Every child who grew up in Australia in the 70s and 80s remembers the Curiosity Show – the science show that encouraged kids to build their own experiments at home. Running for 18 years, it was a groundbreaking television production, winning awards and screening into homes around the world.
But who knew that it began life as an offshoot of Here’s Humphrey – titled Humphrey B. Bear’s Curiosity Show and hosted by folk singer Patsy Biscoe? In his hilarious new memoir, Curious Recollections, Rob Morrison recalls how a random Here’s Humphrey appearance (where he talked about raising a baby possum) led to the show that would make him a children’s television icon.
First aired in 1972, the show filmed more than 500 episodes before it was axed in 1990, with 5000 self-contained science activities and stories. Co-creators and self-described kindred spirits, bearded zoologist Rob Morrison and mustachioed scientist Deane Hutton, have now been working together for 40 years.
“The golden age of Australian television is often said to be the 1970s and 80s,” says Rob. “We were part of it for almost exactly those two decades, and the internet came along soon enough afterwards for us to make a successful move onto it.”
In 2013, thirteen years since the show had last aired, Rob and Deane secured the full rights to the series. Since then, they’ve been posting segments on YouTube – and have recently reached the milestone of 100,000 YouTube subscribers.
“While technology changes, and some of our original segments are now too out of date to use, science is enduring,” says Rob. “Rainbows still form in the same way as they always did; animals behave as they have for millions of years; children continue their fascination with dinosaurs and volcanoes; and illusions will always mystify.”
The material Rob and Deane inherited was in all kinds of formats; almost an archive of the changing technology of video transmission, from cine film and peculiar cubic plastic cassettes to huge reels of two-inch videotape. The enterprising pair hired a professional studio and dubbed the shows into newer technologies, creating their own Curiosity Show website, with an accompanying YouTube channel.
“Peculiarly, the internet is in some ways more suitable for our kind of program than open broadcast,” says Rob. “Our episodes were composed of unrelated segments that were at most a few minutes long. This is ideal for the internet, where short video segments are preferred.”
“Some of our audiences tell us they watched the show on television as children when it began, 18 years later their own children were watching when it finished, and now their grandchildren watch it on YouTube.”
In Curious Recollections, Rob recalls career highlights – on and off screen – including a flight to Antarctica, being an expert witness on dingoes in the Lindy Chamberlain case, accidentally prompting the famously silent Humphrey B. Bear to swear on-air, communing with orangutans, and using a sex doll to win a scientific debate.
He also takes us behind the cameras, sharing how he got into the television business and small tips and tricks to engage with viewers all around the world.
Rob Morrison has combined the two careers of academic and science writer and broadcaster. The author of 43 books, he was also the co-writer and presenter of Curiosity Show – a television program for young people that screened nationally in Australia and in 14 countries overseas, winning many awards.
Rob has been an active conservationist, heading South Australia’s zoos for six years and chairing many boards of science and conservation bodies. He was awarded an OAM in 2004 and was the 2008 Senior Australian of the Year for South Australia.
“Such fun, such adventures, such pioneering inventiveness: with blowup dolls, rotting corpses and frolics all over the globe. Rob tells how he and his friends revolutionised science on TV.” – Robyn Williams, The Science Show (ABC RN)
Image: Curious Recollections – courtesy of Wakefield Press