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Clinton Keeling

Discussion in 'Zoo History' started by Carl Jones, 23 Aug 2016.

  1. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    Clinton Keeling is often talked about by Zoochatterers with some affection and reverence far beyond what would seem to be deserved. He was a very colourful person and perhaps typified the small zoo owner of the 1960's and 1970's. It is however clear that he ran a chotic zoo and his family was disfunctional. His son describes him as having delusions of grandeur.

    It would be good to learn more about this eccentric character and why he is held in such esteem.
     
  2. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

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    An interesting question! I had the very real pleasure of knowing Clin in two different circumstances. When I was very young – six or seven years old – he used to visit my school, with boxes full of animals. He would proceed to talk about them (and other things too) for an hour or so before going on his way. It was, without doubt, the most exciting thing that happened in my education, until the moment things went terribly wrong in a chemistry lab many years later (but that's another story).

    In later years, I would become a friend, of sorts. That is, I would correspond with him (with all of his letters written on a fantastically old-fashioned typewriter), see him at various gatherings, and, occasionally, receive his telephone calls.

    There is no doubt that he was not, in any way, an easy man. Some of his views were deeply unpleasant, and spending time with him could be a trial. He was also somebody who lived in his own world, and was unaware, or uninterested, in the feelings or actions of others. I once introduced him to a maker of factual television documentaries. I imagined that there would be the possibility of a poignant BBC2 programme about him and his work. A meeting was arranged. Meeting my friend afterwards, she was incredulous: there was no way that a programme could be put together, such was Clin's single-minded belief in his own rightness (and everybody else's corresponding wrongness). He had the most extraordinary chip on his shoulder as well, and would, frequently, rail against of the injustices of the world – injustices which saw other people treated with more generosity, fairness, or respect than that were ever given to him.

    As a zoologist, he was interesting – but massively out-of-date. His knowledge was a compendium of facts, rather than, I would suggest, a profound scientific understanding. I never had the pleasure of visiting his zoo, but those I know who did, or who even worked there, tell a consistent tale – it was not the finest establishment the world has ever seen.

    Most unforgivable, possibly, was a real bigotry that he displayed, at different times. He was no Guardian-reader, for sure, and I once got very cross with him when, as a teacher, I invited him to come to speak to students in my school, only to have him make a rather disparaging comment about those students who had the temerity to be black. I didn't invite him back.

    And yet, there was something rather charming and wonderful about him. His enthusiasms were many, and his consistent championing of certain zoos was commendable. His research into the history of zoos was dogged, and he was always generous in sharing his knowledge – and not just through his books. In the days before the Internet made such things so much easier, he enabled many of us who were interested in zoos to meet, and I am not sure that such meetings would have been possible otherwise. On a personal level, therefore, I owe a great deal to him.

    For a number of years, he organised an annual animal show in Sussex – known as Zoologica. It was brilliant. I'm not sure that many other people would have been able to bring such a thing about, with, over the years, a giraffe, camels, large numbers of birds and rodents, reptiles, racing ferrets, and all manner of animal-related stuff to be seen.

    To my very real regret, I had a falling out with Clin before he died – he objected to a review I wrote of a book of his. Nonetheless, and despite his very many and very obvious feelings, I would put him up there as one of the people who most influenced my interest in zoos.
     
  3. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

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    I can confirm that in my opinion that's a spot on, "warts and all" but ultimately fair, summary by Sooty.

    A lot of good things (friendships, acquaintances, zoo and zoo history knowledge) emanated from the webs of organisations and meetings organised by Clin in the pre-internet era that have continued to the present day -for myself and many others.

    His enthusiasm was seemingly boundless but, as pointed out by Sooty, the man had some serious flaws and rough edges too. On a personal level he was analogous to a number of grandparents (my own and other people's) I've known who are knowledgeable, fascinating and generally friendly but "of their time" in that they're a little small-minded and riddled with antiquated prejudices.

    Overall though, a force for good. I believe the positive effects of his actions (especially his books) will reverberate forwards much longer than any negative ones.
     
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  4. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    Thank you Sooty and Shorts for the wonderful accounts of a complex and fascinating character. These accounts remined me of several other "animal people" I knew in the 1970s, always interesting, sometimes charming and invariably opinionated. Their houses were interesting sometimes chaotic with animals in various rooms. These eccentrics are less tolerated these days, and the world is a duller place.

    I have read many of Clinton's articles and always thought his approach to animal husbandry was basic and his views on biology and taxonomy often naiive.

    It seems Clinton Keeling deserves a biography or at least some published articles about the man. I will have to try and obtain some of his books to find out more about him.
     
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  5. Derbygirl

    Derbygirl Member

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    Hello, I'm a new member, I saw that Jeremy Keeling had died, and his name suddenly brought back many memories. I did a search and discovered this website. I worked at the small private zoo when I was about 15, which was 55 years ago. I also worked at an auxiliary zoo they ran in the summer at a 'stately home' that I can't remember the name of. I had to stay alone in a caravan, and I gave pony rides to children. I remember moving the animals to the small summer zoo. Monkeys in a sack which leaped around and most memorably, loading a huge vietnamese potbellied pig into a Bedford van ! I had to catch rabbits for the birds of prey.
    In their home there were hermit crabs in the bathtub, cockatoos in th
     
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  6. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

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    Is this correct? Hopefully, an error - I cannot find any other references to this.

    Please, do continue! It would be excellent to have further anecdotes of your time working at Ashover!
     
  7. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    I think they have got Jeremy and Clinton confused, given the fact that there is no mention on the Monkey World website or FB page to the former having passed away and one would think that such an event *would* be mentioned on at least one of these websites........
     
  8. Derbygirl

    Derbygirl Member

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    I'm so very sorry, it was indeed an error on my part! It was someone named Cronin who died, but the headline announcing it was confusing.
     
  9. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Yep, that would be Jim Cronin - the founder of Monkey World along with Jeremy Keeling; Cronin passed away quite some time ago.

    Even if it was a misunderstanding which led you to discovering this site, now that you are here I would like to wholeheartedly second the sentiment voiced by @sooty mangabey - further memories and thoughts about Ashover would be very much appreciated! :p :D
     
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  10. Derbygirl

    Derbygirl Member

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    Yes I was trying to finish the post but kept getting predictive text or none at all...it seems to be working now. There were cockatoos in the kitchen screeching constantly, the living room was completely taken over by a huge cage where Paul,the chimpanzee lived. I can remember Phoebe, the youngest child, weaving in and out of the bars of the bear enclosure! She was about 4 or 5. The bears would come and hang their paws out, we would pour honey on them and they would wander off and lick them clean.
     
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  11. Derbygirl

    Derbygirl Member

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    I first dredged up these memories after seeing a fb group called derbyshire and proud who post wonderful pictures of derbyshire. I was born in Holbrook maternity home in belper and spent much of my childhood in somercotes and derby. I was trying to remember where the seasonal auxiliary zoo was situated. In the grounds of a stately home. I was allowed to use the bathroom Otherwise I stayed in a caravan. I can remember giving Shetland pony rides to children around a statue of, I think, Robin Hood. Any ideas?
     
  12. Derbygirl

    Derbygirl Member

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    Ps I'm in Canada, I guess it's around 11pm there now, so I'll sign off!
     
  13. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    10pm, in point of fact :p and people on Zoochat don't tend to know the meaning of the phrase "bedtime" so I wouldn't let the time here stop you posting!
     
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  14. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    Good memory.:) I googled this and I think it would have been Nottingham Castle.
     
  15. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

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    I'd be almost certain it's Nottingham "Castle" which, in spite of it's name and hill-top setting, is "just" a stately home -it has a Robin Hood statue at the base of the cliff it's on.
     
  16. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    Any more memories of Clinton Keeling and his eccentric zoo/ household?
     
  17. john thorpe

    john thorpe Member

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    I think the confusion with jeremy Keeling's death came about because the person who died was a rugby player of the same name.
     
  18. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    Sooty's piece above is much as I remember him, too - but without any personal relationship. He did an anual whole school lecture with live animals at my secondary-modern in Huntingdonshire. I remember probably 3 years running, and then the lectures stopped. I know he was not asked back by Northamptonshire education authority, so assume that Cambs/Hunts followed suit.

    In later years I met him a couple of times at Zoologica and at a meeting of NAPAK at ZSL. Meeting your child-hood idols is potentially a let-down, and as is sometimes (often?) the case with self-proclaimed 'experts' I found him bigoted, self-important and surprisingly ignorant on some some subjects he pontificated about.

    He remains one of the names which influenced my life, abeit in a sub-class to the likes of Durrell, Wayre, Scott, Badham, Sawyer, Marler, Hill etc
     
  19. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

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    Inspired by the rekindling of this thread, I spent a few minutes hunting for online material about Clinton H Keeling. Nothing substantive, but this fascinating post on the websote of Stefan Buczacki. I wonder whether he has got anywhere with this project? Could be fascinating! Clinton Keeling/Ashover Zoological Gardens - Stefan Buczacki
     
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  20. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    There's another name from the past..!!! - but it does look as though he hasn't updated the page since the first lines were written 2 years ago....lets hope lots of info has accrued.
     
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