The man pictured there is George Cansdale. He is, in essence, the godfather of all of the fantastic BBC wildlife programs we get today from the likes of David Attenborough. On the very first nature programs on the BBC, Cansdale would bring zoo animals into the studio for the benefit of the television viewing audience…the live television viewing audience.
I was listening to one of Attenborough’s audiobooks, where he discusses one of his own earliest television adventures, Zoo Quest for a Dragon from 1957. In explaining some of the live shenanigans that the zoo animals would sometimes get up to while in the studio with Cansdale, he shared this:
Mr. Cansdale was an expert naturalist, wonderfully adept at handling animals and persuading them to do what he wanted. Even so, there were accidents…to the intense delight of those watching. Occasionally, they even escaped. A small African squirrel once leapt from the demonstration table onto the microphone boom that had come recklessly close to it, scampered across the studio and found refuge in the ventilation system. There it lived for weeks, making regular appearances in the dramas, variety shows and religious programs that continued to come from its studio.
Now, the BBC wiped a lot of its older programming. And I know many people bemoan the lost hours of Doctor Who and Not Only But Also (among other things), but holy crap, I desperately want to see vintage live television shows interrupted by a renegade African squirrel making a cameo appearance.
I would like to see a costume drama where the actors are doing everything in their power to ignore the squirrel casually making its way over the furniture in the background. Or a variety program in which the squirrel startles the hell out of some dancers. The possibilities are endless.
I would be pleased with just a still or a write-up of the squirrel’s rain of furry terror…but alas, all I can find online is the bit from Attenborough’s book. Just another example of lost film to be placed up there with the other amazing missing pieces of history, like the eight-hour cut of Greed or London After Midnight.
Attenborough’s Zoo Quest for a Dragon is available from Amazon.