Molly Badham

Co-founder of Twycross Zoo


Molly Winifred Badham, zoo founder: born Evesham, Worcestershire 18 May 1914; Director, Twycross Zoo 1963- 2003 (Emeritus); MBE 2002; died Twycross, Leicestershire 19 October 2007.

Like many young children, when asked "What are you going to do when you grow up?", Molly Badham would always reply, "Work with animals!" True to her word, in 1963 she became the co-founder of Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire.

Born in 1914, on leaving Town School in Sutton Coldfield, she began to breed dogs and to run boarding kennels. She also fitted in work at a local pet shop in Station Street, Sutton Coldfield, and not long after the start of the Second World War, bought the shop and moved into the flat above. During the war, she continued her work while helping with the war effort by driving senior army officers around the area. She also became friendly with Nathalie Evans, a fellow dog breeder, and the two set up together in Badham's shop.

Two chimpanzees, Sue and Mickey, were purchased and lived as pets in the flat with Badham and Evans. The two chimps would sit at the table and pour out tea, as well as learning to use and flush the lavatory. They would visit the hairdresser with Badham – she would walk and the chimps would ride a tricycle alongside her. But as Sue and Mickey grew older and bigger, two adults and two chimpanzees in a confined space became a little restricting. One day, whilst Badham and Evans were out, the chimps managed to open the window and threw out most of their personal belongings, including Badham's pink silk knickers, to a cheering crowd below. This was the final push they needed to make the move.

They bought a small plot of land in the village of Hints, just outside Sutton Coldfield, and began a small zoo collection in 1954. This space was soon outgrown. By 1962 they had moved to Twycross and on the Whitsun Bank Holiday the following year opened Twycross Zoo.

They perhaps did not realise what they had started. The zoo continued to grow in reputation, with something new added each year. In 1972 it became the East Midland Zoological Society and was made into a Charitable Trust. Today, the zoo has around 1,000 animals and receives about half a million visitors each year.

The chimps were a big attraction: they opened supermarkets; engaged in a race from the Post Office Tower to the Empire State Building; took walk-on parts in films; and appeared in many commercials for PG Tips tea. Some will remember the PG removal men, Mr Shifter and his son, stuck halfway up the stairs with a piano ("Dad, do you know the piano's on my foot?" "You hum it, son, I'll play it!"), and the chimp Tour de France cyclist who asks a woman fan if she can "ride tandem". Badham said that the chimps enjoyed making the advertisements: "Chimps love dressing up. They have such a sense of humour." Over the years, as the zoo developed the message of conservation, so the commercials, film roles and the zoo Chimps Tea Party show stopped, but still the visitors came, and each year saw an increase in numbers.

Molly Badham's influence remained strong at the zoo and she retired only in 2003, when she was appointed director emeritus. She was a campaigner for the survival of endangered species and of primates in particular. Her passion for chimpanzees was legendary. She hand-reared several chimps, orang-utans and even a gorilla, when the natural mother either could not or would not care for the baby.

Badham was appointed MBE in 2002 and in 1982 was awarded an honorary BSc degree by Leicester University for her services to animal welfare and her work within the zoo community. In 1999 she was the subject of a BBC television series, Molly's Zoo, based on Twycross, and she wrote two books in collaboration with Nathalie Evans and Maureen Lawless, Chimps with Everything (1979) and Molly's Zoo (2000).

The many visitors to Twycross who would find themselves chatting to "the Boss" will recall Molly Badham's ability to make everyone feel important. I spent many hours helping both her and the zoo, and will always remember the fun we had.

Ivan Ellis

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy