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Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris
Desmond Morris (1969)
Born Desmond John Morris
(1928-01-24) 24 January 1928
Purton, Wiltshire, England
Occupation Zoologist and ethologist
Known for The Naked Ape (1967)

Desmond John Morris (born 24 January 1928) is an English zoologist, ethologist and surrealist painter, as well as a popular author in human sociobiology.


  • Early life 1
  • Sociobiology 2
  • Art 3
  • Television and film 4
    • Filmography 4.1
    • Lectures 4.2
  • Bibliography 5
  • Major events 6
  • Personal life 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Born on 24 January 1928 in Purton, Wiltshire, Desmond John Morris is the son of Marjorie and the children’s fiction author Harry Morris. In 1933, the Morrises moved to the nearby town of Swindon, which remained his primary home until 1951. During this time in Swindon Morris began to develop a strong interest in both natural history and writing. In 1941 Morris attended Dauntsey’s co-educational boarding school for 11 to 18-year-olds on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was during this time away at school that Morris’s passion for both zoology and the modern visual arts began to intensify and come to the surface.[1]

Aft graduating, in 1946 Morris was conscripted into the army for two years of national service. During this time, he became a lecturer in fine arts at the Chiseldon Army College, and also began to take painting seriously. In 1948 he was demobilised from the army, and that same year held his first one-man show of his own paintings at the Swindon Arts Centre. Pursuing his interests immediately, that autumn he enrolled as an undergraduate in the Zoology Department of the University of Birmingham as well. Shortly thereafter, Morris graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Zoology. He moved on in 1951 to the Oxford University Zoology Department to begin his research into animal behaviour for his doctorate degree, mainly basing his studies on reproductive communication systems.[1] In 1954 he earned a Doctor of Philosophy for his research and works leading to his doctoral thesis regarding reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback.


After receiving his doctoral degree from Oxford University, Morris continued at the university conducting research on the reproductive behaviour of birds. After some time elapsed, including Morris’s move to London in 1956, he thence began a research project into the picture making abilities of apes.[1] The following year of 1957 he organised an exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London. After assuming the position of Curator in 1959, Morris' upcoming years begin to fill with strings and strings of books to be released on the topics of animal behaviour, art, many centring on the topic of human behaviour, as well as comparisons to primates; viewing humanity as revolutionised from the hunter-gatherer to the city dweller.[1] Morris continues on publishing books covering infant behaviour watching, as well as man watching, and watchings of various types of animals such as cats and dogs.[2]

Morris' works are published worldwide. His first book that concerned actual human behaviour was The Naked Ape: a Zoologist's study of the Human as a revolutionised animal,[3] published in 1967. The book gained much popularity. Following its success, in 1968 Morris moved to the Mediterranean island of Malta in order to focus on preparing a sequel as well as freely painting and other activities. Shortly thereafter, with books still continuously being published, in 1971 he opened his research headquarters in Malta. Specifically, in order to conduct research towards producing an encyclopedia of all human actions, more specifically, to classify all human action-patterns. However, in 1973 Morris left Malta returning to work for the Nobel Prize winner Niko Tinbergen, in his research group studying animal behaviour, with the Department of Zoology at Oxford University.[4]

After some time elapses filled with more book publications flowing alongside various other attributes of Morris's careers, in 1982 he begins to look into archaeological researches for a new, slightly different book The Art of Ancient Cyprus. As creative minds wonder, Morris later the following year publishes a quite interesting Book of Ages, a year-by-year account of human life from birth to death. Finishing The Art of Ancient Cyprus the next year, 1984, published 85. Desmond’s following research project was conducted in 1988, respectively on the colors used in decorating human homes.[1] The findings and data were brought together that same year within a report called Nestbuilders. Throughout his entire career Desmond Morris has written almost countless books continuously on the observations of life, humans, animals and even paintings as well as children's books on the matters. Despite all of his other interests, the majority of his books took place under the category of sociobiology.[2]


