On 7th August 1961, Gerald Durrell was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme.
At the end of July 1987, Gerald and his wife Lee flew out to Corfu to watch the filming of the BBC ten-part series of My Family and Other Animals.
Douglas Botting refers to the trip towards the (rather rushed) latter section of his (rather good apart from the rather rushed latter section) biography of Durrell, noting that the BBC had some problems with filming because Corfu had changed so much since Gerald’s idyllic childhood there in the 1930s.
On this trip, Gerald appears to have been so upset about the changes – something he remarked on during previous visits to Corfu (known colloquially as “Cor, Phew” in Britain in the late 1980s, if my childhood memories serve)- that he was moved to write an article about the devastating effect of tourism on the island and its wildlife for the Sunday Times newspaper, published as part of its Impressions in the Sand travel series, around July 1987.
When Bob Golding was 18, he wrote to Gerald Durrell who agreed to take him along on an animal collecting expedition to the then British Cameroons in West Africa. Golding is immortalized as “young assistant Bob” in Durrell’s book A Zoo in my Luggage.
You can read Golding’s story and see some photos from the expedition on his website here.
Together with Gerald’s nephew (Margo’s son) Gerry Breeze, Lee is organizing an exhibition on Jersey about Gerald’s Bournemouth days. The text of the Echo story is below, plus a link to the site. Anyone with information is invited to email Echo reporter Faith Eckersall, whose email address is given at the end of the piece.
Louisa Durrell, ‘Mother’, with a chimp.
Photograph by Loomis Dean for Life, taken in Jersey in 1961.
Dean came to photograph Lawrence Durrell and his wife Claude during their visit to Gerald Durrell on Jersey in 1961.
When Gerald Durrell and his wife Lee visited the then-USSR to film Durrell in Russia, Gerald was surprised to be mobbed by fans of his books.
Durrell’s books were and still are immensely popular in Russia and other post-Soviet bloc states. Here’s a glimpse at the various editions of My Family and Other Animals.
1971 – paperback edition by Mir, Moscow.
The book is titled ‘Moya Semya i Zveri’, which translates as ‘My Family and Wild Animals’, translated by by L. Derevyankinoi.
In 1957, LIFE magazine despatched a photographer, Howard Sochurek, to photograph Gerald Durrell during his expedition to Bafut in the Cameroons. The expedition came not long after the publication of My Family and Other Animals in 1956, which became an instant hit – and of course the public were already aware of Durrell and his previous Cameroons adventures from his previous books, The Overloaded Ark and The Bafut Beagles.
Jacquie Durrell accompanied Gerald on this trip, as did his secretary, Sophie Cook, and a young aspiring naturalist, 18-year-old Robert Golding.
Gerald found the Cameroons had changed somewhat since his previous animal-catching expedition, and ran into difficulties with the British Administration, whom Jacquie wrote were:
“not at all pleased to have Gerry back in the country. They wagged a finger at him and tore him off a strip for writing about the Fon the way he had done in the Bafut Beagles, presenting a paramount chief as a carousing black clown who spoke comic pidgin English.”
While Gerald thought the Fon might be angry about his depiction in the Bafut Beagles, he turned out to be delighted. “You done make my name go round the world,” he said.
Here are some of the photos, from the LIFE archive, as digitalized by Google.
In 1984, Gerald Durrell and his wife Lee made an unprecedented trip to the then-USSR to make a 13-part TV series consisting of 30-minute documentaries about Soviet wildlife reserves. The Durrells’ visit behind the Iron Curtain preceded Mikhail Gorbachov‘s perestroika and glasnost reforms, and they and their film crew (funded by Soviet and Canadian interests as well as the UK’s Channel 4) were the first Westerners to film Soviet wildlife. Continue reading
The Overloaded Ark (TOA) was Gerald Durrell‘s first book, written in 1953 after his marriage to Jacquie Wolfenden – who encouraged him to write to make money when he could not find work. The book chronicles a 1947-48 animal-collecting expedition Gerald undertook to Cameroon (then British Cameroon) in West Africa, accompanied by ornithologist John Yealland.
Finally – a chance to review (well, partially – I would like to write more later) Joanna Hodgkin’s biography of her mother, and Lawrence Durrell’s first wife, Nancy Myers.
I bought the book on Kindle, which saved me the excessive shipping costs, but as with all Kindle books loses out a bit when it comes to viewing the photographs. However, some of the photographs can be seen on Joanna’s fantastic website.
I imagine that many biographers become close to their subjects – if they did not feel an affinity with them before they began to write – but Hodgkin’s book is slightly different in that her biography of Nancy (it’s impossible to call her anything else!) is also very much a journey to understanding her mother. It is also a very touching and deeply loving tribute to a woman who, with almost “Stalinist efficiency”, as Hodgkin puts it, was almost completely airbrushed out of the Durrell family story.
Hodgkin succeeds, I think, in bringing Nancy to life as an individual, an artist, a woman and a complex, contradictory human being and not just a beautiful silent consort to a literary genius, a mysterious figure half-glimpsed through abbreviated allusions to “N”. This is not an academic biography, it’s very personal, a memoir and I do feel like I know Nancy, now!
She argues that Nancy was misunderstood, or at least misrepresented, either during her marriage to Lawrence Durrell or afterwards in memoirs.
It was particularly, Hodgkin says, during the time Nancy and Lawrence spent in Paris in the court of Henry Miller and Anais Nin that “gave rise to most of the misconceptions” about her mother.
“Several people commented on her silences and reserve,” Hodgkin writes, “and Betty Ryan, the young American artist whose flat they first stayed in, even went so far as to say she lacked ‘spark’ and kept herself aloof.”
People assumed Nancy was naturally shy and overshadowed by her vivacious, brilliant husband, Hodgkin adds, whereas the reality was “more complex” (when is it ever not?)
It was Larry, as Hodgkin calls him, who set out from the beginning to dominate the Villa Seurat – and who pushed Nancy back deliberately while fascinating his friends.
Nancy’s early years – particularly her time as a student in London before she met Durrell – are the most amusing section of the book, and show Nancy’s determination and resilience as well as her dawning realization that she is something of a beauty!
For those who read and loved Gerald Durrell’s Corfu books, then later realized ‘Brother Larry’ had a wife, the section of the book dealing with those years provide an interesting perspective – Hodgkin tries (and succeeds as far as possible) to plead her mother’s case and to give Nancy’s perspective. It’s clear that the Corfu years shaped Lawrence Durrell as a writer, and Nancy must have played an important role there.
Surprisingly, despite what Hodgkin calls Nancy’s “passion for honesty” and the fact that Gerald did not mention her at all in the book, Nancy was “charitable” to the memoir, according to Hodgkin.
Not just Nancy, but all women apart from Gerald’s sister Margo are excised from the story, Hodgkin notes.
“George Wilkinson appears as Gerry’s tutor, but there is no Pam [George’s wife]. Theodore is a childless bachelor and Larry never even has a girlfriend,” she writes.
While Gerald portrays his beloved mother as spending hours in the kitchen cooking up delicious, exotic meals for her offspring, Hodglkin tells us that Mrs. Durrell was often joined by Nancy and Pam. Perhaps the omissions are more a reflection on young Gerald’s adoration of his mother, who in his memory must have expanded to include all older women.
Interesting for me, also, that Nancy ended up in Jerusalem!
Anyway, I enjoyed Hodgkin’s writing, and would like to try one of her fiction books.