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Desmond Morris

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Desmond Morris
Desmond Morris (1969).jpg
Morris in 1969
Born Desmond John Morris
(1928-01-24) 24 January 1928 (age 90)
Purton, Wiltshire, England
Nationality British
Alma mater
Scientific career
Thesis The reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback (1954)
Doctoral advisor Niko Tinbergen

Desmond John Morris (born 24 January 1928) is an English zoologist, ethologist and surrealist painter, as well as a popular author in human sociobiology. He is known for his 1967 book The Naked Ape, and for his television programmes such as Zoo Time.

Early life

Morris was born in Purton, Wiltshire, to Marjorie (née Hunt) and children's fiction author Harry Morris. In 1933, the Morrises moved to Swindon where Desmond developed an interest in natural history and writing. He was educated at Dauntsey's School, a boarding school in Wiltshire.[1]

In 1946, he joined the British Army for two years of national service, becoming a lecturer in fine arts at the Chiseldon Army College. After being demobilised in 1948, he held his first one-man show of his own paintings at the Swindon Arts Centre, and studied zoology at the University of Birmingham. In 1951 he began a doctorate at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford in animal behaviour.[1] In 1954, he earned a Doctor of Philosophy for his work on the reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback.


Morris stayed at Oxford, researching the reproductive behaviour of birds. He moved to London in 1956, studying the picture-making abilities of apes.[1] In 1957 he organised an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, showing paintings and drawings composed by chimpanzees. In 1958 he co-organised an exhibition, The Lost Image, which compared pictures by infants, human adults, and apes, at the Royal Festival Hall in London. In 1967 he spent a year as executive director of the London Institute of Contemporary Arts.[1]

Morris's books include The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal,[2] published in 1967. The book sold well enough for Morris to move to Malta in 1968 to write a sequel and other books. In 1973 he returned to Oxford to work for the ethologist Niko Tinbergen.[3]

In 1948, Morris had his first one-man showing of his paintings, at Swindon Art Centre. In 1950 he held a surrealist art exhibition with Joan Miró at the London Gallery. He held many other exhibitions in later years.[1] In 1950, Desmond Morris wrote and directed two surrealist films, Time Flower and The Butterfly and the Pin. In 1956 he moved to London as Head of the Granada TV and Film Unit for the Zoological Society of London. The work included creating programmes for film and television on animal behaviour and other zoology topics. He hosted Granada TV's weekly Zoo Time programme until 1959. He scripted and hosted 500 Zoo Time programmes, and 100 episodes of the show Life in the Animal World for BBC2.[1] He left to become the Zoological Society's Curator of Mammals in 1959.[1] In 1979 he undertook a television series for Thames TV, The Human Race, followed in 1982 by Man Watching in Japan, The Animals Road Show in 1986 and then several other series.[1]

In 1964 he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Animal Behaviour.

From 1973 to 1981, Morris was a Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford.[4]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1672/16) with Desmond Morris in 2015 for its Science and Religion collection held by the British Library.[5]

Personal life

When Morris was 14, his father was killed whilst serving in the armed forces, causing Morris to drift towards surrealism.[6] His grandfather William Morris, an enthusiastic Victorian naturalist and founder of the Swindon local newspaper,[1] greatly influenced him during his time living in Swindon.

In July 1952, Morris married Ramona Baulch; they had one son, Jason.[1] In 1978, Morris was elected Vice-Chairman of Oxford United F.C..[citation needed]

Morris lives in the same house in North Oxford as the 19th-century lexicographer James Murray who worked on the Oxford English Dictionary.[7] He exhibits at the Taurus Gallery in North Parade, Oxford, close to his home.[8]


  • 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.[9]
  • The Mammals: A Guide to the Living Species (1965) – a comprehensive listing of all mammal genera, all non-rodent non-bat species, and additional information on select species.
  • The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (1967) – a look at the humanity's animalistic qualities and its similarity with other apes. In 2011, Time magazine placed it on its list of the 100 best or most influential non-fiction books written in English since 1923.[10]
  • 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) – A study of the human side of intimate behaviour, examining how natural selection shaped human physical contact.
  • 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 analysing the human body.
  • Catwatching: & Cat Lore (1986) – a study of cats.
  • Dogwatching (1986) – a 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) – Part of the Reaktion Books Animal series
  • Monkey (2013) – Part of the Reaktion Books Animal series
  • Leopard (2014) – Part of the Reaktion Books Animal series
  • Bison (2015) – Part of the Reaktion Books Animal series
  • The Lives of the Surrealists (2018)


  • 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)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Williams, D. "Desmond Morris Biography". Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Morris, D. (1967). The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (1st American ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. ^ Harré, R. (2006). "Chapter 5: The Biopsychologists". Key Thinkers in Psychology, pp. 125-132. London: Sage.
  4. ^ "Desmond Morris". Social Issues Research Centre. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  5. ^ National Life Stories, 'Morris, Desmond (1 of 2) National Life Stories Collection: Science and Religion', The British Library Board, 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017
  6. ^ Douglas, Alice (1 November 2008). "My family values: Desmond Morris interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Moss, Stephen (18 December 2007). "We'd be better off if women ran everything". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  8. ^ "Taurus Gallery". Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "The Big Cats ... Illustrated by Barry Driscoll". The British Library Board. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Schrobsdorff, Susanna. "All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 3 March 2017. 

External links

This page was last edited on 20 June 2018, at 23:39
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