Windsor Safari Park
Tez loved Windsor Safari Park as much as any of us on this holy site. Luckily he still has some legendary photos of way back when - including the top people who were his wickedest mates ever!
Billy Smart outside the mansion house.
The late great Bill Smart to whom we owe it all too. This picture was taken in 1968/9 just after he first purchased that part of St Leonards hill which later became know as Windsor Safari Park. He stands in all his grandeur outside the entrance to the infamous “Bars” as it was known. Which later was to become one of Windsor premier night spots. Many of the animal keeping staff that needed to live on site eventually ended up living in the old servants quarters of the mansion house, with several of the Smart family living in the plush rooms of the floor below. Few can imagine how wonderful it was to have worked on a Safari Park and living in the mansion with friends and the Bars as the centre of our social lives, made living and working at Windsor Safari Park in the hedonistic seventies something utterly unique and unforgettable.
This picture was taken in 1968/9 just after he first purchased that part of St Leonards hill which later became know as Windsor Safari Park.
He stands in all his grandeur outside the entrance to the infamous “Bars” as it was known.
Which later was to become one of Windsor premier night spots.
Many of the animal keeping staff that needed to live on site eventually ended up living in the old servants quarters of the mansion house, with several of the Smart family living in the plush rooms of the floor below.
Few can imagine how wonderful it was to have worked on a Safari Park and living in the mansion with friends and the Bars as the centre of our social lives, made living and working at Windsor Safari Park in the hedonistic seventies something utterly unique and unforgettable.
No four guys could have had so much fun or worked so hard. In the summer of 76, the sun came out in April, and not a cloud was seen till September. It was a heat wave and none of us could believe our luck, to end up working in a Dolphinariam, with all that water, all that swimming, and our beautiful animals, and all of us on the same wavelength.
We were a whole lot more than just Friend's. We were "Soul Brother's", and we were masters of being so. To say we ripped it up, would be an understatement.
The four of us presented some awesome shows, as professional as it comes, but more than that, we had so much fun working them. We were the boys "THE" crew. The crowd's "and the Lady's" loved our animals, our shows, and us. We shared everything we had with each other, money, food, time and troubles. We were always with each other at work, and at play. and play hard we did, bar's, booze, women and the music, a lot of music. oh yes, there was a lot of music, we sheared and listened to every track of every album we owned. We never stopped buying records and "Comp" was an accomplished acoustic guitarist. the evenings for us were as busy as the days, on site and off. Every day we would nurse our morning hangovers and work them off in time for the first show of the day. and when all the work was done and our animals were settled for the night, we four would start all over again. we lived in each others pockets and for our animals, the shows and each other. We had our ups and Downs, even fights as every bunch of keepers do but mostly it was good.
One by one we left the park to do other things. Since then as the years rolled by, I always measured friendship by their standards, by the way we were, but in truth, even though I made lots of Friends, I never found their like ever again. Steve left to work with dolphins in Luxembourg, Robby left to work the rivers of Oxfordshire, and I eventual lost the park, my dream and my-self in a bottle. but I never forgot that they, we, were very, very special. We were "the crew of 76".
Big Tim (Possum), was big. I stand 6' 1'' and he towered over me and was twice as broad as your average loo door. he was a very experienced all round keeper and served time on all sections and reserves about the park. he was a real character and larger than life it's self. because of his size and grate strength he was often called upon to help shift things when they needed moving. he would help out in the Dolphinariam to shift, and put in place a one ton watertight gate when we had to "ditch" a pool to do blood sampling on the animals. he had a major problem when it came to shirts. "Wardrobe" could never find a uniform shirt to fit him, and often when on a blood sample, as he flexed his enormous muscles he would rip the shirts that were always too small for him. he took a lot of ribbing from us about being a real life "Incredible Hulk".
<< big Tim "possum" staff 1974 - 1981 and Tez
Possum's story and mine interweave throughout the time we worked together. As with all relationships there was good and bad, but for the most part I remember him as someone who served the park well, and probably did not receive the respect he deserved. He gained the nick name "Possum" because he was very experienced in "woods-craft" he was a survivalist, and knew how to live off the land if he had to, and on occasions he was not adverse to hunting rabbits and squirrels "Possum's". Well done our Possum, the park was a better place with you there.
John Child cartoons!
LOG ONTO HIS SITE RIGHT HERE for more cartoons and to contact him
Terry Bobrowicz will never forget Ramu, the killer whale who was moved to Sea World Florida from Windsor Safari Park in 1976, wow those two knew each other so well
Funny thing but back in the old days getting the audience wet was frowned upon. Dire Warning's were given about the first seven rows being "the splash area" and the seat were painted red accordingly. As soon as the warnings were given though, the kiddies would all rush down to the red seats in anticipation, and their mum's and dad's didn't seem to mind, (till they got them back that is).
