If you have watched even the smallest amount of the Rio Olympics on television, you can’t have failed to see the ad for ‘The Durrells – coming after the Olympics’. To say that I’m more than a little bit excited about their imminent arrival is an understatement. You see, I’m a Durrellphile. A complete Durrell tragic. I realise many people have not heard of The Durrells. Many years ago when I talked about Gerald Durrell with my friend Robert, he suggested that Durrell was an unknown or even worse, made up. So let me introduce you.
As a young adult I turned to my parents’ book shelves, where I was introduced to the writing of Gerald Durrell. I couldn’t get enough of his amusing stories about traversing the world, collecting animals and meeting the locals. A favourite amongst these was the Bafut Beagles, where Gerry met the benevolent, whisky drinking Fon of Bafut, ruler of a large tract of Cameroon. Well before the internet, these books taught me a lot about the world outside Brisbane. About the animals, the people and the joys, trials and tribulations of travel.
Three Singles To Adventure
Before too long, I had acquired my own collection and it just kept growing. It now takes up several book shelves with different editions, various languages, paperbacks, hard covers, postcards and lesser known children’s stories. I’m particularly fond of the high school text notes for My Family And Other Animals and the many Penguin editions with their interesting covers. I also started reading and collecting the work of writer and poet Lawrence (Larry) Durrell, a very different and more adult read than his brother. A trip to Northern Cyprus in 2011 allowed to me to visit Bellapais Abbey. Lawrence’s book, Bitter Lemons, talks about his time in Bellapais village in Cyprus in the early 1950’s when the northern portion of Cyprus was Greek, before Turkish annexation. The collection has spread to include books by both of Gerry’s wives as well as a signed copy of Jeremy Mallinson’s book ‘Durrelliania’ about his own collection of Durrell books and correspondence. He also owns one of the original single train tickets to the town of Adventure in Guyana. I covet that ticket. Margot Durrell’s book remains elusive.
The love affair with Gerald Durrell broadened into a wider interest in the work he undertook as a naturalist and conservationist. Whilst originally collecting for other zoos, he eventually started his own zoo on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. This evolved into the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in 1963, focusing on conservation, captive breeding and saving animals from the brink of extinction.
Not just the pretty or popular fluffy animals but also the insects, reptiles and ‘ugly’ creatures that make up the eco system. Now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust or simply Durrell, their logo is the Dodo. In 2010 I realised a dream when I visited Durrell on Jersey. Of course, I have the souvenir pencil to prove it.
So who are The Durrells? They are Larry, Leslie, Margo, Gerry and Mother. The six parter TV show focuses on their pre WWII life on Corfu and is based on Gerald Durrell’s ‘Corfu trilogy’ including one of his most famous books, ‘My Family And Other Animals’. If you haven’t read any Gerald Durrell, My Family is a wonderful introduction to the family and his writing style. Be warned though, it is a gateway book. Once you have read it there’s no turning back.
Read more about Gerald Durrell and the conservation work of the Trust.
Have you read any of the Durrells? Has my gushing fandom encouraged or discouraged you?