In 1948 Desmond Morris had his first one-man showing of his paintings, at Swindon Art Centre. Two years later, he emerged into the surrealist art scene at the London Gallery. For the first time at an event held by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (a result of his research study into the drawing abilities of apes). In the spring of 1967 upon release of Morris’s first human behavioural book, he also resigned from his post of Curator held at London Zoo, and thence became executive director of the London Institute of Contemporary Arts for only a year, until 1968 with the release of The Naked Ape, thus sending Morris on an absence from the arts world of over twenty years, while his sociobiology career took the front seat.[1]

In 1974, shortly after returning from his time painting, studying and writing in Malta, Morris held his first exhibition of his surrealist paintings since before the takeoff of his career in other areas. The showing was held at the Stooshnoff Fine Art Gallery in London. Returning with a vengeance, two years later in 1976, Morris held four more exhibitions of paintings, including an exhibition holding 61 works of his from over thirty years - held at the Public Art Gallery in his former home of Swindon. Morris' next accomplishment in the area of arts is in 1987 when he combines his two passions of writing and art, to create and publish his first book about his surrealist paintings called The Secret Surrealist, introduction by Phillip Oakes.[1] His first showing of paintings after the books release was held the following year in New York at the Shippee Gallery. Morris continues his showings to this day, with his works being documented and recognised officially by his biographer Silvano Levy in Desmond Morris: 50 Years of Surrealism in 1997. Morris has since travelled showing his art exhibits around the world, from his home in Britain branching throughout Europe. Including in 2005 a solo exhibit of paintings by apes from his earlier studies in the 1950s, the exhibition was called Ape Artists of the 1950s and was held at the Mayor Gallery in London.

Solo Art Showings
Swindon Art Centre Swindon 1948
London Gallery London 1950
Ashmolean Museum Oxford 1952
Stooshnoff Fine Art London 1974
Quasrangle Gallery Oxford 1976
Wolfson College Oxford 1976
Lasson Gallery London 1976
Public Art Gallery Swindon 1977
Galerie d'Eendt Amsterdam 1978
Mayor Gallery London 1987
Shipee Gallery New York 1988
Keats Gallery Knokkle-le-Zoute 1988
Mayor Gallery London 1989
Mayor Gallery London 1991
Galerie Michele Heyraud Paris 1991
Public Art Galley Swindon 1993
Mayor Gallery London 1994
Public art galleries Stoke and Nottingham 1996
Mayor Gallery London 1997
Charleston Gallery Sussex 1997
Public Art Gallery Buxton 1997
Clayton Gallery Newcastle 1998
Keitelman Gallery Brussels 1998
Rossaert Gallery Antwerp 1998
Witteveen Gallery Amsterdam 1999

Television and film

In 1950 Desmond Morris made his first entrance into film and television,[1] writing and directing two surrealist films entitled Time Flower and The Butterfly and the Pin. His next officially noted stop in television was in 1956 when he moved to London in order to assume the position at the Zoological Society of London as Head of the Granada TV and Film Unit. Morris’s job thus included creating programmes for both film and television on the topic of animal behaviour and other various zoology-orientated topics. His job remained as a host for Granada TV’s weekly Zoo Time programme for the following three years up until 1959. During his time period of this position, a total of eight years, Morris scripted and hosted a total of 500 Zoo Time programmes, along with 100 episodes of the show Life in the Animal World for BBC2.[1] During this time he also dabbled in radio for the BBC on topics of natural history. However, he left the Film & TV unit at the London Zoo in order to become the Zoological Society’s Curator of Mammals (1959).[1]

