George Cansdale

I have already mentioned George Cansdale, author of the Ladybird Book of Pets, British Wild Animals and Learnabout Pets (a revamped version of the original) in connection with the Eagle artists and authors. George was indeed a well known animal authority in the 1950s appearing in various children's publications, including 'The Girl' and its rival Schoolgirls' Own Book of Pets!. His popular media nickname was 'The Zoo Man' and whilst writing this short appreciation, glancing through my research material I spy a rather avuncular moustached figure sharing the limelight with a cat, who looks uncannily like my very own. except that there are over 40 years between the two.

Cansdale's first interest as a school boy was with British birds. He later became a Forest Officer on the Gold Coast for 14 years. In that time he collected snakes and other tropical creatures - a far cry from the bunny rabbit familiar to British children and which appear in The Ladybird Book of Pets. He was responsible for introducing many of these more exotic animals to zoos around Britain and even America, notably London zoo where in 1948 he took charge and initiated a series of television programmes. By 1951 he had established himself as the no. 1 animal TV presenter with his Looking at Animals series which ran throughout the 50s -a predecessor surely for Johnny Morris' Animal Magic. Originally these programmes were designed to bring 'exotic animals to the home'; later he featured more common British Animals from homes, farms and local zoos. He was also director of Chessington Zoo and the Isle of Wight Zoo at Sandown. Part of his appeal was his 'friendly schoolmasterish' personality. In the late 1950s he became involved as part of a development group hoping to found a zoo in Ashanti's capital Kumasi.

There are many amusing anecdotes concerning Cansdale's TV career. In these early days of broadcasting one programme involved bringing a live tiger into the studio. The tea-girl, accustomed to seeing actors dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, the Three Musketeers and so on, was shocked to see an ordinary looking man taking a fully grown tiger for a walk on his lead along the BBC's corridors. 'Nizam's' box was apparently too big to be wheeled in. Another time George was seen with a Lion Cub on his knee 'listening' to Laurence Turner the violinist as he gave a live performance for man and cub!

In those days his programmes were live - one incident involved a jerboa and tortoise forced to share centre stage in a sand-pit - the jerboa proceeded to bury the tortoise in front of viewers. When askes the secret of his success with animals Cansdale is reported to have said it is in the timing suited to the animal. He didn't however escape numerous scars himself.

Cansdale did not contribute to many Ladybird Books, but those he did are amongst the best known.


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