Meet TV’s wildest stars including a dog who can ride a donkey
TV’s wildest stars! The dog who can ride a donkey, the lemur with a drink problem, and the sloth who’s a slob take centre stage as The Durrells returns for its latest series
From the sun-kissed scenery of Corfu to the epic spats between the family members, there’s plenty to love about The Durrells.
But it’s the menagerie of animals collected by the youngest Durrell, Gerry, which really enthrals viewers the most. From Roger the dog, to Frank the sloth and Pelican and Pelican’t, more than 100 different animals have featured in the hit show based on the memoirs of zoologist Gerald Durrell.
But have you ever wondered just how the producers got a pelican to walk on a lead, a dog to ride a donkey or a sloth to wake up for a scene?
As the fourth and final series starts on Sunday, TANITH CAREY reveals the fascinating behind-the-scenes secrets of The Durrells’ animal stars . . .
ROGER THE RESCUE IS A TOP DOG IN ACTING
Since the first series four years ago, Roger the lurcher has barely left the side of wannabe zookeeper Gerry, played by 16-year-old Milo Parker. In real life, Roger is actually a female called Mossup.
From the sun-kissed scenery of Corfu to the epic spats between the family members, there’s plenty to love about The Durrells
Since the first series four years ago, Roger the lurcher has barely left the side of wannabe zookeeper Gerry, played by 16-year-old Milo Parker. In real life, Roger is actually a female called Mossup
However, the ten-year-old has been on the show so long she answers to both names.
She’s owned by the show’s animals co-ordinator Liz Thornton and her partner Alan Thomson, of Warwickshire-based A1 animals.
Sloth that sleeps on the job
The last series saw Gerry take in a sloth from a travelling circus.
‘Frank’ is played by a female called Talita, who was re-homed from an animal centre in Guyana four years ago.
When she was cast in The Durrells, the plan was for Gerry to hold Talita in his arms. But she weighs over two stone and the actor who played Gerry was too slight, so Keeley Hawes, who plays Durrell matriarch Louisa, stepped in instead.
The last series saw Gerry take in a sloth from a travelling circus
Rather than ship her to Greece, Talita’s scenes were filmed at Ealing Studios. ‘She was a star on the set,’ says her keeper Barbara Marquez, 54. ‘If anyone wanted to know where an actor was, they’d usually be found with her.’
However, despite her allure, not much acting was involved.
‘Really all Talita had to do was to behave like a sloth, hang around off branches and eat.
‘At one point, she fell asleep during her scene.’
Talita lives at Heythrop Zoological Gardens, and is hired out by agency Amazing Animals. Her TV appearances have included This Morning, where she had her mind read by a modern-day Dr Doolittle.
Her first role as a puppy was on Casualty, and other appearances include The Crown and even touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company. But her most heart-tugging role was as Baxter, the neglected dog in a Blue Cross advert who wandered the streets singing ‘I will survive’.
Liz, 50, has had Mossup since she was seven weeks old when they rescued her from a Blackpool puppy mill.
‘All dogs are clever but the difference is whether or not they take to filming and enjoy being on a set, which Mossup does,’ she says.
‘She knows when she’s working because she gets more treats!’
Mossup is such a good actress that she has been given several key storylines — including being accidentally shot by Gerry’s gun-mad brother Leslie.
Her quick reaction times meant Alan was able to get her to jump up instantly as if she had been hit with an air pellet. With her back leg ‘out of action’, another challenge was to train Mossup to walk on her front paws with her back legs on a wooden trolley.
Liz says: ‘It took ten minutes every day for a week to get her used to it.’ Mossup has her own thermal ‘cool’ coat which she wears between takes, to make sure she doesn’t get too hot in the Corfu sunshine, and a portable air conditioning unit.
As with any star, Mossup’s wages are a closely guarded secret, but top animal actors have been known to get around £1,000 a day, while those not at the centre of the plot would get around £450, with extra fees for special tricks.
OTTER THAT’S UTTERLY CUTE
One of the stand-out stars of the show has been Rudi the otter, who is reputed to be Britain’s only tame otter working in film and TV.
Indeed, he is so rare that when the plot involved Gerry trying to launch a breeding programme, Rudi had to take on the roles of both himself and his girlfriend — magically producing babies after the programme makers weaved in some nature footage.
Rudi lives with his owner, 82-year-old actress Daphne Neville in Gloucestershire. He was adopted from a wildlife park in Derbyshire after his mother rejected him.
One of the stand-out stars of the show has been Rudi the otter, who is reputed to be Britain’s only tame otter working in film and TV
Now 13, he is Daphne’s tenth otter in 40 years after she first took one in as part of her campaign to clear Britian’s polluted waterways, which helped drive otters almost to extinction in this country.
Rudi is an Asian short-clawed otter, which tend to be friendlier than our native breed.
‘Otters are magical,’ says Daphne. ‘Rudi jumps into my arms, sits on my shoulder and nuzzles me like a cat. I look after him as if he were my child but I also treat him like a fellow actor. He’s very good at knowing what’s expected of him.’
To save him the journey to Greece, Rudi’s scenes were shot at a river by Daphne’s home.
Producers made it look like Corfu by using sandbags to raise the water levels and bringing in reeds to make the vegetation look more Greek. Rudi has also appeared in dozens of nature programmes, and last year he also sat on Daphne’s shoulder as she cooked on Come Dine with Me.
SEAGULL WITH A BAD ATTITUDE
Other birds on the show include a grumpy seagull called Alecko, whose real name is Steven Seagull after the actor, Steven Seagal.
He was given to trainer Anthony Bloom, 59, to care for 15 years ago as a baby chick after he was found abandoned on a roof top.
Two barn owls, who Anthony affectionately calls Twit and Twerp, also play a single bird.
The star reptile is an iguana called Stalitsa and Timmy the tortoise and his harem, who are both owned by the local vet and his clients
‘We have two because one is better at standing still and the other is better at flying around,’ he says.
‘We bred them from eggs and think they are a pair but we are not sure!’
Unfortunately, being the handler of animal actors isn’t all glamour.
On set, Anthony says one of his roles is to clean up bird droppings — which have been known to surprise actors during filming.
‘By now, all the cast know the basic rule which is, if you look up, keep your mouth closed,’ he says.
‘The costume department aren’t very fond of me either because these accidents do happen.’ Other birds on set include a falcon.
FRISKY TORTOISE AND HIS HAREM
Not all the animal stars on the show are furry. Gerry’s menagerie also includes a range of reptiles including crocodiles, snakes, tortoises and terrapins, as well as a Giant African Land Snail, played by five-year-old Freddy. The star reptile is an iguana called Stalitsa and Timmy the tortoise and his harem, who are both owned by the local vet and his clients. However Liz reveals that having the tortoises in the background did have one unforeseen problem — they were, ahem, sex mad.
Gerry’s menagerie also includes a range of reptiles including crocodiles, snakes, tortoises and terrapins, as well as a Giant African Land Snail, played by five-year-old Freddy
‘They are always around and they are so rampant, so we often get asked by the crew “Can you split those tortoises up please!”’
PERILS OF ACTING WITH PELICANS
While you may think the creepy-crawlies would be the scariest animals on set, the ones given the widest berth are the pelicans.
The pair, called Pelican and Pelican’t on the show, and P1 and P2 in real life, are often seen wandering around the house.
But as they tend to explore everything with their giant beaks, Liz says the cast know to keep well clear. ‘The birds only have to turn around suddenly and they could knock Milo over,’ she says.
For each series, Anthony takes up to ten birds in a padded van to Corfu where they live in a specially built aviary.
While you may think the creepy-crawlies would be the scariest animals on set, the ones given the widest berth are the pelicans
Anthony, who feeds them the best fish from a nearby market, says: ‘It’s tricky because we have to keep the pelicans a little hungry so they respond to food. But if they are too hungry, they run after the actors to try to bully them into feeding them.’
In several episodes, Milo has to prove to his mother he’s keeping the pelicans under control by walking them on the lead. But, this was easier said than done.
‘It’s more like they take Milo for a walk,’ says Anthony. ‘They go where they like and the actors have to follow!’
When they’re not acting, the birds — whose other appearances include Inspector Morse spin-off Endeavour — indulge in their favourite pastime … sunbathing.
‘They pant like dogs, but even though we offer them shelter in the shade they refuse to budge, so we have to spritz them with water,’ says Anthony.
THE LEMURS JUST LOVE A TIPPLE
In the final series, the most exotic guest stars are a pair of lemurs that Gerry rescues after a sailor tries to sell them in a local taverna.
However when he brings them home, they cause havoc, turning the house upside down.
It’s a case of art mirroring reality; trainer Liz says that the two lemurs — Lee Jnr, three, and Marley, nine — could be something of a handful on set.
‘Lemurs tend to be shy at first but once they got familiar with the studio, they were bouncing around everywhere. They were leaping from table to table and using the cast members as springboards.
In the final series, the most exotic guest stars are a pair of lemurs that Gerry rescues after a sailor tries to sell them in a local taverna
‘They even ended up drinking the grape juice in the wine glasses!’
To prepare them for the role, the pair — who live at Heythrop Zoological Gardens in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire — were introduced to Milo at the zoo first. Liz says: ‘When they jump on you they are powerful, so we also had to make sure that Milo knew how it felt.’
Although The Durrells was his TV debut, Lee Jnr comes from a showbiz dynasty. His father Lee Senior starred with John Cleese in the 1997 film, Fierce Creatures, while Marley has appeared on a range of kids’ programmes.
FUSSY FLAMINGOS ARE SO FLIGHTY
Among the most memorable plotlines from the show was when Gerry adopted two flamingos and experimented to see if feeding them different foods would make their plumage pinker.
For this, Anthony took out three flamingos to join the menagerie.
Compared to the pelicans they are more timid. ‘They are not as interested in people and are more easily startled,’ Anthony explains.
Among the most memorable plotlines from the show was when Gerry adopted two flamingos and experimented to see if feeding them different foods would make their plumage pinker
‘Because they are designed to walk in flat marshes, we have to clear away any hard pebbles or grass. Otherwise they have such spindly legs they topple over.’ Liz says the most memorable moments with the flamingos is filming them on marshy ground.
‘While they glide across them we end up being knee-deep in it!
‘They are a bit neurotic and the weirdest things can spook them. At one point they wouldn’t be fed from the tin bowls because they were too shiny.’
THE DONKEY’S A LOCAL HERO
As far as possible, the crew try to use farmyard animals which already live on Corfu, asking local vets for recommendations of good owners.
They are then bought by production company Sid Gentle Films, and once they have appeared on the show are re-homed at an animal centre on the island. One of the biggest local stars is the donkey Sally, real name Coco, who comes from a riding school. As Milo’s main mode of transport, she has appeared in countless episodes. She was even called upon to carry his dog Roger when he injured his leg.
Liz says: ‘Coco is used to being ridden so she didn’t mind so it only took Mossup three days to get the hang of it.’
The new series of The Durrells starts on Sunday at 8pm, ITV.
Source: Read Full Article