After a long break from the world of television, Morris re-entered the game in 1979, undertaking a new television series for Thames TV. The series was called The Human Race, focusing of course on the matter of human behaviour. The shows filming ran on schedule and was presented on television in 1982, later the series was shown in many other countries as well. That same year, Morris travelled to Japan for another television expedition to make a production titled Man Watching in Japan, which was shown on Japan Television in that autumn of 1982. After another short intermission, in 1986 Morris started working on yet another new TV series (co-presented by British TV Broadcaster Sarah Kennedy) which was called The Animals Road Show. The show totalled 40 programmes over the next three years, as well as a book published on the series within that time frame.[1] One the show's second year airing, Morris began filming another TV series that was called The Animal Contract. The show aired for Australian television, wrapping up in 1989. Although The Animal Road Show ended in 1989 also, Morris and Kennedy reunited in 1992 to show a second series of exactly fourteen half-hour episodes. This was followed by a third series the following year in 1993, with thirteen half-hour programmes. This was followed by a fourth series in 1994, and finally a fifth in 1995, all with Sarah Kennedy. In 1994, Morris also wrote then presented a series of six one-hour TV episodes for BBC1, called The Human Animal. This series went on to win the Cable Ace Award in Los Angeles for best documentary series in 1995. The following year Morris began to work on The Human Sexes, a new TV sequel to The Human Animal, which was completed in 1997.


  • Zootime (Weekly, 1956–67)
  • Life (1965–67)
  • The Human Race (1982)
  • The Animals Roadshow (1987–89)
  • The Animal Contract (1989)
  • Animal Country (1991–96)
  • The Human Animal (1994)
  • The Human Sexes (1997)


In 1964 he was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Animal Behaviour.


  • The Biology of Art (1963) – a look at the paintings of primates and their relation to human art
  • The Big Cats (1965) - part of The Bodley Head Natural Science Picture Books, looking at the habits of the five Big Cats, the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, snow leopard, and the cheetah.[5]
  • The Mammals: A Guide to the Living Species (1965) — a comprehensive and compelling listing of all mammal genera, all non-rodent non-bat species, and additional information on select species.
  • The Naked Ape (1967) — an unabashed look at the human species. The book is notable for its focus on humanity's animalistic qualities and our similarity with other apes. Reprinted many times and in many languages, it continues to be a best-seller.
  • The Human Zoo (1969) — a continuation of the previous book, analysing human behaviour in big modern societies and their resemblance to animal behaviour in captivity.
  • Intimate Behaviour (1971) — In "Intimate Behaviour" Morris studies the human side of intimate behaviour from clapping to cutting hair, from the embrace to copulation. Morris examines how natural selection shaped human physical contact in and how intimate behaviours are expressed and/or repressed in modern culture. Morris explains the origins of complex and mundane human signaling and body contact relating much of it to the pre-natal condition in the womb and the experience of the protection and attention that children receive when young and helpless. Morris infers that most intimate contact is a variation or repetition of such comforting and secure contact which is expressed in thinly disguised forms from pats on the back to massage "therapy". Morris describes an increasingly rigid modern society empty of typical physical interaction in public and how people compensate by enacting intimate behaviour in other forms in private or through deviant behaviour in public.
  • Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour (1978)
  • Gestures: Their Origin and Distribution (1979)
  • Animal Days (1979) — Autobiographical
  • The Soccer Tribe (1981)
  • Pocket Guide to Manwatching (1982)
  • Inrock (1983)
  • Bodywatching – A Field Guide to the Human Species (1985) — Hundreds of photos analyzing the human body from hair down to the feet.
  • Catwatching: & Cat Lore (1986) — a study of one of the most popular of household pets across the centuries.
  • Dogwatching (1986) — an in-depth study of "man's best friend".
  • Horsewatching (1989) — subtitled "Why does a horse whinny and everything else you ever wanted to know"
  • Animalwatching (1990)
  • Babywatching (1991)
  • Bodytalk (1994)
  • The Human Animal (1994) — book and BBC documentary TV series
  • The Human Sexes (1997) — Discovery/BBC documentary TV series
  • Cat World: A Feline Encyclopedia (1997)
  • The Naked Eye (2001)
  • Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of over 1,000 Dog Breeds (2001)
  • Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language (2002)
  • The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body (2004)
  • Linguaggio muto (Dumb language) (2004)
  • The Nature of Happiness (2004)
  • Watching (2006)
  • The Naked Man: A Study of the Male Body (2008)
  • Baby: A Portrait of the First Two Years of Life (2008)
  • Planet Ape (2009)
  • Owl (2009)

