My latest book has been twenty years in the making and was born of my lifelong obsession with Tarzan and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I first became aware of Tarzan in the TV series starring Ron Ely
and the old black and white movies of Johnny Weissmuller
– for many, the quintessential ape man.
There was a series on the Disney Channel in the early 1990s in which Tarzan (Wolf Larson) was depicted as an articulate and, of course, buff champion of the environment. This series first gave me the idea for a TV sitcom in which Tarzan, Jane et al decamp from Africa and move into a suburban semi-detached in my home town of Dudley. I wrote six episodes and submitted them to the BBC. I was invited to a meeting at Broadcasting House where I was told they loved my ‘ear’ for dialogue but weren’t sold on the concept. There was no mileage in it, I was told
Since then, Disney released a full-length animated feature Tarzan, which did rather well, and the character continues to enjoy popularity. This year there was a truly dreadful animated update from Germany that is best ignored, and there is a new live-action film Tarzan the Untamed being made for release in 2016.
2012 saw Tarzan’s centenary and so I was prompted to dig out my old scripts and do something with them. I wanted them out in the world in some form but I wanted any novelisation to add something to the quick-fire dialogue and slapstick situations I had come up with twenty years ago.
I decided to write the novel from the point of view of one of the main characters. I chose not to do it through Man’s eyes (he’s called Man, not Tarzan, for copyright issues) because he is a man of few words, although far from unintelligent. I opted for his mate, here called Lady Jane – in my version, she is the one of aristocratic background – this meant she could articulate her thoughts and experiences. I imagine her as something like Maureen O’Sullivan from the Weissmuller films. Coming from a privileged background before she wound up in the jungle, Lady Jane knows little of the ways of the world anyway, having been sheltered from harsh realities and domestic chores by wealth and status.
It’s a fish-out-of-water story, in much the same vein as the alien family unit in 3rd Rock From The Sun or, of course, good old George of the Jungle – I didn’t want my Man to be as goofy and dim as the lovable George, but wise and quick-witted. My king of the jungle is quick to adapt; he chooses not to waste words and always gets his point across.
Man and Lady have a son, a child they found after a plane crashed into the jungle. Lady Jane insists on calling him Baby even though he is now 13, while Man opts for Son or Sonny instead. Completing the family group is Uncle Mjomba (Swahili for ‘uncle’) a mysterious chimpanzee-like figure, who may or may not be human, who could in fact be the missing link…
Together and separately the family have mishaps and adventures as they try to come to terms with so-called civilised life. Going to the supermarket poses challenges and excitement, for example; and being a Burroughs fan, I tried to include as much sensational action as I could. Some scenes from the original scripts had to go completely – others had to be reimagined, and I invented a story arc to break up the episodic nature of the series.
The setting is now ‘Dedley’ the fictionalised version of my home town that features in my Brough & Miller detective series and also my ghost story Poor Jacky. Dedley is a place where anything can happen and usually does. Places based on real-life locations feature in the story: Dedley has its own zoo, for example – I couldn’t do a Tarzan-like story without wild animals.
This satirical look at modern life throws up some questions about the way we live. I don’t agree with all of the opinions expressed by the characters but there is a lot of me in this book, speaking through one mouthpiece or another.
Jungle Out There is published by Andrews UK and will be available to download in all formats.