Our Zoo – BBC 1

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What a lovely series this looks like being! Whilst in Thirsk, a.k.a. Darrowby of All Creatures Great and Small, over the August Bank Holiday, I was bemoaning the loss of nice, gentle, feelgood programmes like Born and Bred, Heartbeat etc, and Our Zoo is exactly the sort of thing I was on about.

It’s not 100% true to the facts, but the basic story is true. George Mottershead, originally from Sale, developed a liking for animals from visits to Belle Vue as a child. The Belle Vue Zoological Gardens are rather a legend in the Manchester area, and I feel a bit cheated 🙂 that I never got to see them because they closed down when I was only 2! George suffered from shell shock after the First World War, in which he was seriously injured and two of his brothers (although only one is mentioned in the TV programme) were killed. He and his family later moved to the Crewe area, where they ran a market garden. George had a dream of opening zoos where animals weren’t kept behind bars, and he eventually opened Chester Zoo, which soon became and has remained one of the top attractions in the North West. My two little nephews love it there (one of them is particularly obsessed with monkeys) :-).

The first episode was funny (a monkey escaping and getting into the local shop) without being OTT or farcical, gentle without being insipid (the long term effects of the Great War on George’s mental health were made clear), and poignant without being soppy. The characters – including George himself, his elder daughter who didn’t want to spend her whole life in the same place and doing the same old things, his mother who was reluctant to leave her home (the idea was that she associated it with her dead son, although in reality the family only moved there some years after the Great War) – were realistic and appealing, and the whole thing really worked very well.

My one complaint is that this really belongs at 8 o’clock on a Sunday night, rather than 9 o’clock on a weekday night. Having Our Zoo at 8, then (going over to ITV for) Downton Abbey at 9 on a cold autumn night would be perfect! Lovely programme and well worth watching.

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