Hugh Dennis talks about his new CBBC show The Zoo, inspired by his childhood hero, Johnny Morris...

Outnumbered star Hugh Dennis on why his new CBBC show The Zoo will appeal to animal lovers of all ages…

Fans of classic kids’ programme Animal Magic, presented by Johnny Morris, are in for a real treat as The Zoo starts on CBBC this week.

Much like the iconic Sixties and Seventies show, The Zoo gives comedy voiceovers to various animals from Paignton Zoo in Devon, including giant beat-boxing tortoises, wise-guy baboons from Brooklyn and penguins with an identity crisis!

The Zoo is narrated by Hugh Dennis, best known for playing put-upon dad Pete Brockman in the BBC comedy Outnumbered. He reckons anyone who remembers Animal Magic will love The Zoo – and that today’s kids will enjoy it, too.

“I used to watch Animal Magic a lot and this really reminds me of that show,” says Hugh. “I was a real fan of Johnny Morris when I was a kid, although I don’t get to actually do the voices of the animals like he did. The Zoo is very much in the spirit of that show – it’s that age-old thing of treating animals as if they’re human. It’s very funny!”

Here, Hugh talks about The Zoo’s standout characters, and why Outnumbered could be on our screens for a good few years to come…

What’s The Zoo about?
“It’s all about the day-to-day life at Paignton Zoo; it follows what all the animals, the zookeepers and the vets get up to. Each episode tells a different story, for instance, in the first episode there’s a zoo inspection, and in another there’s a new arrival.”

Tell us about some of the stars of the show…
“There’s a hilarious gorilla called Jürgen who thinks he runs the place and who’s always worried about whether he’ll lose his status at the zoo. He has a German accent and his gorilla mate Geoffrey is voiced with a West Country accent. It’s an odd combination but it really works.”

jurgen the gorilla

Jürgen the gorilla likes to think he’s in charge at Paignton Zoo

And do the voiceovers work convincingly with the footage of the animals?
“The footage is brilliant but, as we know, the BBC are real masters of doing that kind of stuff. The CGI on this show is amazingly good, too – the mouth movement of the animals is seamless.”

You’re best known for playing dad Pete Brockman in Outnumbered. We reckon your youngest on-screen daughter Karen (Ramona Marquez) would think the animals were really talking when she was younger…
“Yes, she’d definitely think they were saying all that stuff. She’d be like, ‘Dad, gorillas really can talk – they can!'”

Outnumbered cast

Hugh as Pete Brockman with the rest of the Outnumbered clan

Are there any plans to bring back Outnumbered for another special?
“I imagine there will be another one at some point. As I’ve said before, kids don’t leave home until they’re about 35 now, so we’ve got years and years of stuff to do.”

You and Claire Skinner [who played Pete’s wife Sue] could even become Outnumbered grandparents, maybe?
“Oh God, yeah! Grandparents take on a slightly different role; they don’t have to do any of the discipline or the nasty stuff, they just get to have a lovely time with the kids, who are always really nice to them. So that would be a lovely series to do!”

Your own kids are older now – do you think they’ll be watching The Zoo?
“My kids are 18 and 20 now but I imagine students will probably watch it – although if it’s shown too early in the day they’ll probably all still be in bed!”

What else are you up to?
“We start filming Not Going Out again in October, and I’ve just finished filming half of Mock the Week for the year and then we start again in September. We never film ANYTHING in August because nothing happens – it’s a terrible time to do topical comedy. I soon learned that news only happens when people want it to – so nothing happens at the weekend, on a Monday or a Friday… or in August!”

the zoo group shot

The Zoo is on Monday to Friday at 3.40pm and 3.45pm on CBBC.