Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Fun : Our Zoo

Today, Pink Heart Society editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles talks about the latest heart-warming BBC series -- Our Zoo which is based on the real life founding of Chester Zoo in the 1930s.

Our Zoo finished this week as did the Great British Bake Off. A one-two punch of great entertainment.

The Bake off may have been all about the bake but Our Zoo was all about the Dream and the animals.

A six part drama about how one man's seemingly impossible dream can become a reality made for compulsive viewing. It knew how to hit all the right buttons and to keep the heart warming hook going.

Lee Ingleby (@leeingleby on Twitter) who appeared as John Simm's father in Life on Mars and as Martin Shaw's sidekick Bacchus in Inspector Gently played the lead George Mottershead, a man who had already overcome some significant obstacles.

The drama focused on his efforts to open the zoo and to overcome the opposition headed by the hypocritically pious vicar. However Mottershead's back story was that he had been a war hero during WWI and had been shot in the neck. Despite being told he'd never walk again, he learnt.  As a result of this minor miracle, he could not stand seeing animals in cages. He wanted to build a zoo where animals could interact with people.

His long suffering wife was superbly played by Liz White who also starred in Life on Mars.  Veteran actors Peter Wright and Anne Reid played his parents.

In this day and age, it is easy forget what zoos could be like. It is also easy to forget how little people actually knew about wild animals. Or indeed why certain zoos were founded.

The drama was gentle and very watchable -- just what you want after  a surfeit of cake. The plot lines reaffirmed your belief in humanity.

Sometimes in order to succeed, you have to have a dream but you also have to have the eventual support of your family. And help can come from unexpected places.

The 1930's setting is very well done as you would expect from any BBC series.

I suspect it will be shown elsewhere in the world. It is the sort of series that winds its way around your heartstrings. My husband who at first was not paying much attention (he tends to be this way about family drama) by the second to last episode insisted that we watch on the night and pausing it if he had to go out of the room. I believe the last time he did this was with the first series of Downton Abbey.

Hopefully there will be a second series as it takes more to run a zoo than simply getting planning permission. Besides I really want to see the perfidious vicar get his comeuppance. It also made me remember how much I do enjoy zoos and how grateful I am to people like George Motterhead who fought to have zoos be enclosures rather than cages for animals. If you missed it in the UK, watch it on the BBC IPlayer. It will cheer you up no end.

So have you been to a zoo lately? Do you have a favorite zoo or fond memories of one you visited when you were a child? As always, let us know in the comments.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. On 15 October, three of her Victorian set romance novels will be released as ebooks in the USA.  To Marry a Matchmaker, Compromising Miss Milton and Breaking the Governess's Rules. 

You can find out more about Michelle's books on 


  1. Sounds like a series I'd love! I live close to the Omaha Zoo in Nebraska, and have been there many times. It is just amazing to walk through the various habitats (jungle, desert, nocturnal, etc.). My hubby's favorite is the aquarium where you can walk through a glass tunnel to watch sharks and other fish swimming all around you, and you can stand below water level to watch penguins swim and dive. The Omaha Zoo is one of the best in the country.

    I've also been fortunate enough to have visited the St. Louis Zoo (started by Wild Kingdom's Marlin Perkins) and the Kansas City Zoo (nee Swope Park Zoo) many times. I loved the seals in St. Louis and the wolf pack enclosure in K.C.

    I never knew there'd been a champion to change their enclosures from cages to habitats. Very cool.

  2. Julie I really hope it is shown in the US. Masterpiece Theatre is its sort of place. It is a wonderful true story. And it is something I had never thought of -- when did they start to do away with enclosures and why. I know a lot of the conservation work came from Gerald Durrell and his zoo in Jersey but I didn't know about what was happening in the 1930s.
    It is a lovely programme and hopefully you will get to see it. In the meantime, zoos are always a great day out.
    When I was a girl I used to watch the Mutual Omaha's wildlife program I wonder if it had anything to do with Omaha zoo. Have you been to the Smithsonian zoo in DC? it is wonderful.