But as time went by "Ramu's splash" became one of the highlights of the whale show.
Ramu being Ramu as only he could, often had other ideas on when to get folk wet. Sometimes he would catch people unawares as they filed up the steps to see the show. four and a half tons of whale hitting the water and sending an estimated hundred gallons of it over some very surprised and very wet people.
I remember one old man complaining to me, standing there, drenched to the skin and dripping wet, with an ice cream tub in his hand full of water with a Little blue plastic spoon floating around on top. oh... RAMU !
At the start of each show Ramu and all the dolphins would introduce themselves by all jumping out of the water, at one and the same time. It was a good way of showing the crowd what was in-store, and grabbing their attention. It was always a "show stopper". this show behaviour (which is also a natural one done in the wild) was known as "The opening high bows".
Unknown to the public, there were in fact, two shows going on. The one that they were watching, and the one that the animals and presenter were doing.
Collectively or individually the animals would invariably "try it on", maybe a bit slower here, a bit lower there, and so on. It was a psychological "fun" game that all trainers and animals play all over the world.
just 1 Ramu ... at Windsor Safari Park
"well look-ie here, wouldn't you know it, there's Honey looking straight at the camera again. she always was the biggest show off, bless her Little pecks".
Click here to see Tez's own photo GALLERY!
Simon Compton-Hall, now there’s an animal keeper’s keeper. He came to the Dolphinariam in late 75, and as Head keeper on that section of the park, I could see he was keen and he soon came across as some one that loved animals and had a burning desire to learn.
On day one he was badgering me to swim with Ramu. He showed no fear, and, as with most of the keeper’s of the 70’s, he was very “gung ho”. Unfortunately for “Comp” as he became known, I was not going to let him near the animals until he had been fully trained up, and knew what he was doing.
It was an un-written rule in the Dolphinariam, as with most sections on the park, that “Rookies” had first to prove themselves before they were allowed to partake of the fun things like swimming with the animals. All of them had to start at the bottom and work there way up, and I must say, gain the rest of the crew’s respect.
We made life pretty tough for him giving him every rubbish, dirty, tough job we could think of and we were on his back all the time. Even socially when we would all congregate down at the park’s bar’s in the evening we would still keep him at arm’s length.
This carried on for about 2 months, but I already knew he was going to make it, within a couple of days. He was already a seasoned keep that had come to us from Blackpool Zoo, and he had a screwed idea of what was going on.
There came a day when we, the rest of the crew and I, decided that he was good to go, and from that day he was regarded as one of us a “Royal Windsor Safari Park” keeper, he was very well liked and respected and totally dedicated to the job, regardless of how tough it was.
I started to introduce him to presenting shows, no easy task, he had gained our respect, but gaining the respect of his charges would be an other thing. As part of his education there were several days of talking about the dolphins and there individual personalities, and their little quirks. They all differ just as we humans do. Next we showed him the hand signals that we gave them during shows and at which seeing would go off and do the behaviour to that hand signal. The very first animal that we would put with rookies was Lulu, a very intelligent “and” mischievous dolphin that knew the shows and behaviours better than even we did.
The first shock that he had was realising that, not only did he have to remember every thing that he had been told, and get it right; he also had to do it in front of about 2000 paying customers. We had a saying regarding rookies and their first show, “The first show is not the toughest you’ll do. The second one is, because you know just what a mess you made of the first one”.
Methodically he went through each behaviour with Lulu one by one making sure that she did not play around too much. All in all it was a splendid effort. And after the show we told him so. He was very pleased to have got the first dolphin show he had ever presented out of the way. We then deflated him by telling him as good as it was, Lulu was actually training “HIM”.
We explained that although all the behaviours were OK, every time Lulu came back to the “pad” (as it was known, and not a stage), she would come back 3 or 4 inches to his right and unconsciously he would take a small step to the right, and at the end of the next behaviour she would do the same, and she would repeat this again and again, when Comp could no longer move any further right, she would start the same procedure moving to the left little by little, Poor Comp walked the length of the pad 3 times during his performance. At that point he realised that trying to train dolphins is a lot more difficult than it looks. Comp stood his ground on every show after that as did all the rookies before and after him. He went on to become one of the best show presenters and showmen the park had ever seen, and he and Lulu had a very special understanding. Simon Compton-Hall, now there’s an animal keeper’s keeper.
PS: If you would like to read more of the history of the keepers of "Royal" Windsor Safari Park and their stories. Please look at our very informative Forums, you will not be disappointed.
|we have 11 minutes of the video including Tigers, Lions, Birds of Prey Show, Butterfly House, Elephants, Giraffes and the Killimanjaro Toboggan Ride|
Y'know there really was nothing like driving your own car through "Baboon world" was there?
