Desmond Morris

Desmond John Morris FLS hon. caus.' (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.

Desmond Morris
Morris in 1969
Desmond John Morris

(1928-01-24) 24 January 1928
Purton, Wiltshire, England
Alma mater
Known forThe Naked Ape (1967)
Scientific career
ThesisThe reproductive behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback (1954)
Doctoral advisorNiko Tinbergen

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 1950 he held a surrealist art exhibition with Joan Miró at the London Gallery. He held many other exhibitions in later years.[1] Also in 1950, Desmond Morris wrote and directed two surrealist films, Time Flower and The Butterfly and the Pin. 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[2]


Morris stayed at Oxford, researching the reproductive behaviour of birds. In 1956 he moved to London as Head of the Granada TV and Film Unit for the Zoological Society of London, and studied the picture-making abilities of apes.[1] 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, scripting and hosting 500 programmes, and 100 episodes of the show Life in the Animal World for BBC2.[1] In 1957 he organised an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, showing paintings and drawings composed by common 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 1959 he left Zoo Time to become the Zoological Society's Curator of Mammals.[1] In 1964 he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Animal Behaviour. 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,[3] 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.[4] From 1973 to 1981, Morris was a Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford.[5] 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] 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.[6]

Personal life

When Morris was 14, his father was killed whilst serving in the armed forces, causing Morris to drift towards surrealism.[7] 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..[2]

Morris lived in the same house in North Oxford as the 19th-century lexicographer James Murray who worked on the Oxford English Dictionary.[8] He exhibits at the Taurus Gallery in North Parade, Oxford, close to his home.[9] Since the death of his wife in 2018 he lives with his son and family in Ireland.



  • The biology of art. 1963.
  • The Big Cats (1965) – part of The Bodley Head Natural Science Picture Books, looking at the habits of the five Big Cats.[10]
  • 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. New York: McGraw-Hill. 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.[11]
  • Men and Snakes (1968) with Ramona Morris – an exploration of the various complex relationships between humans and snakes
  • The Human Zoo (1969) – a continuation of The Naked Ape, 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) - includes discussion of topic "Tie Signs"
  • 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) (coauthored with [Steve Parker])
  • 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
  • "Cats in Art" (2017) – Part of the Reaktion Books Animal series
  • The Lives of the Surrealists (2018)

Book reviews

Year Review article Work(s) reviewed
1994 "CATS". The New York Review of Books. 41 (18): 16–17. 3 November 1994. Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall (1994). The tribe of tiger : cats and their culture. Simon and Schuster.


  • 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. Williams, D. "Desmond Morris Biography". Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  2. Dunbar, Robin (24 September 2017). "The Naked Ape at 50". Guardian. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  3. Morris 1967.
  4. Harré, R. (2006). "Chapter 5: The Biopsychologists". Key Thinkers in Psychology, pp. 125-132. London: Sage.
  5. "Desmond Morris". Social Issues Research Centre. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  6. National Life Stories, 'Morris, Desmond (1 of 2) National Life Stories Collection: Science and Religion', The British Library Board, 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2017
  7. Douglas, Alice (1 November 2008). "My family values: Desmond Morris interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  8. Moss, Stephen (18 December 2007). "We'd be better off if women ran everything". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  9. "Taurus Gallery". Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  10. The Big Cats ... Illustrated by Barry Driscoll. [Bodley Head Natural Science Picture Books.]. The British Library Board. 1965. Retrieved 23 May 2015.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  11. Schrobsdorff, Susanna. "All-TIME 100 Nonfiction Books". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
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