Animal Shows of the 1960’s

In a time before significant foreign travel, the places and animals featured in these early programmes were unfamiliar to most.

To see these incredible creatures from the comfort of our own homes was a revelation and the pioneering work some of these early documentaries undertook paved the way for the plethora of animal shows we see on our televisions today.

Animal Magic

First screened in 1962 and running for nearly 2 decades, Animal Magic was a children’s nature programme, made by the BBC’s National History Unit.

Presented by Johnny Morris and featuring Gerald Durrell and Tony Soper, the series was a mix of animals brought to the studio, on location and pre filmed animal footage.

The humour of Johnny Morris gave the programme a unique feel. Morris kept his young viewers entertained with his character ‘Keeper Morris’ who found funny ways of explaining animal facts and dubbing the animals with a variety of silly voices and personalities.

Zoo Quest

Undoubtedly the father of all nature documentaries Zoo Quest was broadcast as a series on the BBC between 1954 and 1963.

Initially produced by a young David Attenborough with the curator of London Zoo’s reptile house, Jack Lester as presenter and Charles Lagus as their innovative cameraman, Attenborough took over presenting when Jack Lester fell ill. Zoo Quest’s use of remote overseas locations that showed animals in their natural habitats was a first for television.

Travelling to places including West Africa, Guiana and Indonesia in search of animals to take back to London Zoo it was one of the most popular television series of its time and launched the career of the young David Attenborough as a wildlife presenter.

Zoo Time

The first wildlife series aimed at children; Zoo Time was shown on ITV from 1956 to 1967.

Hosted by Dr Desmond Morris and helped by various animal experts and zoo staff, Zoo Time was broadcast from a purpose built outside unit located behind the Bird House at London Zoo known as ‘The Den’.  These live outside broadcasts solved the logistical nightmare of filming large and uncooperative animals inside a studio each week but, as ever with filming live, there was the occasional awkward moment.

The programme relocated to Chester Zoo in 1967 with Chris Kelly taking over the presenting role and Desmond Morris moved onto Animal Story (shown on Granada TV 1960-62) which was presented from both London and the larger zoo at Whipsnade.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Hosted by French marine explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, The Undersea World focused on marine biodiversity. The first episodes of the series aired from 1968 until 1975.

In the series the crew of the famous Calypso with Jacques Cousteau travel the globe exploring various regions of the underwater world, filming while trying to discover its secrets.

These aquatic explorations took the viewer to places and on adventures we could not even imagine from sunken treasure, unexpected caves, hidden reefs, spiny lobsters to singing whales and much more besides.

Can you remember watching these on television? Do you still enjoy animal documentaries today?

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Melina - Assistant Editor

Hi I'm Melina, a mother of 3 teenage children and with a particular interest in all things health related. I run a busy household and smallholding alongside my work with Silversurfers, which currently includes dogs, fish, hens, ducks and pigs!

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