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The Durrells: The House They Lived in Corfu and The TV Series

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Last updated on October 23rd, 2020 at 06:18 pm

The Durrells Memorable family real story

This is the real story of the Durrells. An eccentric and a little crazy family lived in Corfu from 1936 to 1939, not the TV series.

India in the first quarter of the 20th century (1858 – 1947) was ruled by the British Crown. It was known as British Raj, so there were many British military and government officials there.

Laurence Durrel was an army engineer born in India. He met with Louisa Florence Dixie, they got married and made four children. Laurence, Leslie, Margaret, known as Margo and Gerald, known as Jerry.

Laurence Durrel, the father, died young at age 44 in 1928 due to ‎cerebral hemorrhage. After the unexpected loss of their father, the family had to move to England and to Bournemouth. There the mother, Louise, tried to organize their lives with her small pension.

There, the four-year-old Gerald was sent to school for his basic education. This was difficult for the unpalatable character of the little one. Who enjoyed the freedom and his engagement with animals and nature.

It was a very difficult time for young Jerry who could not adapt to the stifling environment of an English school. As he confessed several years later in his autobiography.

How the Durrells came to Corfu

In 1935, the older brother Lawrence marries and along with his wife Nancy moved to Corfu. They lived in a house in Kontokali, north of the town, in Villa Anemogianni.

Louisa Durrell, after six difficult years, decides to overcome. Gathers her three children (Leslie, Margaret, and Gerald) and in 1935 they arrive in Corfu.

Inter-War Corfu was a poor island. Without electricity but at a very cheap cost of living compared to the cost in England. Here they could live a little more primitively but more freely. And in direct connection with nature and the animals that little Jerry loved.

Louisa Florence with Gerald, Margo, and Lawrence Durrell
Louisa Florence with Gerald, Margo, and Lawrence Durrell

In Corfu, there were and still living a lot of English people. Louisa met one of them, Mr. Biller, who has undertaken to help her find a suitable home for the family.

But Corfu in 1935 was a little more primitive than Mrs. Durrel expected. This is obvious from the following funny event.

Mr. Biller prepared a list of about 10 houses and started with Mrs. Durrell to check them to find the best one.

But in every house they visited, Mrs. Durrell nodded her head, she could not find anything to please her.

They arrived at the last, and once again Mrs. Durrell was not satisfied. Mr. Billler sits down on the stairs and wipes the sweat with his handkerchief, asks Mrs. Durrell.

-And finally, Mrs. Durrell, can you tell me what exactly are you looking for and why did not you like any of what we saw?

– None of them had a normal bath, she replied, that’s the problem.

– And what do you need the bathroom for?, replied the surprised Mr. Biller, when you have the sea at your feet!

This was Corfu at that time, only the rich families had a toilet. While in most houses there was none. The people for their natural needs used to run to the fields and the sea. The few rubbish were buried in the fields and the yards to become fertilizer.

After some more efforts, they finally found a hut belonging to a fishing family in Kalami. A small bay in the northeastern part of the island, far from the town of Corfu.

The cottage was repaired to become home, a house known to date with the name: the white house. It is located near the southern part of the bay overlooking the whole of Kalami.

The house was turned by young Jerry into a zoo, where he had gathered all wildlife of Corfu. Turtles, waterfalls, seagulls, lizards, dogs, cats, donkeys, and whatever animal exists in Corfu. He also collected insects in boxes, a chaotic house where birds were flying from room to room.

During the three years they lived on the island, the Durrells became friends with the locals. They left their mark in the memories of the older ones who met and still alive today.

They loved the island and were loved by the locals. They wrote books about Corfu which considered their paradise.

Much of what we know today about the Durrells in Corfu is based on the narratives of those old residents who still alive. But mainly on the books written by the family members.

Gerald’s records of Corfu’s fauna are very important. He has recorded almost all the species of animals, birds, and insects on the island in his book “My Family and Other Animals”.

He explored the island and made its observations with the help of a friend of the family. The local doctor, naturalist, and philosopher Theodoros Stefanidis.

Stephanidis is the one who cultivated Jerry’s inborn talent and love for the animals. And helped him later develop into a great naturalist and reformer of zoos.

The whole family was skillful writers. In their writings, we read all the incidents and personal experiences they had during their stay on the island. This became also sources of inspiration for the TV series.

The main inspiration source was Gerald`s autobiography books “The Trilogy of Corfu”. Consisting of 3 books: “My Family and Other Animals”, “Birds, Animals and Relatives” and the last “The Garden of the Gods”. Another source was Margaret’s book: “What Happened to Margo?”

Lawrence Durrell
Lawrence Durrell

Also noteworthy is the “Prospero’s Cell” written by the older brother Lawrence.

Gerald Durrell
Gerald Durrell

This eccentric family loved Corfu and wrote about this island. Margarita later revealed that she always considered Corfu as her real home.

There are, of course, many unknown aspects of Darrel’s life on the island. For example, it is not widely known that the family stayed in other parts of the island too, and not only in Kontokali.

In fact, they stayed for a long period in a house in Perama near the Agia Kyriaki area. From there they had easy access to the Halikiopoulos lagoon which at that time was a rich wetland. Since the airport didn’t exist yet.

But the war is always overturning plans and change everything.

The outbreak of World War II, forced Louisa, Leslie, Gerald, and their young Corfiot maid Maria Kontos to leave Corfu. Mainly for safety reasons, and return to Bournemouth, England.