Major events

  • In 1951 upon moving his studies to Oxford University, Desmond studied under Dr. Nikolaas Tinbergen, a Dutch ethologist and ornithologist, who in 1973 shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with two other scientists for their discoveries.
  • Holds one man art show at the world’s first university museum (Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) in 1952, in Oxford.
  • In 1952 the journal Behavior, published Morris’s first scientific paper on animal behavior. He produced 47 more over the next fifteen years.[1][6]
  • Awarded Doctor of Philosophy (D.Phil) in 1954 by Oxford University, his thesis on the "Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback".
  • First scientific book published in 1958: The Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback as well as a children’s book titled The Story of Congo.
  • In 1983, Desmond published his first fiction novel, called Inrock (science fiction, fantasy), reflective of the surrealist world he created within his paintings. Said to be primarily aimed towards children, but not entirely.
  • In 1992 Desmond held his first one-man showing of his paintings in Paris.
  • In 1996 an exhibition titled “Desmond Morris 50 Years of Surrealism” was held at both Stoke Gallery, and then second Nottingham Public Gallery. Followed by a solo exhibit at Mayor Gallery in 1997 to coincide with Desmond's official biographer Silvano Levy’s book entitled Desmond Morris: 50 Years of Surrealism.
  • In 1998 Desmond Morris is awarded the honour of becoming a Doctor of Science by the University of Reading in Reading, Berkshire.

Personal life

When Morris was 14, his father was killed whilst serving in the armed forces. In a 2008 interview he said "it was the beginning of a life-long hatred of the establishment. The church, the government and the military were all on my hate list and have remained there ever since."[7] As said in another interview, Desmond’s reasoning behind drifting towards the surrealist subculture is rather profound. In a time living as a child in the Second World War and then losing his father to the repercussions of that violence, an inner urge for rebellion against authority struck Morris.

Surrealism started in the 1920s as a rebellion against the horrendous natures of the Great War, these ideas fitted Desmond’s current mindset quite perfectly. Enabling him to create his own world for himself within his paintings. Painting he proclaims is his own personal pleasure, not business. So his rebellion ended up coming forth in other ways, more positive ways, not just within his paintings but within his desire to share knowledge throughout over 79 publications with the world. Not wanting to cause grief for anyone in other aspects (due to his prior grief), he decided to aim his energies in these more positive directions such as writing evolutionarily beneficial works. And so he did, as seen through his life accomplishments, or entire lists of works. Desmond's grandfather William Morris, a very enthusiastic Victorian naturalist is noted to have played a great influence on Desmond during his time living in Swindon. Interesting to note, William Morris founded the Swindon local newspaper.[1]

In July 1952, Morris married Ramona Baulch, a history graduate from Oxford. Both only children, the two conceived their only son Jason in Malta. This occurred in 1968 following the success of The Naked Ape.[1] In 1978 Desmond was elected Vice-Chairman of Oxford United F.C.. In 1981 Morris published The Soccer Tribe, analysis regarding the world of professional football.

Desmond reflected in an interview[8] with the following quote : "I also carried my message - about how fascinating animal behaviour and human behaviour can be - to an even wider audience by making television programmes, and presented a total of about 700 programmes over a period of half a century. I have now stopped that work and I am devoting my final years to the three things I enjoy most; writing books, painting pictures and travelling the world. I have so far managed to visit 95 countries and I have a schoolboy ambition to make that 100 countries before I die."

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Morris, D. (1967). The naked ape; a zoologist's study of the human animal (1st American ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  4. ^ Harré, R. (2006). Chapter 5: The Biopsychologists. Key thinkers in psychology (pp. 125-132). London: Sage.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ [1]

External links

  • Official website including a complete biography
  • Works by or about Desmond Morris in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Desmond Morris at the Internet Movie Database
  • Dinjet il-Qattus/Catlore by Desmond Morris, translated into Maltese by Toni Aquilina, D es Litt.
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