Burgess the Grunter

Anthony Burgess picIn a follow-up to an earlier Jot on the inspiration behind the film ‘Quest for Fire’ we found a clipping from The Observerof 9thNovember 1980 reporting on how  novelist Anthony  Burgess and zoologist Desmond ‘ Naked Ape’ Morris were called in by the producers of the film to advise on how Stone Age man might have communicated.

Morris was consulted on the non-verbal aspects of communication, while the ‘dialogue’, which consisted totally of grunts and shrieks, was the work of Burgess, who was probably chosen because of the fake language he had devised for the protagonists in A Clockwork Orange, which had been filmed using his screenplay. He seems to have found the task of creating grunts irksome: ‘Hell of a lot of work creating a language on basic principles’, he told the Observerreporter. He added that the original choice of Iceland for a location might have been better than Aviemore in Scotland, which was chosen in its place when the expense and logistic complications of shipping fourteen elephants to the island became an obstacle, along with the fact that an erupting volcano had destroyed the chosen location there. So Aviemore was felt to be a safer and cheaper alternative. However, Burgess still maintained that ‘The light’s good in ‘Iceland’.

On the Wednesday following the Observer report the whole 80 strong team, minus the elephants, who had been disguised as woolly mammoths, flew off to Kenya, where the remainder of the film was shot. The movie was eventually released to general acclaim. Excerpts can be seen online, so that viewers may judge the authenticity of Burgess’s grunts. [R.M.H. ]


2 thoughts on “Burgess the Grunter

  1. Roger

    “viewers may judge the authenticity of Burgess’s grunts”
    …and the authenticity of the mammoths.
    It’s an interesting revelation of the economics of film-making that they filmed elephants in Aviemore, where they’d have had to move them, and then went off to Kenya, where elephants are native animals.

  2. Tommi Uschanov

    I cannot encounter the word “grunter” without immediately thinking of Mr. Grunter in Mr. Weston’s Good Wine by T. F. Powys. It remains to be seen whether I can now ever again think of Mr. Grunter without visualising him as the photograph of Burgess above. Looking forward to somebody writing on Powys here; a suitable subject if ever there was one.


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