The final years of Windsor Safari Park saw this mighty tradition STOPPED! ouch - what a shame!!
I mean, sitting on a supervised bus being driven through there, simply does not COMPARE with the thrill of driving your car and kids through this fun environment, wondering whether you would emerge at the other end with 2 windscreen wipers, wing mirrors, radiator grill, spot lights .......
<< The barbary sheep shared with the baboons!
Legend days these, what terrific photos tez !!
Yep, there came a time when the Baboons were to see cars no more and before THAT sad day arrived, their pals the Barbary sheep - were herded off elsewhere too! Oh well, I'd better not moan TOO much! I'm just remembering my favourite era from the viewpoint of a "visitor"
A) I loved driving my own car through the baboons camp with my kids shrieking in the back of the car (SUPERB fun) and
B) with their pals the barbary sheep in the same place, what a great paddock to see!
John Child cartoons!
LOG ONTO HIS SITE RIGHT HERE for more cartoons and to contact him
On my very first day at the Park, I was given over to Jeff Maggs (Maggsy,?-76). He was head keeper at that time. With "Rookie's such as my-self, his first job would be to give us "The Tour" and familiarise us with the layout of the Park, and the Baboon reserve was first on the list.
Maggsy kept referring to the them as "Boons" and this was the first word I learnt of "Safari Speak". He pointed to the two large Alsatian dogs that were chained ether side of the massive sliding gate.
"Mister Magoo" he said, pointing to one of them. He hates Boons, he hates keepers, he hates just about every thing, he even hates his dinner.
He went on to explain that the "Boons", being crafty critters, at one time when the park was first opened, would often have mass breakouts via the gates so they got the two dogs, with long leads that only just met in the middle. See, he went on, can't let Magoo get to the other dog, co'z he hates him too.
He drove on and stopped outside a "block house" and explained that this was the night quarters and food kitchen for the animals. The walls and concrete area outside were covered in hubcaps, petrol caps, windscreen wipers and many other bits and pieces from various cars.
"Mechanics Trophies" he said. He introduced me to the keepers, and they went on to tell me that some boons had learnt how to take bits off of any hapless driver's pride and dream, that happened to stop in the reserve. they laughed explaining, all the care at some time would have to stop sooner or later, as they had to stop for the lock gate that lead into the big cat reserve.
It seems apparent that some animals were specialised in stealing different "bits" of hardware, a few had a fondness for wing mirrors, others in registration plates, and one bright spark, apparently, could whip off the dust cap on a tyre and let the air out in a flash.
They told me that the little buggers even knew the makes of cars and only bothered with their own speciality, but most of all, some were expert at getting into the boots of certain vehicles, for this was where the picnics and packed lunches of the innocent punters where kept.
<< the 'chief' baboon had many interesting dreams - mainly about Ford Cortina MK IIIs!
Several months later "and still a Rookie", the Crew and I were preparing for the first show of the day, when we heard a commotion and uproar out side of the Dolphinariam coming from the car park, women and children were screaming and there was a lot of shouting too.
We all piled out to find out that the first coaches of the day had arrived and were parking up, and being near to lunch time, one driver had opened the boot of his coach with all the hungry passengers eagerly awaiting their carrier bags and baskets loaded with dainty morsels, only to find about several startled baboons, with grubby little hands full of sandwiches, fruit and other tasty snacks.
Needless to say the situation, although funny was also dangerous. About 50 pounds of frightened animal, adorned with 3 to 4 inch teeth, protecting its ill-gotten gains, is not something the public should be messing with. Keeper's radios soon got help and thankfully no one got hurt. The Boons mainly headed off, not to the trees in auntie Liz's royal woods, as you would expect, but to the tops of roofs and walls? Later when we were discussing this point over several pints in the keepers bar, the common censuses was, that in the wild, baboons prefer rocks and outcrops in the savannah rather than trees that were thin on the ground.
The "good" news was that all the escapee's "did" manage to finish eating all the sandwiches Tez's GALLERY 1 Tez's GALLERY 2
Birma the Elephant in the WSP Bars 1974.
An old Circus trooper with more knowledge of Elephants than any university graduate could ever learn, “Elephant Jeff” was one of the legends of Windsor Safari Park
In its early days. With his trade mark Bull whip, with which he was an expert at using Sometimes he would take Birma, our five ton matriarch for short walk from her paddock at the bottom of the hill to the restaurant at the top of it
to collect large paper sacks full, of yesterdays bread rolls and walk them down the hill again for the other Elephants to share.
Often Jeff would stop off at the Bars and walking Birma in through the French windows, he would have a swift half, while she would polish off half a bottle of brandy at a time.
Health and Safety? That didn't exist in the seventies. Thankfully!
Windsor Safari Park