However, the big brother Lawrence remained in Corfu along with his wife Nancy until the occupation of Greece by the Axis forces. Then they managed to escape in Egypt.

Margo remained in Corfu and she stayed in a house of some friends. She met an RAF pilot who was stationed here, his name was Jack Breeze who later became her husband.

The Durrells later life

Louisa Florence Durrell, born Louisa Florence Dixie(1886-1964), the mother, after the adventure in Corfu she settles at Bournemouth until the end of her life in 1964. She lived with her daughter Margo.

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), The older brother was a smart man with a restless character. He became a diplomat and a great writer, his books had tremendous success. He traveled all over the world and stayed in many places, he also married 4 times. He died in Sommières, France in 1990.

Leslie Durrell (1918-1983), the second oldest brother and the least known member of the family. During his later life, he had a great interest in weapons, hunting, and sailing, as well as painting. He did several business efforts, one of which was to organize a farm in Kenya. But all attempts were unsuccessful. He had a son with family`s Corfiot maid Maria Kontos who followed him to England.

Margaret Durrell (1920-2007), Known as Margo.

She met an RAF pilot in Corfu just before the arrival of axis occupying forces. They both fled to South Africa and got married, they stay there until the end of the war. Then they moved to Bournemouth where they had two children and then divorced.

After the divorce, Margo spent the rest of her life in Bournemouth, where she rises alone her two children, until her death in 2007. She was also a writer and in 1950 she wrote the book “What Happened to Margo?”. With memories from her experience in Corfu. The book was published 40 years later, in 1995.

Margaret or Margo was very dear, kind, and she was very interested in fashion and design. A very independent and dynamic character.

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995), The younger brother became very successful. He was a popular naturalist, economist, TV presenter, and writer, and his work redefined the role and pattern of the modern zoo.

He also had a good sense of humor. When once someone asked him which animal he liked the most he said: “Do you mean except my wife?”

Finally, he founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. Now directed by his last wife, Lee McGeorge Durrell.

The white house today

Durrells during their time in Corfu used three houses. Today these houses are private, but the house they lived in Kalami is open to visitors as today it is apartments. Underneath the house, there is a restaurant called the white house is well.

The Durrells, Comedy-drama TV series

The Durrells in Corfu - TV series
The Durrells in Corfu – TV series

The Durrells is a very successful British comedy-drama TV series written by Simon Nye and based on The Trilogy of Corfu. An autobiographical book by Gerald Durrell.

The book includes Gerald’s memories of the 4 years the family lived on the island of Corfu shortly before World War II broke out.

The series was mainly filmed in Corfu and the studio scenes in London, at Ealing Studios and Twickenham Studios.

Played on ITV from 2016 to 2019, there were 4 series including 6 episodes each. Only the third series played in 2018 had 8 episodes.

Cast and Directors

The series was directed by 4 different directors.

Episodes 1, 2, 3 of the first series – 1, 2, 3 of the second series and 4, 5, 6 of the fourth series were directed by Steve Barron

Episodes 4, 5, 6 of the first series – 1, 2, 3, 4 of the third series and 1, 2, 3 of the fourth series were directed by Roger Goldby

Episodes 4, 5, 6 of the second series were directed by Edward Hall

And episodes 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the third series were directed by Niall MacCormick

A couple of dozens of actors participated in the series, many as guests or minor roles.

The main characters though were 8 and played by

Keeley Hawes in the role of Louisa Durrell, the family’s mother

Milo Parker in the role of Gerry Durrell, the naturalist

Josh O’Connor as Larry Durrell, the writer

Daisy Waterstone as Margo Durrell

Callum Woodhouse as Leslie Durrell, the least known brother

Alexis Georgoulis as Spiros Halikiopoulos, the taxi driver

Anna Savva as Lugaretzia

Yorgos Karamihos as Theo Stefanidis, a Greek poet, author, doctor and naturalist, the friend and mentor of Gerald Durrell

About the “Village” in Danilia where the Durrells TV series was filmed

The “Village” is next to Danilia village, close to Kontokali and behind today`s Corfu hospital. It is not the revival of an existing village as some people believe.

It was a successful attempt by two businessmen. The Bouas brothers decided in 1980 to create from scratch something that will look like an old typical Corfiot village. To use it as a tourist attraction for their businesses in the 80s.

And, indeed, during the 80s all tour operators organized daily excursions to this medieval and Venetian style village. With thousands of tourists visiting the place.

Among the other sight-seen, there was an open outside restaurant with live music. Many shops selling souvenirs to visitors. Some museums with objects of folk art and a large building housed the winter restaurant.

On the walls of this building, you could see the escutcheons of all old noble families of Corfu. Of course, any common sense human could understand immediately that a village like this could never really exist in Corfu.

In this village also you can see that the main street is a replica of a part of Nikiforos Theotokis street in Corfu town. And some other copies of other characteristic shops or scenes used to give a Venetian color and atmosphere.

So, it is a replica of an alleged village as it would be in 1930, the Village at Danilia never existed in the past, it`s just business!

Today this Village is owned by Grecotel Hotels & Resorts. A large hotelier group, and is used for weddings that happened among Grecotel Hotels & Resorts costumers.

Also, it was used as the filming place for many scenes of the Durrells TV series. This series has been going on for three years and includes 6-8 episodes per year.

The TV series has been judged to be very successful in England and will continue for another year. Next (and last) episodes are already filmed and will be showing on TV during 2019. The last scenes were filmed in Corfu! In the Village, in the white house in Kalami, in Villa Gerakari in Gerekos island, and other places on the island.

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