CHESTER Zoo’s founders are to become the focus of a new BBC One drama series, Our Zoo, which will be broadcast later this year.

Our Zoo, the working title of the series, is based on the inspiring real story of the eccentric Mottershead family who established Chester Zoo in the 1930s. With incredible single-mindedness George Mottershead drove himself and his family to realise his ambition to transform a ramshackle house on the outskirts of Chester into a world class zoo.  

George was paralysed after suffering a terrible spinal injury during the First World War. But against all medical odds he taught himself how to walk again.

The drama follows George’s inspiring and challenging journey as he moves his wife, two young daughters and parents, along with a gibbon and a parrot, into a draughty old stately home. With a derelict plot of land, mounting debts, no resources or manpower and a concerted campaign from the local villagers to halt George’s plans entirely, it’s a race against time for the Mottersheads to build and open their zoo before the harsh winter sets in – or the bailiffs arrive.

Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently) will play George Mottershead, an ex-serviceman with a dream to build the first British zoo without bars with Liz White (Life on Mars) playing his loyal wife Lizzie, mother to Mew and June.

BAFTA nominated actress Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax) takes the role of Lucy Mottershead, whose world is turned upside down when her husband, Albert (Peter Wight, The Paradise), sells their shop to help fund George’s plans for the zoo and both are forced to live with their son and family in the country.  

The series also stars Ralph Little (The Royle Family) as Lizzie’s mischievous brother Billy Atkinson, Sophia Myles (Underworld) playing Lady Katherine, the mysterious aristocrat who lives next door and Stephen Campbell-Moore (The History Boys) playing the Rev Aaron Webb.

Upcoming actors Amelia Clarkson and Honor Kneafsey play George and Lizzie’s children, Mew (Clarkson) and June (Kneafsey).

A spokesman from Chester Zoo said: “George Mottershead’s vision for Chester Zoo was to have a zoo without bars and his mission and vision remains intrinsic to the zoo today. His is an inspiring story and we are thrilled and delighted that it will be shared in this way."

Written by award-winning playwright Matt Charman, Our Zoo will be produced by Marcus Wilson (Doctor Who) and produced by Luke Alkin, Kenton Allen and Matthew Justice for Big Talk Productions and Adam Kemp for Aenon. Andy De Emmony (The Bletchley Circle) is lead director.

Chief executive of Big Talk Kenton Allen said: “It’s been a long term ambition at Big Talk to make a classic primetime drama series for BBC One that we could all watch with our children, and I’m delighted that Matt Charman has bought his evocative approach to this amazing story of triumph over adversity.” Producer Luke Alkin added: “The true story of how the Mottershead family created Chester Zoo is extraordinary.”