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A case of mistaken identity


How I came to write The Naked Ape
Desmond Morris Writer
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I'd always been... perhaps just that army training, I don't know, but I'd always been very physically fit. And I came back and I just collapsed; I was seriously ill with hepatitis. I think they may have done something to my food, I'm not sure. But anyway, I had this hepatitis and I was out of action for weeks and weeks. And it was during this time that I realised that I'd been overworking. I now had two television series going, I had a curatorship at the zoo, I was doing book reviews for Times Literary Supplement, I was writing a book a year, and I was just overworking – and I had a whole research team. It wasn't that... I wasn't... I was enjoying it all, that's why I wanted to do it all and I was loving it all, but I was only one human being and I couldn't... I just couldn't do it.

So when I lay there very ill, after Moscow, I decided to stop doing a lot of things. I stopped book reviewing and I stopped this and I stopped that and I cut down on all my activities. And in... this was in 1966 and I said I'm just going to do one thing: I'm going to finally sit down and write The Naked Ape, this book that I've been putting off. Instead of doing all these different things, I'm going to do one major thing. And that's how I came to write The Naked Ape. So in a way I'm grateful to Moscow, because if I hadn't been ill after Moscow, I probably wouldn't have reorganised my life and written The Naked Ape.

Born in Wiltshire, UK in 1928, Desmond Morris had a strong interest in natural history from his boyhood. Later, as an undergraduate, he studied zoology, and after obtaining a First Class Honours Degree from the University of Birmingham, he moved to the Oxford University Zoology Department where he began his research into animal behaviour for his doctorate thesis. In 1957, having moved to London, Morris famously organised an exhibition at the ICA of art work created by Congo the chimpanzee. Morris's engagement with the visual arts remains strong and he has often exhibited many of his own paintings since 1950 when his paintings went on show alongside those of the surrealist painter, Jean MirĂ³. 1950 was also the year when Morris began his career in TV creating and presenting Zootime and Life in the Animal World. Soon after this, he began work on a book that has proved a huge best-seller, The Naked Ape. Focusing on human behaviour, it was the first in a series of books in which the author observes humans primarily as a species of animal. Today, Desmond Morris has lost none of his inquisitiveness and continues to observe and write about what he sees in the world around him.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Naked Ape

Duration: 1 minute, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2014

Date story went live: 06 November 2014