wife.

In 1967 he became a rather more controversial figure in that his authorship strayed into rather more sensitive areas. He was editor of "Primate Ethology" a work which considered recent advances in the study of the behaviours of monkeys and apes, and was author of the international best-seller The Naked Ape which set out to be a frank study of human behavior from a Zoologist's perspective. The early and distinct signs of the financial success of this work which, at the last count, had been translated into 23 languages, selling upwards of 10 million copies, caused him to veer away from continuing in a recent appointment as executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and towards relocating to the island of Malta in order to continue to write and to paint.

Amongst the many significant works that he wrote in these years are The Human Zoo (1969) and Intimate Behaviour (1971). In 1973 Desmond Morris returned to Oxford as a research fellow at Wolfson College. In this role it was anticipated that he would work in association with Niko Tinbergen's research group in the Department of Zoology and would continue to research human action-patterns.

Over the ensuing years he has maintained his many interests in animal behaviour research, the arts, and in making television programmes and films. The more significant publications in these more recent years include Manwatching, a Field-Guide to Human Behaviour (1977), an Illustrated Naked Ape (1986), Catwatching (1986), Dogwatching (1986), Babywatching (1991), The Human Animal (1994) and Peoplewatching (2002). Notably significant television and film productions in these years include The Human Race (1982), and The Animals Roadshow - a series which he co-presented with Sarah Kennedy and which proved to be widely popular over a three-year run after 1986.

In overall terms Desmond Morris has been responsible for the authorship of almost fifty scientific publications.


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