ONE of the Swindon area’s most famous sons turned 91 on Thursday.

A zoologist, broadcaster, bestselling author and acclaimed surrealist painter, Purton-born Desmond Morris learned his love of and fascination with animals as a child and teenager in Queen’s Park.

Something else he learned there - on the island in the lake - was a dance craze, the jitterbug.

His instructor was an early girlfriend, Diana Fluck, who went on to find fame and fortune of her own as Diana Dors.

The first mention of the future Dr Morris, great grandson of Adver founder William Morris, in our archive is from 1948.

“Surrealist work of a craftsman,” said the headline above a story about the 19-year-old artist’s exhibition at the Central Library.

“The 32 paintings,” we said, “show imagination, a fine sense of colour, and are the work of a craftsman, though almost in every case the layman will find a difficulty in the interpretation of subject.”

Our letters page proved the assessment correct.

“How much longer,” wrote one anguished reader, “are the people of Swindon to be insulted with what I consider nightmares masquerading as art?”

In 1951 we reported that the young man had been awarded a BSc degree by Birmingham University, was about to begin research at Oxford and was one of 18 British painters chosen to represent their nation at a Belgian international arts festival.

Three years later we wrote that he was “...attracting a growing audience with his Independent Television children’s hour Zoo Time feature.”

By 1956 he was head of the Granada TV and Film Unit at the Zoological Society of London, and long before the decade’s end he was one of television’s most prominent presenters.

He wrote books throughout the 1960s, but in 1968 The Naked Ape, which applied zoological principles to the human world, brought worldwide attention and was the first of many bestseller.

Interviewed by his home town newspaper in 1993, Dr Morris remembered his early field trips to Queen’s Park after his family moved to Swindon: “Other kids wanted to catch fish. I only wanted to watch.

“I enjoyed the shapes. Under the microscope you don’t see legs or heads - just shapes. The shapes are life.

“I have lots of wonderful memories of Swindon - it’s the place where all my ideas formed.”

He also recalled Diana Dors, who had died nine years earlier, and revealed that she had considered calling herself Diana Desmond.