THE UK's biggest zoo, at Chester, turns out to have a history even more interesting that the kings of the jungle on show today. The fact-based drama series stars Lee Ingleby, who is swapping the hangdog look he wears as George Gently's 1960's sidekick Bacchus for the 1930s outfits of George Mottershead. This is a man haunted by the memories of serving in the First World War, and frustrated at being forced to live in his parents' cramped home above the family grocery with his wife and two children.
Then a trip to deliver some goods gives him a new direction in life. "He takes pity on some animals that he sees at the Liverpool docks whether they're going to be mistreated or put down. He buys them and then realises that he's got a camel, a monkey and a parrot – and one thing leads to another. He starts to think about things and he sees this house, Oakfield House, at an auction and he starts to get these ideas in his head of, 'Oh maybe I could open a zoo'," says Ingleby.
"He's very passionate about a zoo which doesn't inhibit animals because of what he saw during his time in the first war – not just with the people, but with the horses and the animals that were involved in the war in the trenches and stuff; he's seen fear in animals and he doesn't want to see that again."
How one man managed to do this is a modern marvel. The actors agrees: "I don't think that would ever happen today; there would be too many restrictions and barriers and people just laughing, you know, to the point where he'd be like, 'Forget it' and go back to his life.
"There are a lot of people laughing at George and he just has his blinkers on saying, 'No I can create something' – and he does."
But 21st Century health and safety rules are definitely no teddy bears' picnic. "We have two bears in the story, but we can't really work together because they're bears. So it's a case of filming them and then we come in and film the same scene, but without them and then, by the magic of television it comes together. It's important that we watch what the bear does and then we just try and remember and act, again it's the animals who just lay down the law and we just follow which is how it should be I think," says Ingleby.
George has to persuade his mother, played by Anne Reid, and wife (Liz White) to walk on the wildside with him. Suddenly fruit and veg seems far less boring.
Our New School (8.25am, 5.30pm CBBC)
THERE may be a few late starters at Conyers School, Yarm, this morning if youngsters (and quite a few adults) what to keep up with the latest fly-on-the-wall documentary series. Headteacher Mrs Spellman will be seen welcoming last year's 221 newcomers to year seven as part of her 1,500 pupil school. Miss Gibbons and Mr Glendinning are the form teachers hoping to keep order alongside science teacher Mr Thoburn, who also acts as narrator.
On the experience he says: "The upshot was that I spent four days in a box in London. Like David Blaine, only with reading."
Grand Designs (Channel 4, 9pm)
THE first of Kevin McCloud's new series centres on Rob Hodgson and Kay Ralph. Inspired by the villas of California, they plan to build a sleek glass-fronted house on a crumbling clifftop in Gwynedd. To make matters worse, one of the heaviest storms in recent history batters the coast, and erosion experts predict the property could fall into the sea within 60 years. As ever, our urbane host sows the seeds of doubt at the halfway mark and delivers another fabulous sign off.