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The Durrells – A Not So Secret Pleasure

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.

various books and ephemera from the wrietrs Gerald and Lawrence Durrell

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.

Bellapais Monastery ruins in Northern Cyprus

Bellapais Abbey in Cyprus

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.

statue of Gerald Durrell at on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands

Statue of Gerald Durrell on Jersey

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?

14 comments… add one
  • Robert Light August 20, 2016, 8:09 am

    I deny everything!

    • Fiona Ryan August 20, 2016, 11:23 am

      Now, if Anthony had told us in the back of the taxi in Lima ‘I don’t want to alarm you but I have sme bad news Gerald Durrell is dead’, THAT would have been something to be worried about.

  • Francesca August 20, 2016, 10:04 am

    I have read Bitter Lemons. Now if I see any Durrell paraphanalia, I’ll know where to send it.

  • sherry from sherrys pickings August 20, 2016, 11:53 am

    i have always been a big fan of the Durrells too. Nice to find a fellow fan! Tho lately i have been thinking of his work, gathering animals and reptiles for zoos, and being somewhat appalled by his cavalier and rather dangerous (to the animals) methods of collection. As you know, he just tended to put out a general ‘gather what you can for me’ type of message to the locals who brought in (and i fear sadly stole babies from their mothers’ arms) anything and everything. not something we would condone today but nevertheless his books have given me much joy in the reading. I did read one of his wives’ books – can’t remember which one tho..

    • Fiona Ryan August 22, 2016, 12:02 pm

      That’s how he started out Sherry but that was nearly 60 years ago and times wre very different. Pretty soon he realised that the collection of animals was not sustainable and after starting his own zoo, he moved into captive breeding, release and conservation. These days Durrell is one of the premier animal conservation organisations in the world. They fund research, offer scholarships and providing a safety net for animals that would have otherwise been totally wiped off the planet. The Zoo continues to generate income for the Trust and I can definitely say it was one of the best zoos I have ever visited.

  • Tandy | Lavender and Lime August 20, 2016, 3:34 pm

    Sorry I didn’t partake in the twitter conversation. I was asleep and also have not read any of the books. Enjoy the show Fiona 😀

    • Fiona Ryan August 22, 2016, 12:06 pm

      We all need to get some sleep Tandy ; ) If you see a 2nd hand book, it’s worth reading. The books set in East Africa are The Overloaded Ark and The Bafut Beagles. I also love The Whispering Land, set in Argentina.

  • Jen Donnelly August 20, 2016, 4:24 pm

    I do so love our shared Durrell love. (From memory, Tim didn’t think GD was a real person either back in the day. Pffft.)

    • Fiona Ryan August 22, 2016, 11:56 am

      Honestly…. those boys. I am sooo excited and have read that a 2nd season has been commissioned. Yay!

  • Beck @ Goldenpudding August 20, 2016, 7:11 pm

    I love his books too Fiona, I haven’t ready any of Lawrence’s work but have read all of Gerald’s, including even his romantic fiction 🙂 I still have visiting the ‘Durrell’ on Jersey on my bucket list!

    • Fiona Ryan August 22, 2016, 12:08 pm

      Another fan. Happy to have found you Beck. Romantic fiction? Do tell me more…

  • Jan Rhoades September 5, 2016, 8:46 am

    Ah…such happy memories and so glad you ‘caught the Durrell bug’ . I am assuming you have my books on your shelves.

    Alas I will be away for the series (Ive only seen two) and so will rely on you to have full series available when I have some time on my return from OS.

    • Fiona Ryan September 6, 2016, 11:34 am

      Yes, I have your books because you gave them to me! I won’t have the series on tape – I watch and delete. You’ll have to watch it on catch up.

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